Greg Note: The latest scientific term for short term memory is “working memory”. No matter which definition you choose, remember that we as humans suck at taking the lessons learned from our ‘working memory’ to create granularity filled, enduring mental file folders. Mental file folders that can help us shape our decisions or plans to better navigate future encounters.
In the mid-1980’s until the early 1990s, street coppers north of 8 mile and east of Dequindre in the Metropolitan Detroit area used the term “Yahtzee” whenever they actively surprised a felon in the commission of a crime. The term ‘Yahtzee!’ (yelled exuberantly and with much pomp) surprised the criminal, who many times gave up immediately without a fight.
There was NEVER a time that the criminal didn’t exhibit immediate recognition of the term and the fact that they were hooked (under arrest). I opine that they didn’t fight back because they felt stupid that they got caught in the act and knew the cops had won the round.
Yahtzee is a nonsense word used to describe a probability game played with five dice. Players amass scores depending on the values of their roles. If all five dice come up with the same number (5 fives, perhaps) you earn the added joy of yelling ‘Yahtzee’ to commemorate the roll AND you get to bank 50 points. Yahtzee was the word we had appropriated way back then, the word that had also been used by players in the dice game since 1956 when Milton Bradley first coined it.
By the mid to late 1990’s, there was another term being used by criminals on a street thousands of miles from Detroit. It was used in clandestine communications and related in hushed tones when perpetrators met in person. The word seemed just as funny as it rolled off your tongue. That word was Bojinka. Like Yahtzee, Bojinka was a nonsense, made-up word. Like Yahtzee, Bojinka had real-word consequences.
Santayana predicts the future.
Once again, I’ll share with you philosopher George Santayana’s quote; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I received a reminder email from my consiglieri Shon Clemons. Shon prompted me to recall the events of 17 January in 2019 when the ELN (the National Liberation Army of Colombia or Ejército de Liberación Nacional) attacked the Colombian police barracks and General Santander National Police Academy with a VBID vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).
It was even more significant that I was writing this Lessons Learned on 17 January 2021, the anniversary date. The brazen attack killed 21 police cadets and injured 68 more cadets making it the deadliest attack in Bogotá for many years. That attack was almost a year to the date after two grenade attacks that targeted Colombian police stations in Barranquilla and Soledad killing 5 officers and injuring at least 48 law enforcement professionals and civilians.
In any terror campaign, the terrorists choose targets based on their Location, Association, and Opportunity. Once personnel have been trained in HBPR&A human behavior pattern recognition & analysis, they begin to understand how certain people, events, vehicles, or locations are more susceptible and vulnerable to attacks AND that certain dates (such as anniversaries of earlier attacks) or the patterns of attack methodologies are more significant than others.
The fifth battalion.
Florence is a city in Colorado about 130 miles from Rogue Manor West. Florence is home to a Super Max prison where inmate number 03911-000 languishes on Murderer’s Row with the likes of Eric Rudolph (the Olympic Park Bomber), Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), and Terry Nichols (accomplice in the Oklahoma City Bombing). Inmate 03911-000 is assigned to Abdul Basit Mahmoud Abdul Karim. Karim spent a lot of time in Europe and the United States in the years before his incarceration. Karim studied electrical engineering at Swansea University in Wales and even delivered pizza in Houston with his friend Ahmad Ajaj.
Karim was a member of the fictional ‘fifth battalion’, a group of terrorists including his uncle who wished to perpetuate a series of horrific attacks on US interests here and abroad. Karim used the alias Ramzi Yousef while carrying out his terror attacks. You know Ramzi’s uncle as al Qaeda mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammed who I’ll refer to as Uncle KSM to save time and space in the upcoming pages. Ramzi and Uncle KSM chose the nonsense word Bojinka to describe 48 hours of sheer terror they wished to bestow on the world.
Ramzi Yousef and Uncle KSM planned Bojinka as a series of violent terrorist attacks that would occur for 48 straight hours in January of 1995. Ramzi and Uncle KSM had a three-phase attack in mind.
First was the assassination of Pope John Paul II. The Pope is the head of the Catholic church and ruler of Vatican City. Pope JPII had been in office since 1978, during which time he helped to end communism in Poland and worked hard to improve the relations between the Catholic church and followers of Islam and Judaism around the world. Those accomplishments alone were sufficient to prompt Ramzi and Uncle KSM to choose him as their first target.
The second step was much more ambitious. KSM and Ramzi planned to blow up 11 airliners that were traveling from Asia to the United States. It’s no easy task to put a bomb on a plane, harder yet to get folks to agree to blow themselves up at a specific time while on that plane. Bojinka chose only flights with a second leg connecting the original flight inside of Asia to an overseas flight with a US destination.
