Officers from a handful of Central Texas law enforcement agencies staked out two Austin businesses last week, then watched eight "terrorists" -- five of them from Blanco County -- study the sites as bombing targets.
For their part, the "terrorists" watched back, trying to ID the cops. They pegged some, but not all, while the officers were able to tag all of the Blanco Baddies.
"We sought the law," observed Martha Mason of Blanco, "and the law won."
It was all part of a class in surveillance taught at the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) for police agencies in this part of the state. The officers spent several days learning how terrorists work, and how to watch them without being seen.
For their day-long test, they needed friendly terrorists willing to be watched as they worked. CAPCOG found them in the Blanco County Disaster Response Group.
Besides Mason, the local terror cell also included Pastor Sid Spiller of the Johnson City United Methodist Church, and his wife, Marge.
"It turned out to be a lot of sweaty work," Marge Spiller said, "but it was a world of fun, too. We got to play roles and do things we'd never do in real life, and learning how the cat-and-mouse game works between police and terrorists was fascinating."
They were given a crash version of what the officers had learned: how terrorists scope out targets for attacks and how security scopes out the terrorists, then were turned loose at the two sites to see whether they could get into places they shouldn't get into, and find ways to get a bomb in with them.
The bad news is both targets were surprisingly vulnerable to such an attack; even the amateurs could figure out easy ways to cause a lot of mischief. The good news is neither is likely to be on any terror group's target list.
In one case, the "terrorists" found easy access to a supposedly restricted employees-only parking area in the sub-sub-basement of the building, where one truck-bomb could bring down eight floors of parking, shopping and offices.
In the other case, they were able to reach the electrical center that would have shut down power for blocks.
"The experience was positively liberating, and in a good way," Sid Spiller recalled. "We found ourselves really getting into the mind-set of terrorists...trying to out-smart the professionals...becoming people we'd never hope to meet, much less imitate."
"And it was eye-opening to discover how easily we could go about our nefarious business in plain sight of everyone, with almost nobody stopping us or asking what we were doing. Sometimes they even helped us!"
Now the group has to hope no real terrorists decide to attack either of those businesses. How would they convince all those cops they had nothing to do with it.