Threat Intelligence Blog

Posted January 29, 2016


American football.

By Marc Larson and Hans Mathias Moeller

Super Bowl® 50 will take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7. The event is expected to draw more than one million people to the San Francisco Bay area. After reviewing open source threat intelligence (OSINT) available to date, analysts in our Special Investigations Unit have provided an assessment of Super Bowl® security in our white paper, “Physical Threat Assessment for Super Bowl® 50.”

While we have not identified expressed threats by terrorists to attack the 2016 Super Bowl®, homegrown violent extremists (HVE) and international terrorist networks have demonstrated past interest in attacking sporting events and football stadiums, including the 2015 Super Bowl®. Based on our analysis, we see homegrown terrorism inspired by jihadist terrorist networks as the biggest potential threat to the 2016 Super Bowl® security.

Terrorists could be interested in attacking the Super Bowl® for a variety of reasons, including the highly symbolic value of the game for the American football-loving public, the potential for mass media attention, and the prospect of a large amount of damage and chaos in a relatively contained area.


Football has deep roots in American culture, and the Super Bowl® is the ultimate representation of the game. If attacked, there’s potential for a psychological and demoralizing impact on U.S. culture, resulting in fear and anxiety among the general public.

For international terrorist networks subscribing to an ultraconservative Salafist jihadist ideology, the Super Bowl®, and American football in general, evoke symbolic images of U.S. cultural imperialism, wealth, and materialism. An attack would strike at the very core of U.S. daily life.

This could also result in an indirect economic impact on the U.S.’s tourism and hospitality industries. Not only would an attack cause a possible short-term decline in demand for attending live sporting events, but also sport stadiums across the U.S. would have to re-evaluate and install costly counter measures to prevent future attacks and to restore the public’s confidence.


A terrorist attack inside or in the vicinity of Levi’s Stadium would generate immediate global media attention. Terrorists see attacks on these events as an opportunity to maximize publicity and magnify their message to a global audience. Many times, the media is the only way terrorist organizations can deliver their message to civilians. Terrorists hope to instill fear and panic and perhaps pressure governments to concede to their demands.

Attacks on major events are also used to reach a terrorist organization’s own constituency. They wish to show their current and potential supporters of their determination and strength in an attempt to satisfy them and recruit active supporters.


Lastly, sporting events like the Super Bowl® are targets of opportunity because of the thousands of spectators gathered in a confined space for a long period of time, maximizing the number of human casualties. This, combined with the low-cost and rudimentary knowledge required to construct an improvised explosive device (IED), makes perpetrating a terrorist attack at such an event cost-effective from the terrorist perspective, no matter how reprehensible that concept is to most people.


Although businesses are typically not the direct targets of terrorism, they are not immune to the impacts of an attack. If your company is located in the Bay Area, here are some ways to enhance your security posture in the event something is to occur:

  • Anticipate road closures, vehicle checkpoints, public transportation suspension, and closed airports or a city’s airspace.
  • Stay up-to-date on current terror threat trends.
  • Have updated contingency plans, which should be practiced on a regular basis to maintain high levels of readiness among employees.
  • Make employees aware of evacuation and invacuation procedures and designated assembly sites near corporate facilities, including a second site if they have to move away from the building. Decide in advance who will have the authority to order an evacuation and issue an all clear when employees can safely return to work.
  • Train employees in scenarios involving active shooters to maintain readiness.

Contact us to request a copy of our white paper, “Physical Threat Assessment for Super Bowl® 50” or for more information on our Special Investigations Unit.

This post was based on research from multiple sources, including: “Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions of Terrorism, SAGE Publications” by Joseph Tuman; “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire” by Chalmers Johnson; “Political Terrorism: A New Guide To Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, And Literature” by Alex Schmid; and “The Strategy of Terrorism, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 53, No. 4” by David Fromkin.

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