Islamic terrorists have learned that they can commit any number of grievous operational security errors and still conduct a successful attack in Europe . The recent terrorist attacks in Paris demonstrate that a very simple plan with simple weapons can be extremely effective at spreading terror. More importantly, they reveal the lie to the panopticon of Western intelligence services.
OPSEC fails are irrelevant, apparently
The cell leader for the Paris attacks, Abaaoud, was incredibly high profile. He could not possibly have had a higher profile. He was on the run from an earlier failed terrorist attack. He announced his intentions in the official Daesh English language magazine, in an interview, with his face front and center. He lost his mobile phone, and videos from it showing him dragging mutilated corpses were made publicly available. His terrorist cell was composed mostly of young men that were known to the security forces (7 out of 9). In terms of terrorist tradecraft, which emphasizes using “clean” operatives unknown to security forces, they could not have done it more wrong… and yet their attack was successful.
[Abaaoud]: … I was able to leave and come to [the Islamic State] despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies. All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.
Source: Dabiq #7
The current operational environment in Europe is so lax that it seems there is literally no security error ISIS terrorists can make that will derail their plans.
- Interviewed in Dabiq #7
- Escapes arrest after rest of cell killed in a raid
- Make plans over mobile phone calls
- Discuss plans using game consoles (PS4)
- Video driving a truck dragging mutilated corpses in Syria
- Majority of cell known to intelligence agencies
- Post pictures of weapons on Facebook
- Raise funds through petty crime
- Raise funds by selling a bar (drastic life change)
Belgium is particularly incapable of handling complex and rapidly changing communications employed by this nimble threat. Frankly, Belgium is incapable of handling an Arab speaking threat due to a near total lack of fluent intelligence officers. The overly complex bureaucracy makes it difficult to properly monitor potential terrorists threats. Furthermore, they are overwhelmed, there are simply too many jihadis.
Encryption is more trouble than its worth
“I’ve got an AK47 with 275 rounds and six Tokarevs [semi-automatic handguns] with 69 rounds,” wrote Coulibaly, just hours after Said and Cherif Kouachi attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo on the morning of January 7, killing 12 people. “I also have three bullet-proof vests, tactical jackets, tear gas grenades and a stun gun”.
How was he able to send this sort of information in the clear? He used multiple SIM cards and email accounts. [SPECULATION: Since these weren’t being tracked, he was able to communicate with other “clean” email addresses used by his handler.] The use of unlinked accounts and SIM cards is more important for clandestine activity than encryption. Any communication is suspicious, and encrypted comms are even more so!
“OK, do what you can, go home and sleep then hide and check [email] address 1 every day,” a message [from the handler] reads. “Further information will come soon regarding friends who will help. Get rid of your SIM card, check address 1, address 2 is finished.”
The final message is just as incriminating at the others. Clearly, this sort of thing would be a red flag if the security forces saw it.
“Impossible to find friends [to help], work alone,” the message reads. “If possible track down and work with the ‘Zigots’ [the code name for the Kouachi brothers]. If possible, in your video explain that you gave them the tools in the name of D [for Daesh*, the Arabic word for the Islamic State group] and say which weapons you used.”
*actually this is for ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah, not Daesh.
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
It seems to be impossible for European security forces to stop a few angry young men. Through their existing connections to the criminal underworld they have access to weapons. They raise funds through petty crimes. They already have live their lives covertly, becoming operational is a logical progression.
Low cost, self financed, and staffed with a ready pool of young people already trained in dodging the police, terrorism in Europe is in a dangerous phase.
 Credit: the original observation was by @marasawr