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Honey, It’s Our Anniversary!

As I stand in an office high above the streets, looking out the window on a beautiful sunlit day, I overhear a friend’s conversation about his wedding anniversary. Thankfully, he remembered this special date, and all is good. But, too often, people forget the date, and face strong disappointment on the home front. Some people joke that remembering their anniversary is a life and death matter. At least, I think they’re joking.

From a security professional’s perspective, however, anniversaries are important for another reason.  And it is no joke. In the counter-terrorism arena, it is important to track anniversary dates of significant events, since empirical evidence indicates that terrorists often carry out attacks on or near the anniversary of previous events.  We do well to track these events, and ensure we take steps to be even more vigilant in the days coming up to the anniversaries.

For example, we remember that in late August of 2004, two planes took off from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in normal traffic.  Awhile later, and nearly at the same time, the two planes disappeared from radar. More than 80 people died in the two crashes, one of a TU-154 near Rostov-On-Don, village of Gluboky, and the other of a TU-134 near Tula, Russia. Witnesses asserted that at least one of the planes was seen to explode prior to its crash. Traces of explosives were found on the wreckages.  There were indications that a terrorist group connected with Chechen extremists was responsible.  Recall that Domodedovo Airport was the site of massive bomb placed in the international arrivals area that killed about 40 people in January, 2011. An “anniversary review” of the 2004 airplane attacks shows that there may have been lapses in both airport security, and in intelligence gathering related to the event planning.

August 7 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-led bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. These massive bombings killed more than 200 local residents and 12 American citizens. Most of the deaths, interestingly, were NOT in the Embassy buildings, but in nearby establishments and a bus. The U.S. State Department learned many things from the attacks, which have led to many changes in new construction of embassies. For example, many people died from massive cuts from glass shards. Many people heard a small preliminary explosion and looked out the window to see what was happening just as the main explosion occurred. The resulting broken glass impacted their bodies. It is now standard practice to install protective film over glass, and to instruct people to not look out windows at what sounds like detonations or gun shots.  Interestingly, some evidence appears to indicate that the 7 AUGUST date was chosen to recall the date when U.S. troops landed in Saudi Arabia.

So, maybe it would be a good practice to make note of major terrorist events and anniversaries. In the days coming up to these dates, maybe it would be a good practice to review the event and the lessons learned from it. Maybe it would be a good practice to make sure that our business, clients, and colleagues are familiar with the lessons learned, and incorporate these lessons into daily practices. Maybe doing these things wouldn’t really result in greetings of “Happy Anniversary!”  but would reduce the life and death risks that come from forgetting.