In what can only be called a massacre, at least fifty-nine people were killed and more than five hundred were injured in the horrific attack in Las Vegas. Steven Paddock, a sixty-four year-old American citizen who was in a room on the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, lethally shot at hundreds of people at a country music festival in the city which is renowned for its gambling. A SWAT team burst into his hotel room to find the shooter shot dead. If we take into consideration the tactical difficulties that the law enforcement units had in order to understand the gist of the event, identify where the shooting came from , locate the exact room and get to it, it can be determined that relatively the response of law enforcement was relatively reasonable.
This shooting had the largest amount of casualties in shooting attack in American history. The notorious first place with the greatest number of casualties that a civilian attacker caused in the United States is held by Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen who carried out the car bomb attack in Oklahoma City on April 1995. One hundred and sixty eight people were killed and another eight hundred were injured in that attack. An interesting point is that the common denominator between McVeigh and his accomplice was their opposition to gun control. It would have sounded ironic if it had not been a fact. However, the motive for the attack itself was the two men's anger over the siege imposed by the government on the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas in 1993.
On the face of it, the Las Vegas attack has unusual characteristics in terms of the terrorist’s profile, which probably helped Paddock implement his diabolical plan. Even with regard to the ability of the security forces to prevent and thwart the attack, the unusual profile of the attacker also multiplies the difficulty in locating him as a suspect and in the deployment of security forces in general, if it existed at all.
The unusual characteristics of the shooter’s profile begin with the fact that this person is most suited to be characterized as an ‘All- American guy’- an ordinary American citizen, and this characteristic continues to play out with his older age of 64. An attacker of this age is not a common phenomenon in the history of global attacks, which had previous precedents. One such incident was the North Korean agent who was sixty-nine at the time, who together with his partner planted an explosive charge that blew up an airplane from the South Korean airline Air Korea (Flight KA858) on April 1987, killing one hundred and fifteen people. The combination of the Vegas killer’s age, American origin, affluent economic status (it turns out he was a heavy gambler in the Vegas casinos)- as well as his familiarity of the city where he resided probably greatly contributed to his assimilation within his surroundings and to minimize any initial suspicion towards him.
Although we do not yet know Paddock’s exact background and whether it includes any military or security experience, it is clear that he carried out a well-planned operation. He chose the target for the attack, he rented and resided four days in advance in a suite on the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. From the window of his room, he gained full control of the plaza where tens of thousands of participants gathered at the music festival. He chose weapons that were well suited to his plan that he prepared in advance. He had no less than twenty-three weapons, most of them rifles, some automatic, in violation of American law and probably he also possessed improved ammunition.
The layout of the organization for the attack in Vegas is reminiscent of another attempted terrorist attack at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, in October 1984, when a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army rented a room in the hotel, managed to smuggle and conceal in his room and detonate dozens of kilograms of explosives. This was in order to attack then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and government members who stayed in the same hotel for the Conservative Party’s convention; however, they left the event unharmed. In both cases the perpetrators operated for several days without interruption, although it should be remembered that since 1984 the hotel industry has accumulated a certain experience in security resulting from a long record of attacks, which should have led to suspicions towards Paddock.
There is no doubt that the attack in Vegas was dependent on early calculated planning by the attacker. Paddock, as far as was known, had no problematic record, was authorized to purchase weapons and he also was licensed as a pilot. He did not raise any suspicion on the part of law enforcement agencies and thus escaped the possibility of initial suspicious information about him, which could lead to an intelligence-driven mitigation of the planned attack. The question now is how (in theory) to use the hotel’s security rings to prevent Paddock’s mode of attack.
It seems that the attack was planned by Paddock in advance, it can be assumed that he carried out many preliminary actions. These included logistical preparations for the attack, which was dependent on the movement of large quantities of weapons and ammunition. He managed to infiltrate all these weapons and equipment into the hotel without interruption during the four days he stayed there. In addition, he installed CCTV cameras in the corridor leading to his room to control what was happening in the hallway, but in the absence of a relevant security system at the hotel, there was no chance of a stream of indicators that would have led to the prevention of the attack.
A review of past events shows that over the past decade and a half we have witnessed a marked increase in serious attacks against hotels and resorts, which in the absence of a proper security presence and preparedness, are categorized as soft targets for carrying out terror and criminal attacks.
Resorts and luxury hotels are particularly attractive, given the fact that there is usually a high concentration of foreign tourists and businesspersons. They also constitute a significant economic component of tourism industries and have a significant weight in the country's national product. A series of past attacks, as well as this attack in Vegas, sharpen the high impact of the media’s resonance in light of terrorist attacks in hotels and tourism sites.
Despite these well-known facts, the fact that most of the hotels and resorts around the world are not secured in direct proportion to the modus operandi of terrorist attacks that were implemented over the past decade. This is also evident, in part because of the familiar dilemma that any security measures that are taken will affect the hotel’s image and its perception as a fortress, not to mention its perception as a magnificent prison.
This combination of the fact that the hotel is attractive in light of the characteristics of its activities and guests, together with the economic and social importance of the state (with respect to the tourism sector in general), the lack of adequate security (if there is any security at all), and a high level of international media resonance for exceptional events make hotels and resorts attractive targets for attacks.
Although the attack in Las Vegas is not a “classic terrorist attack”, at least according to the information published so far, the damage to the level of security’s image at the site is apparently not high, or at least not long-term. However, it is clear to everyone that the incident exposed the soft underbelly of security when it comes to such locations, and once again the potential for exploiting the situation for terrorist attacks and crimes permeated to the foreground.
The horrific scale of casualties in Las Vegas will, in the short term, cause damage to the tourism industry in the area and will require significant and visible reinforcement by security forces, both to prevent the phenomenon of copycat attacks and to create a sense of security among the public.
But this is not enough to provide a real and effective response. The hotel's security system, the last ring of defense, requires a professional system based on many elements in the hotel and its surroundings. This is in order to enable a service atmosphere that attracts the public, as well as high level of security that will lead to the prevention and mitigation of threats.
Meir Gershuni, formerly a senior member in the Israel Security Agency, is currently the owner of a security consulting company.