Persistent Area Surveillance for the City Streets

Terrorist attacks staged in the municipal domain raise the question of how Israel should cope with civilians evolving into "momentary terrorists" and managing to reach the city streets. Technological solutions for neutralizing those terrorists include Stationary Remotely-Controlled Weapon Station systems

Stabilized remote-controlled weapon station 6S21 in Russia (Photo: Bigstock)

Terrorist attacks in the municipal domain raise the question of how the state should deal with terrorists who managed to cross all of the countermeasure loops and reach the city streets. 

To this day, the doctrine for protecting the civilian domain was based on a binary concept of the living space – a space external to the state, being handled by the military, and the domestic (internal – municipal) space – being handled by the Police and ISA (security service). Subject to this doctrine, ISA has been implementing the countermeasure loop concept, devised to prevent a terrorist from reaching the internal space from the external space. The countermeasure loop concept may be likened to a waterfall, where the terrorist 'drops' from one loop to the next until, eventually, he is apprehended or neutralized.

The countermeasure loop concept is in use to this day, mainly because there is no other alternative. This article asserts that alongside the classic countermeasure mechanism, the state should also implement persistent area surveillance systems and prompt response systems based on the Stationary Remotely-Controlled Weapon Station (SRCWS) configuration within the internal space as well.

The terrorist attacks staged recently in Israel, France, Belgium and elsewhere around the globe have proven that the way in which terrorism is being implemented changed. This change is based on an effort to blur the differences between innocent civilians and terrorists and a transition to low-signature terrorist attacks.

If we were to examine the situation in Israel as an example, we would have realized that the theater consists of an internal space and an external space which contain two population groups that share similar external characteristics, along with the same language and culture. There is a constant transition of individuals from the external space into the internal space for employment, commercial and cultural purposes. Additionally, a certain percentage of family relations exists between the two population groups. The similarity and the connections between the two population groups impose severe difficulties on the counterterrorism efforts.

The counterterrorism concept evolved in an era where terrorist attacks were major operations primarily: large-scale attacks staged at crowded venues, hijacking of passenger aircraft, car bomb attacks, explosive charges detonated on board buses and so forth. The logistic wake of such terrorist attacks normally starts in the external space and only its point extends into the internal space at the final stage of implementation.

Such major attacks leave a substantial logistic 'signature'. In such scenarios, multiple countermeasure loops deployed within the external space have a good chance of catching, quite effectively, attempted attacks before they reach the internal space. If the attack succeeded nevertheless, such a countermeasure layout can generate a sufficient amount of intelligence to point to the perpetrators in retrospect in order to deter any future terrorists.

But what happens when one morning, a civilian decides to become a terrorist, goes to the kitchen, picks up a knife, goes out to the street and stabs a soldier at the nearest bus stop? Or when a sleeper cell made up of apparently innocent civilians receives an order to activate an explosive charge secreted well in advance at a venue where a crowded public festival is under way? Such situations are the 'Achilles' Heel' of the existing counterterrorism concept. As long as they are rare – the situation will remain tolerable, but when they become the mainstream, the counterterrorism concept will not be sufficiently effective.

One of the measures taken by the State of Israel in the context of the counterterrorism concept is an effort intended to make it difficult for terrorists to exit the areas where they live. This is accomplished by border crossing points where age restrictions and thorough background checks may be implemented. Along with the border crossing points, Israel intensified the peripheral defense of the national territory in the air, at sea, on the ground and in the subterranean medium. Paradoxically, imposing more stringent restrictions on the passage from the external space into the internal space led the terrorist organizations to shift the critical mass of their activity into the internal space. Now they employ legitimate civilians more frequently, purchase their materials in the internal space and so forth. This has created a situation where the logistic wake of the attack starts and ends within the internal space, thereby actually 'bypassing' the countermeasure loops and making it much more difficult to prevent terrorist attacks.

Persistent Area Surveillance 

Subject to the counterterrorism concept, if a terrorist manages to pass into the internal space nevertheless, he is regarded as a 'Ticking Bomb' – an immediate threat. This is a unique and time-restricted legal mechanism that enables the security forces to employ technological resources, investigative measures and other methods in order to locate and neutralize the terrorist. In other words, the security forces ask the Legislative Branch for an option to revoke individual rights temporarily in order to safeguard our cooperative safety.

As stated previously, this would have worked well if such incidents had been rare. When such terrorist attacks become the mainstream, however, like the recent terrorist attacks staged throughout Israel using knives, small arms or vehicle ramming, the security forces find themselves helpless, and for a good reason. The countermeasure method has become ineffective and no alternatives are available.