The final leg of the attack was what KSM and Ramzi Yousef called the 12th airliner. This meant hijacking an airliner full of passengers within the United States and forcing the pilots to crash into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Think about it, 6 years before the September 11th attacks the masterminds of the first WTC attacks (Uncle KSM and Ramzi Yousef) had already developed a TTP (tactic, technique or procedure) to use a commercial jet airliner as a big bomb, crashing it into a building within the United States to cause damage and mass casualties.
September 11th, 2001 fell on a Tuesday. Ramzi Yousef, Uncle KSM, Osama bin Laden and other zealots referred to it as ‘Holy Tuesday’ during their planning. A series of 4 coordinated attacks that would kill almost 3000 people. Bojinka was the predecessor of Holy Tuesday. In a cramped apartment building in the Philippines, Ramzi Yousef was already building bombs and conducting tests to determine how much explosive matter he needed to bring down the 11 planes in the second phase of the Bojinka attack.
Ramzi conducted an explosives test on Philippine Airlines flight 434. He originally intended to see if the blast would bring the plane down. Ramzi’s bomb only killed one passenger and injured 10. While Ramzi built the bomb perfectly and planned his timing successfully, he failed to calculate the correct seat under which to place his explosive device. Ramzi chose a seat too far forward from the fuel bladder. The bomb caused death and injury but failed to bring the plane down. Ramzi had earlier chosen to conduct bomb tests in a theater mall and janitor’s closet. Each of these was calculated to simulate an airplane seat and the approximate size of a passenger jet bathroom.
Ramzi had refined his bombmaking skills in Peshawar, Pakistan. He had to. Ramzi’s first major attack in the US was the first World Trade Center bombing. That attack in 1993 only killed 6 people. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Post WTC I attack, Ramzi had been picked up by INS. When Ramzi thought the INS was close to figuring out who he was and his role in the murderous attack – Ramzi requested political asylum. Asylum from the very nation and whose citizens he wished to destroy. He didn’t need to play the asylum card. He was released before his identity was found out due to ‘overcrowding’.
Back to Bojinka.
At first, Ramzi and Uncle KSM wanted to assassinate then US President Bill Clinton. Clinton had planned a stop in the Philippines during a longer 5-day jaunt through Asia. After conducting a large amount of research, Ramzi decided that Clinton was too hard a target while the Pope was not.
Ramzi and Uncle KSM simply switched Bojinka’s first phase to Pope John Paul II. The room in the apartment complex that Ramzi chose overlooked the route the Pope planned to take. Later, during the execution of a search warrant at “Room 603”, police found maps and clothing meant to conceal Ramzi and his conspirators in the crowd as priests so that they could approach the Pope’s motorcade and attack the Pope as body bombers while others rained pipe bombs on the parade from above.
Ramzi and Uncle KSM kept busy. They took turns probing Asian airport security using bottles of contact lens solution outfitted with nitroglycerin and wearing hollowed-out shoe heels that contained batteries and filament. Their goal was to see if they could bypass security checks and get the elements to create an explosive on to commercial jetliners.
Students of HBPR&A know that these probes are called ‘rehearsals. They are part of the 7-step terrorist planning cycle. Failure to recognize them means you may miss preparations for this attack and parts of other coordinated attacks altogether. Intelligence agents failed to connect the significance of the Cebu Mall attack in the Philippines as a rehearsal. Bypassing tough airport security to place a bomb on a real plane and then go back to conduct a PDA (preliminary damage assessment) was too hard. Planting a bomb in a mall theater and a janitor’s closet would allow Ramzi to sneak back in and conduct his PDA. Allowing him and his co-conspirators to adjust his future bombs power accordingly.
Ramzi is scheduled to undertake Bojinka, attacking the ‘Two Satan’s’ (the Pope and the United States) on 15 January 1995, World Youth Day. While Ramzi’s accomplices dressed as clergy attacked the Pope’s motorcade with a suicide bomb, other accomplices would be placing bombs on jetliners heading for the United States. Some commercial jets would crash into the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, others at random locations on the US mainland. This attack would cripple air traffic for weeks or months.
A simple accident coupled with a few observant citizens changed Ramzi’s Bojinka plans.
Observation and perception.
I’m often asked, “How are common citizens supposed to note anomalous behavior when everyone is so secretive to begin with?”. My answer is ‘get thee to training’. Situation Awareness training and Human Behavior training isn’t restricted to Tier 1 operators. A simple course in SA or HBPR&A can change how you see situations unfold. Understanding human behavior can help you determine baselines and that helps you measure observations and perceptions against a baseline to determine anomalies.
