As anyone in the security field will tell you, with holiday cheer comes a higher risk of terrorist attack. Holidays in general are always a cause for concern for law enforcement and government agencies, as alert levels are raised, and calls for the public to remain vigilant are increased. Yet little direction is given to the public on what to be on the lookout for, even though they could play one of the most important roles of assisting law enforcement in preventing or mitigating all types of crimes -- including acts of terrorism.
Beginning with Thanksgiving, the winter holiday season is traditionally the one with the highest risk amongst all periods that Americans celebrate, and for good reason: Around the country, tens of millions of people flock to houses of worship, shopping malls, and city centers to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year. The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once and that it needs the public's help. This is why, for example, it has pushed the "If You See Something, Say Something" program across the country.
Operational security at the community level is a critical element that needs to be better addressed by both government entities and religious groups alike. While there are millions of worshipers filing into churches and synagogues over the holiday season, security is few and far between at these locations. Nobody knows their communities as well as the worshipers themselves, and even the largest police forces cannot protect every house of worship all of the time. It it critical for religious groups to partner with law enforcement in order to better monitor their communities, and work as trained eyes and ears for the police. Rather than leave it to vigilantism, government agencies should work to nurture responsible organizations.
To date, there are only two professional, operationally-focused security groups operating within religious groups that come to mind. The first is the Church Security Department of the Mormon Church (LDS). This group is filled by many former government officials, and is responsible for the security of Mormon missionaries and the church's leadership. Yet on a more local level, the Church Security Department is less operational than it should be, and many of its churches remain not secure.
The second community-based, operational security group is the Community Security Service (CSS). Although it is a relatively small and inconspicuous non-profit organization in comparison to better known, wealthier Jewish organizations, it is the only non-profit that trains members of the community to work with law enforcement in order to detect threats and support the police. Founded a few years ago by Jewish professionals in the security field, it has trained members throughout the New York tri-state area in counter-surveillance, behavioral detection, and other operational security techniques. It's the type of model that should be supported by other community organizations, emulated by other religions, and further trained by law enforcement.
As the Jewish community continuously remains the most targeted religious group in the United States, the CSS is going against the more traditional grain in training the community to operate "on the ground," instead of just monitor from afar.
Unfortunately, our adversaries seek to harm us in whatever way that they can, and "soft targets" such as crowded houses of worship are ideal locations to attack. So rather than simply relying on law enforcement and ignoring the intermittent government efforts to raise awareness, a closer look should be given to community-based training programs. They can act as a bridge between minority communities and police forces in an effort to ensure that everyone can enjoy our respective holidays, whatever our beliefs may be.