The situation described above may be likened to the trend emerging in recent years on the battlefield (the external space): the transition from fixed, visible targets to mobile, rapidly disappearing targets. On the battlefield, the military faces a problem when a terrorist target is only visible for a period of 10 to 30 seconds, after which it simply disappears. In the case of counterterrorism, a similar transition is taking place from the past concept, based on high-signature targets, to low-signature targets.

The military decided to solve this problem by implementing the Stationary Remotely-Controlled Weapon Station (SRCWS) concept, which facilitates the operational concept known in the military jargon as "fire loop closure".

Fire loop closure is a technology-based counterterrorism concept which, in essence, strives to minimize the response interval that starts when a target is identified and ends when it is neutralized.

Whereas the problem stems from the fact that the enemy is only visible for very brief time intervals, in order to successfully implement an effective loop closure concept a persistent area surveillance envelope will be required. An envelope of this type will enable the user to identify the enemy, classify the target and track it continuously. The objective is to keep a given area cell under persistent surveillance while knowing who within that area cell is a friend and who is an enemy as well as the potential risk of each enemy target (hence the classification). In this way, the user may always know, in real time, where all the enemy targets that should be neutralized are located. This information is transferred to SRCWS systems that close the loop on the relevant enemy targets. Once again, the loop closure concept does not make the existing countermeasure concept redundant, but complements it in real time, when the preceding countermeasures have failed.

As in the external space, in the internal space, too, the terrorists evade the countermeasure loops under the cover of everyday civilian routine. This is the reason why the authorities should consider introducing a similar concept based on SRCWS systems and persistent area surveillance to the internal space. Just to clarify: when the countermeasure concept fails, this will normally end with civilians being murdered. Accordingly, the internal security authorities must adopt the same methods applied by the military in order to effectively identify the terrorist, classify him and respond promptly.

Friend or Foe?

In order to identify targets within the internal space, where the differences between civilians and terrorists are completely blurred, the state needs to initiate a preliminary process of defining who's a civilian (which will then indicate who's not), powerful identification resources capable of identifying a specific civilian at any time-location point within the internal space (real time 'Identification Friend-or-Foe') and spatial command and control systems that would enable continuous tracking of the individual within that space. Alongside this envelope, the state needs Stationary Remotely-Controlled Weapon Station (SRCWS) systems that would make it possible to neutralize a terrorist pursuant to his first act of terrorism, be it a gunfire attack, a stabbing attack or a vehicle ramming attack, in order to prevent the killing of additional civilians.

At this point in time, some of these technologies are already up and running in some cities in Israel and around the world. CCTV camera systems with facial recognition algorithms connected to a biometric database of facial features and various types of Smart City systems are already in use. Robots are already executing policing missions on the streets of China and in the USA robots are used for shopping mall and parking lot security – and these are only a few examples.

However, when such technologies are implemented without a structured operational concept backed by relevant legislation, they cannot provide an effective solution to the problem of the failed countermeasure concept. For example, no legislation currently exists that would enable the state, through its security forces, to actively identify each and every civilian within the internal space. Additionally, No legislation currently exists that would enable the state to continuously track civilians using technological measures. 

In addition to identification and tracking capabilities, a prompt response capability is required in order to 'close the loop'. The objective is to establish a situation where a terrorist who had stabbed civilians or fired at them will be neutralized immediately following his/her first act of terrorism. For this purpose, we should consider the introduction of prompt response systems capable of engaging the terrorist targets using either lethal or non-lethal measures. The objective of these systems is to neutralize the terrorist, to the maximum extent possible without killing him/her, until law enforcement personnel arrive on the scene. These systems may be fully autonomous, remotely-operated or a combination of both. 

It is often said that the cyber defense world knows no boundaries, so organizations and states must cooperate in order to successfully cope with attacks in cyberspace. Well, the recent terrorist attacks in Israel, Europe, the USA, Asia and Africa have shown that the war against terrorism knows no boundaries either. The binary external/internal space concept has failed, and in fact, both spaces have evolved into one. This reality calls for rethinking at the macro level regarding the functions of the ISA, Mossad, IDF and Israel Police and the way the responsibilities should be divided among those organizations. We should consider unifying the various persistent area surveillance systems and establishing a single common system for both spaces – the external space and the internal space. Subject to this notion, fusion of data arriving from both spaces will enable real-time 'cross-fertilization' of the internal security forces, the intelligence agencies and the military.

The implementation of the concept described herein will improve the efficiency of various other activities, even in fields not associated with terrorism, like monitoring illegal aliens, organized crime networks, criminal activities in general and even foreign spies. Persistent area surveillance can do wonders to the day-to-day operations of internal and external security.