Although Ramzi and his crew engaged in a great deal of secrecy, their daily clandestine operations actually created a greater degree of scrutiny for them. The degree of detail Ramzi and his team went to in order to stay off the radar became the primary talking points of the apartment staff. Ramzi and his apartment-mates were observed to come and go by different routes many times each day. They received suspicious packages at all hours of the day. They worked for what seemed like 24 hours a day inside Apartment 603, loud and smelly work that would make Keebler Elves envious. Finally, while all the other residents used the free daily maid service, Ramzi demanded that Apartment 603 be kept off the list – especially during his extended stay.
When Ramzi and his friends came to the front desk to pick up their packages, apartment supervisory personnel noted that both the tenants and the packages smelled heavily of chemicals. They also noted that Ramzi and his friends had what appeared to be chemical burns on their hands.
Then, one fateful day, Ramzi and his best bomb-making friend Abdul Haki Murad mixed too many chemicals at once and ignited a small fire in the Apartment 603 kitchen sink. Although the chemical fire stank and was plenty smoky, it went out almost immediately. Witnesses noted Ramzi and his team working to dissipate the strange colored smoke. The local fire department was notified. When they arrived, they were advised to stand down as the fire was out. They complied, but not before making a few keen observations through the open apartment door.
The SA and bomb-trained firefighters noticed rolls of colored wire, cotton balls, clocks, Casio watches and electric timers, four hot plates lined one wall and soldering irons the other. Bottles of sulfuric and nitric acid. Maps on the wall with pictures of Pope John Paul II and his route marked in multiple colors. What cinched it for one investigator was the “stack of fake passports on top of a college chemistry book” that he saw just inside the front door. This allowed investigators to secure a search warrant.
Ramzi Yousef avoided arrest that day, but he left behind his computer. There was a file named ‘Bojinka’ outlining every step of the now thwarted attack. The file included names of friends and coconspirators, banks and bank accounts, and Uncle KSM’s involvement in each step of the plan.
The 9/11 attacks evolved directly from the Lessons Learned of the Bojinka plot. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Ramzi Yousef that going forward, explosives were too risky, their tests too complicated and easy to trace. Therefore, in the future, he and Ramzi would simply choose commercial passenger airplanes as missiles in future attacks.
KSM’s watershed moment (the use of commercial airplanes as directed missiles) was allegedly part of a secretly taped conversation between KSM and Osama bin Laden in 1997.
Ramzi, KSM, and Osama knew how to convert the failures and trials learned from their ‘working memory’ into long term memories as mental file folders. The terrorists remembered then improved upon their earlier plans (the Bali nightclub attack, the attempted Richard Reid shoe-bombing and the failure of the 1993 World Trade Center Attack and Bojinka) in order to create a fool-proof plan for the 9/11 attacks.
A special thanks to the CIA ‘special activities division’ and others who shall remain nameless for bringing KSM and Ramzi to justice.
Our enemies learn from their mistakes, but do we?
We have a tendency to forget historical examples and, without training, dismiss patterns as happenstance. For example; an intel crew noted that a person under surveillance (Encep Nurjaman also known as Riduan Isamuddin or ‘Hambali’) had a pattern of making large donations to Ramzi and Uncle KSM. While suspicious, no one dug very deeply. Until after the 9/11 attacks. Hambali was able to funnel millions of dollars to Ramzi and Uncle KSM, virtually funding all of their terrorist operations, merely by extorting donations of 500 to 1000 dollars each shift from workers at Wendy’s, KFC, pizza joints, bars and restaurants in Malaysia and the Philippines. No one connected the extortion to a fund-raising operation for al Qaeda.
Another example; Ramzi and Ahmad Ajaj were able to hide in plain sight, working for over a year at a Houston, Texas pizza joint to plot, plan and rehearse for attacks in New York. Again, their secretive, clandestine operations drew the suspicions of their friends and co-workers, but nobody said anything to investigators until AFTER the 9/11 attacks.
Finally, the terrorist pilots who took over those planes on 9/11 took flying lessons in the US from US instructors. They paid in cash and none of them cared to learn how to LAND the planes. This information wasn’t shared with investigators until after the 9/11 attacks.
Today I provided you with examples of attacks in Colombia and attacks against ‘Columbia the Gem of the Ocean’ and her interests in an effort to demonstrate that patterns are important teachers. History and situational awareness can be taught and learned, and paying attention to patterns pays dividends in the long run.
Patterns combined with a detailed analysis of artifacts and evidence can help disclose the most dangerous courses of action of fellow humans. None of this is possible without creating robust file folders in your mind. Examples for comparison based on your short term (working) and long-term memories.
Training changes behavior.