The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are telling rental car employees that they play an “integral role in helping to identify and protect our nation against terrorism” in a video released this week.
In the 11-minute instructional production, actors portray an aspiring attacker and a rental car clerk, who prevents the plot after picking up on a number of key signs that the FBI calls “tripwires.”
The video is the latest overture from law enforcement to the vehicle rental industry as they seek to prevent vehicle ramming attacks, which have become an increasingly common tool for terrorists in the United States and around the world.
“You can make a difference in helping to prevent terrorism from impacting your friends, your family, your colleagues, and fellow Americans. We thank you for being a partner in prevention,” Brian Harrell, an assistant director at DHS, says in the video.
Terror groups, including ISIS, have long called on followers to use vehicles as a weapon, as the model for attacks has shifted away from large-scale operations, like in the 9/11 attacks, to so-called lone wolf attacks that proliferated along with ISIS’s rise in the Middle East.
From 2016 to 2017 there were 19 vehicle-ramming attacks on civilians around the world, according to statistics from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, known as START, that were shared in the law enforcement video.
The vehicles used in some 40% of those attacks were rented from a rental company, according to START.
The problem has been greatest in Europe, where terrorists have used vehicles to attack crowded Christmas markets and other tourist destinations.
In the US, the deadliest vehicle-ramming attack came in late 2017 when an ISIS-devotee in New York plowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a popular Manhattan bike path with a truck rented from a nearby Home Depot, killing eight people.
As that investigation unfolded, the NYPD said that they had spoke with over 148 truck rental locations in the New York area in the years leading up to the attack.
Authorities have also worked to harden security major events in the US like marathons and festivals – places where large crowds gather that are referred to as soft targets – since vehicle-ramming attacks have become popular.
Jersey barriers, city buses, sand trucks and construction equipment are now routinely positioned near vulnerable locations at large-scale events to shield the public from potential vehicular attacks.
“As terrorist tactics evolve, law enforcement must continually adapt to counter threats to public safety,” said Josh Campbell, a CNN analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent. “Recent attacks have sadly proven that a vehicle maliciously steered towards a crowd can be just as deadly as bombs or bullets.”
In the FBI video, which was made in conjunction with the Truck Renting and Leasing Association and the American Car Rental Association, the potential attacker displays a number of red flags: demanding a van or a small box truck from the store clerk and asking for the rental for only a “few hours.”
“Certain indicators, or a combination of indicators, could warrant additional scrutiny of the customer, in accordance with your company’s policies and procedures,” a narrator says.
“If you believe there is a strong likelihood that a vehicle will be used to do harm, consult your corporation’s policies for denying the rental and for appropriate notification protocols to corporate security and law enforcement,” he says.