A Sample Scenario

Friday at noon. A street surveillance camera spots an unidentified person walking along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel-Aviv. A prompt check of the biometric databases indicates that he is not a registered Israeli citizen. A cross reference check with the IDF databases indicates that he is an inhabitant of Jenin, a known Hamas activist belonging to a cell being monitored by the IDF Intelligence Directorate and regarding which there are concerns of an imminent attack inside Israeli territory. Meanwhile, the persistent area surveillance system tracks the target along Ahad-Ha'Am Street. One possible destination can be the Carmel open-air market.

At the same time, a cross check with new information in the Police database indicates that this person has been loitering in the market area over the past three days. A closer inspection of the video footage from the archives indicates that during those three days, he had photographed all of the entrances and exits to and from the market from different angles, during different times. The same inspection indicates that during those days he had arrived in the area in the same taxi, from Haifa. The license plate number of the taxi is promptly associated with an Israeli citizen, an inhabitant of Haifa, a legitimate taxi driver with no criminal or internal security record. Algorithms being run in the background indicate a fourth-degree family relation between the taxi driver and the suspected Hamas activist. The logistic connection has been established.

The terrorist turns into Jabetz Street on his way to the market. A hyperspectral surveillance camera mounted on a high-flying UAV indicates that he is wearing an explosive vest. A damage assessment predicts an explosion with a 30-meter radius, expected to cause twenty deaths minimum, based on the real-time crowd capacity in the market.

Everyone at the municipal operations center is acutely aware of the fact that all of the countermeasure loops have failed. The system has already issued automatic alerts to police forces in the area, based on their current locations and the force necessary in order to neutralize the terrorist. Additionally, alerts were sent to Red Magen David (paramedic) ambulances whose drivers were ordered to approach the market quietly. Alerts were also sent to the emergency departments of three local medical centers, ordering them to raise their state of readiness in anticipation of a possible emergency. The Haifa police was alerted to promptly arrest the taxi driver. At the same time, the system shuts off the traffic routes leading to the market area by issuing commands to the traffic light system and entering new data into the cellular navigation systems used by civilians through their smartphones. The terrorist is now twenty meters away from the market.

The decision made at the operations center is to neutralize the terrorist quietly, without generating alarms, to avoid a state of panic in the market that would be counterproductive. This objective should be accomplished through the use of a high-precision non-lethal firing system secreted into one of the utility poles at the entrance to the market. The operator of the weapon system at the municipal operations center monitors and tracks the terrorist through the HD surveillance cameras mounted on the UAV and other cameras mounted on utility poles and rooftops in the market area. She sets the system to lock-on mode. The system locks onto the back of the terrorist's neck and fires three miniature darts containing a fast-acting anesthetic at the terrorist.

One of the darts hits the terrorist while two others miss him and hit the floor. The terrorist drops to the ground. Passers-by watching the incident at the entrance to the market have the impression that a person has just experienced a heart attack. A policeman on a motorbike alerted to the area keeps the crowd away from the terrorist. Other policemen close the entrances to the market and proceed to evacuate the civilians in an orderly manner. The persistent area surveillance system indicates there are no consecutive threats in the area. A police explosives specialist reaches the unconscious terrorist and removes the explosive vest. The incident is over.

Response System Complex 

The objective of this article is to encourage a current discourse regarding the war against terrorism that is not restricted by legislature elements pertaining to civilian privacy and individual rights. This writer has no intention to disregard or disparage these elements in any way, but wishes to confine the discussion to the techno-operational level.

The concepts outlined in this article are being implemented – in preliminary form – in Israel and elsewhere around the world. A review of the "City without Violence" tender issued by the Israel Ministry of Public Security will reveal a paragraph titled "Response System Complex". The contents refer to "A response system designed to intervene in a violent incident as it develops, during or after the actual incident. Response systems may consist of human operator teams, technological systems or a combination of both, capable of preventive intervention at the initial stages of the incident or during the actual incident."

There is no doubt that terrorism is unrelenting and that it has eliminated the differentiation between the external space and the internal space. It also learns how to bypass the existing countermeasure mechanisms by relying on individual rights legislation, employing legitimate civilians and exploiting the resources available within the internal space of the state in order to minimize the logistic wake or eliminate it altogether, thereby reducing the signature of the terrorist activity.

This reality has demonstrated, possibly more than ever before, the tension between the individual's desire for privacy and his/her need for physical security. On the one hand, it has become more difficult to provide civilians with physical security. On the other hand, in order to provide more effective security, civilians must relinquish their privacy. From a purely technological perspective, persistent area surveillance systems and prompt response systems may be introduced to the internal space. The more difficult battle is expected with regard to the legal and moral aspects that would eventually reshape the effect of technology on the civilians' everyday life."