Oslo Attacked And Islamists Initially Blamed: The Problems With Pattern Analysis

With a car bomb detonating and gunfire ablaze, there is great reason many persons, including myself, immediately assumed last week’s Oslo terrorist incident pointed towards radical Islam. Yes, many persons promptly observed such initial thoughts and jumped all over those of us who were incorrect with our initial assessment. The mistakes many terrorism analysts initially made came with years of training in pattern analysis and have nothing to do with anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Counter terrorists must expedite their analysis–oftentimes as events occur. They lack time to sit and wait for outcomes not because they want to beat people to the punch rather because lives are in austere danger–time alone is not a friend to many CT analysts. Time can expedite matters and save lives just as quickly as it can destroy while analysis is pending.

Pattern analysis is engrained within the minds of intelligence professionals. If a person looked at the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Data Bank, they would be capable of seeing numerous patterns among today’s asymmetric threats. Patterns could be found in the different terrorist organizations, intended targets, significant dates, and even the terrorist’s modus operandi.

Some of the more common tools utilized within pattern analysis stems in time event charts, association and activities matrixes, and link diagrams. None of these tools will be capable of providing 100% certainty to decision makers. They simply serve as tools.

Intelligence analysis is not a glorious profession. When counter terrorism operations go as planned, like the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden, analysts get little to no praise. When things go wrong, like the 2002 Battle of Takur Gharin Afghanistan, analysts get pummled. Why anyone would want the job of an intelligence analyst is a mystery.

One reason, if not the main reason, many analysts to include myself jumped the gun believing Islamists were responsible for the recent Oslo attack comes from pattern analysis. Today’s most austere international threat comes from Islamic extremists. Groups like the Baader Meinhof Gang, Red Brigades, Aum Shinrikyo, and others with similar backgrounds are close to non-existent. Some may be simply regrouping and refitting like the Irish Republican Army or their splinter groups. But, for the most part, these types of terrorist groups whom have played in the international arena, either through training or actual operations, are low on the radar screen.

Homegrown terrorists have been mentioned a lot lately. Some individuals have conducted terrorist operations on their own, like Ted Kaczynski, but very few. The more recent so called lone wolfs did not truly act on their own. Maniac Latin Disciple street thug and left wing extremist Jose Padilla, the Dirty Bomber, plotted his attacks and was educated in his terrorist endeavors through Islamists–as did right wing extremist Timothy McVeigh.

Considering Janet Napolitano, Eric Holder, and even the Southern Poverty Law Center have consistently called out claims of Right Wing terrorist threats towards the United States, it is likely we will all hear more about this rumored threat now that a blond haired, blue eyed, so called conservative wreaked havoc in Oslo. Hopefully, those that spout such claims realizes one significant detail about current threats which can be found in the Global Terrorism Database–since the 1970’s 2,347 terrorist attacks occurred inside the United States.

Left wing terrorists like the Animal Liberation Front and the Environmental Liberation Front have executed more terrorist attacks inside the United States than right wing and Islamists combined. Outside the United States, well that’s a different story. Since 2001, the world has seen an alarming amount of terrorist activity–and the majority occurs from Islamists.

Many skeptics may not be happy hearing about the aforementioned insight however rest assured that none of it was written to cause further separation between conservatives and liberals or those of sincere religious beliefs. It is solely used to identify why some professionals inside the counter terrorism world, to include myself, jumped the gun earlier this week about the atrocity which occurred in Oslo. No one is perfect, but it made a lot of sense immediately looking at Islamist extremists considering their magnitude of ongoing worldly activities and the resemblance between the execution of Oslo’s terrorist operation and those founded in places like Iraq.

Kerry Patton is the Co-Founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children’s book “American Patriotism.” You can follow him on Facebook.


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