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Increased security could come to U.S. soft targets

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In the aftermath of an Islamist terrorist attack last week on a Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, and multiple attacks in Paris and Beirut before that, security is front of mind for politicians and the public in the U.S.

But, said security analyst Chris Chivvis of the RAND Corporation, “there is a big difference between a hotel in downtown Bamako — a country which has been troubled by jihadist groups for several years — and a hotel in downtown Atlanta.”

Chivvis has first-hand knowledge in this case: he stayed at the Radisson hotel in Bamako while writing his upcoming book, “The French War on Al Qa’ida in Africa,” to be published in December. Chivvis said in foreign cities that have experienced mass-casualty terrorist attacks, some major hotels, shopping centers and other public venues have been “hardened” — with metal detectors and X-ray machines, and security guards checking bags and ID before people can enter.

This level of security has not been deployed in the U.S. thus far, except at federal government facilities and airports. But major international hotel chains and other commercial enterprises that operate potential high-profile ‘soft targets’ are beginning to address heightened security concerns, said Tricia Bacon, an expert on jihadist groups and counterterrorism at American University.

“Hotel security has probably been keeping abreast of these developments,” said Bacon. “They’re almost certainly talking quite a bit with local law enforcement, the FBI, DHS, to get advice about the ways they should be hardening their facilities.”

Bacon said most of what hotels are doing to improve security right now won’t be visible to the general public—for example, increased video surveillance and more plainclothes security inside and out, monitoring guests, frequent visitors, cars on the street. She said doing anything more conspicuous to heighten security could raise public fears, when there haven’t been recent domestic attacks to warrant that.

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