Foiling Suicide Bombings: Seven Shots

15. November 2010 0

It seems as if it only took seven simple shots to stop a massive suicide bombing targeting a Brooklyn subway in New York. However Jennifer C. Hunt demonstrates that so much more went into that simple discharging of weapons. It was the skill of a highly synchronized healthy functioning group of cops who saved the day. This is only the beginning as she describes in minute detail in Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and its Aftermath, the human foibles and complex group dynamics of the unique policing culture involving emergency service and bomb squads and their bosses. Her extensive in-depth research in interviewing techniques grounded within the framework of our most unique tool, psychoanalytic “listening” along with years of experience studying police culture on the ground with the police gives credibility to orchestrating and writing our future bible for understanding the impact of terrorism vis a vis police work.

In this regard, Seven Shots, is a book about of the foiled suicide bombing of a Brooklyn subway in 1997 as an antidote for future foiling of suicide bombings. It took hours, if not seven thousand perhaps, of intellectual fortitude and emotional laboring along with extensive in depth interviewing and transcribing to bring this instructive story to life. Jennifer C. Hunt reconstructs what happened on that day in Brooklyn as to how an efficient well trained healthy group worked in unison. While reading this book I could not help associate to Wilfred Bion, the famous psychoanalyst expert on group dynamics. His work is easily applicable to that of the police. He also just happened to be a highly decorated WWI tank commander. Without any training in group psychology, almost any military historian can tell you that tank commanders are fine tuned to group dynamics. Bion extended his military knowledge to his focus on two types of groups, the “work group” which is task oriented and the flight/fight groups, which are the regressed groups whereby primitive defenses become the replacement for the task. The regressed group is a destructive group or similar to a cult dominated by such defenses as projection, sadism, shame/blame/envy, behaviors so destructive that divert the group from focusing on the task at hand. For example, the person who performs good deeds is attacked, and the person who performs bad deeds is rewarded. The nonverbal communication often consists of such sadistic attacks through bullying, stonewalling, scapegoating and destroying anything that is felt to be good or productive.

Unwittingly Hunt has written a sequel for the theory of group dynamics by exploring in depth what happened during the 1997 raid by piecing together all the different narratives brought to her by the cops involved including their bosses. She is even handed, questioning, probing, and as a professor of sociology and a consummate psychoanalyst, Hunt has the right stuff to bring to bear on the intricacies of identity formation, the culture of policing, its aggression and rage. In addition she had the wisdom to do in-depth interviewing concerning the aftermath of the success which ended up saying bravo to the cops yet their safety was jeopardized by their bosses as they received no real benefits from having done their job. In fact their competence worked against them. Because they were so effective, they were envied and attacked by their superiors.

It is a gift to us that she took the initiative to tell this story because it is vital for all involved in the fight against global terrorism to come to understand what forces they are up against. This book is an outstanding accomplishment and at the cutting edge and helpful for all those confronted in the arms of danger.

Having read Samuel Katz’s Jihad in Brooklyn about the “same” foiled event, this is a very different narrative, a much richer one because she spent hours getting to know the men behind the raid through tedious interviewing. The story she reconstructs is a great read and she paints a picture of these individuals in a way that brings them to life by having also had access to their bosses, partners and spouses. Her insights are brutally honest and reality-based. She is candid about her own emotional reactions and the transference-countertransference issues that come up. This is rare in the discussion of terrorism-counterterrorism though it is crucial to address this subterrain river of affect among counter terrorist experts.

Indeed at one point Hunt debunks Katz’s assertion that Chindluri, the Muslim informant, soiled his pants will he was in the counter assault car accompanying the cops to the terrorists‘ apartment. This is not some minor detail, splitting of hairs nor being provocative on her part. The accusation of “soiling his pants” points to denigrating a moderate Muslim who tried to help. In my opinion, Katz unwittingly bought into the “sh*t” of terrorism which is predicated on anal behavior. This is not something that Hunt does. Why? Because her analytic training has taught her about this phase of development because we know that anality goes hand in hand with sadism. To infantilize Chindluri as Katz does, inadvertently undercuts and discredits his own work as well as these brave and insightful officers.

But the real startling horror of this story is how bosses of these cops failed to protect them after having foiled the attack by publicly exposing them to the media, thus putting them and their families at risk. This aggressive irresponsible behavior on the part of management underscores how little “the higher ups” understand terrorism. It is appalling.

In my opinion, and here I speculate again though based on experience that the nature of terror is poorly understood. When you have highly narcissistic personalities like you tend to do in management roles, this is a defense against their own terrors, which forms a blind spot in being able to effectively deal with terrorism. Terrorism to me is like working with psychological nuclear waste. One must be very careful and know one’s self as well in a self-reflective way. Terrorism runs so deep that it can impact on a boss’ narcissism. It can take over and cause him or her to shift into being even more passive aggressive and selfish. Why? Because they feel unconsciously threatened and terrorized by the terrorism but highly dissociated in a macho manner. They also feel tremendous envy and hence attacking. Again why? Because their narcissism signals that they are not as grounded as these competent cops were, for example. Because if they were to be promoted, these cops would be a threat to the boss’ little fiefdoms. The Peter Principle is clearly at work and the emergency service unit and bomb squad were perceived ironically and tragically as more of a threat than the Hamas Arab terrorist Abu Mezer!

Such ineptitude in the long run will come to destroy effective policing from within, if not checked. Here is where Hunt’s narrative is the most instructive. By delving into the highly charged emotional terrain of terrorism she sheds light on obstacles. Here are only a few of her observations:

“Police executives minimize the importance of informal personal relationships and information networks and seek to bring rationality and efficiency to the job.” 1

“… we can not expect street cops to suddenly shift their way of understanding the world to suit the needs of high ranking officials whose sense-making activities revolve around a different set of priorities and notions of danger and risk.” 2

“[it] takes only one or two troublesome bosses to wreak havoc with a good cop’s life, infect his personality, and undermine the pleasure and enjoyment he or she finds in the job.” 3

Hunt suggests that bosses take lessons in leadership management to come to understand their own personalities and how they interact with their cops. Too much machismo rules the day in this environment, which does not lead to effective nuances interactions. Moreover, there is a tremendous lack of self-reflection.

“… sadistic impulses of the group, minimal tolerance for weakness, difference, sensitivity or fragility among peers,” is rarely acknowledge. 4

An other instance of healthy group dynamics that actually saved lives, Hunt details those leaders on the ground, who made decisions that went against rigid rules of management demonstrating the sense of connection with their officers. These heroes saved their men and women during the 9/11 attack.

At times while reading this book, I could not help think of the recent movie Inception where we see depicted the levels of unconsciousness woven into our human fabric of being. I particularly thought that the depiction of being “under attack” in a paranoid paramilitary way, encapsulated and resonated with what these cops are having to deal with on a daily basis. Terrorism is about paranoia and its group dynamics remain incredibly fragile because the paranoia is swept back and forth from the offenders/terrorists/felons etc. to the cops on the beat and to the management above.

Hunt is accurate to use the phrase conflict and connection. How the conflict is handled will determine the nature of the connection and vice-versa.

Finally, Hunt drives home the point that police work today is far more dangerous and complicated than it was before 9/11. It is generally held that the police must know what is going on, on the ground 24/7, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, thereby trying to glean the best intel possible in order to safe guard its citizens. The foiled suicide bombing of 1997 points to the fact that this group of cops were insync with what was happening and they were intuitively tuned in, to themselves and their affective lives. You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to be able to listen to yourself at this level, though one has to have worked through one’s own terrors in order to be effective in warding off taking on those of the terrorist and even the bosses who can masquerade as friendly when in fact they are a bit of terrorists themselves.

Yet if there were one thing that I would have done differently in writing this text, I would have tried to better integrate the last chapter in the style of the narrative, which runs throughout most of the book. There is a bit of a disjunction.

Despite this quibble, Hunt’s Seven Shots should be required reading for all those involved in policing and counter terrorism studies. The book merits being adopted as a core textbook for understanding what needs to be done and how to do it. If this happens, half of the battle will be remedied, maybe even in less than seven shots.

Jennifer C. Hunt: Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and its Aftermath. University of Chicago Press, 2010. Buy at: Amazon.


  1. Kindle edition, page 4524
  2. Kindle edition, page4549
  3. Kindle, page 4586
  4. Kindle, page 5346

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