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December 27, 2020
Analysis - What Exactly Happened With The Christmas Morning Explosion In Tennessee?

By: John Milton Peterson, Contributing Analyst


A large explosion occurred at approximately 6:30am CST on Christmas morning, Friday, December 25th, 2020 outside of 166 2nd Avenue North and across from the AT&T facility at 185 2nd Avenue North in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It was preceded by a verbal warning via some type of public address system, purportedly coming from a recreational vehicle (RV) which had arrived at the scene at 1:22am Police initially came to the scene when there were reports of gunshots at this location at 5:30am, hearing the warning, and subsequently evacuating citizens from the area. Then a very large explosion occurred. This damaged approximately 40 businesses and affected infrastructure which included a portion of the AT&T mobile phone and internet service both locally and regionally as well as interruptions of flights at the nearby international airport. As of this writing, there are no confirmed or named fatalities or persons missing. But, three persons were injured in the blast. The law enforcement agencies handling the crime scene state that this was an intentional act and linked to the suspicious and now destroyed RV. The FBI says that they are conducting investigations against at least one person of interest, to include conducting a search warrant on a residence possibly belonging to that person in the Nashville neighborhood of Antioch. A section of this portion of Nashville has been blocked off and a curfew implemented. A massive recovery effort is underway in downtown Nashville as attempts to restore power, search for bodies, and get the damaged infrastructure back online continue. The Governor of Tennessee has asked for federal assistance for the damaged economic district directly from President Trump. At the time of this writing, no arrests have been made and no fatalities have been reported. The FBI, ATF, and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department are seeking information about the suspicious RV and anyone who may know something about the explosion.


What was this event? – Was this a terrorist attack?

Many of us with background in this professional realm believe that this was a domestic terrorist attack that successfully detonated a massive VBIED – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device. It meets all or most of the criteria for a terrorist attack, although the specific motive and target have not yet been confirmed nor the perpetrators identified. The time and place clearly point to it being intentional and a terrorist attack. (more on that below). Contrary to amateur speculation on the internet, this was not a missile attack or some other type of explosive event, such as a gas leak or accident. Initial bomb damage assessments (BDA) and crater analysis all point to this being a VBIED. Whether the method of initiation of the bomb was command detonated, victim operated (booby-trapped), or detonated using a timer or time delay fuse all remain to be seen. Judging by the effects on the nearby buildings, and a series of very obvious “intel indicators,” this very much so was an intentional, pre-planned event and had a very specific motive. The timing, location, and type of blast all point to this being a terrorist attack. More of this is discussed below.

How we will eventually know all of this, and more definitive results pertaining to what is included in this analysis presented here, will come from the now two day old yet rapidly expanding investigation by the FBI, ATF, and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. The FBI and DOJ have a formidable capability for getting to the bottom of exactly this type of explosion. They have an enormous laboratory at the Quantico Marine Corps base near Washington, D.C. and other capabilities that would astound most. I got an inside look at all of this serving firstly as a Special Forces soldier and then contractor in this war that we are in now, at one point deeply involved in predicting the terrorist’s next moves and targeting them for capture or elimination.

This particular Christmas Day bombing bears some similarities to the bombings on February 26th, 1993 of the World Trade Center in New York City, and on April 19th, 1995 of the federal Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The DOJ got convictions in both cases.

In many other situations, the FBI has conducted sting operations or other proactive measures to thwart attempts to develop IEDs or acquire more sophisticated weapons and conduct domestic terrorist attacks. Federal law enforcement learned a lot from these and other cases involving IEDs. The very expensive and prolonged searches for the domestic terrorist “Unabomber” Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski (nearly 18 years) and Eric Rudolph (nearly 7 years) delivered many lessons learned and caused major changes in how they investigated these cases. Since these, and 9/11, they have gotten very, very good at this. Terrorists tend to copy and improve upon the work of other terrorists, and creatures of habit. The FBI and U.S. Intelligence Community know this, employ massive databases that catalogue and track every bit of it, thereby now being able to connect the dots. They can conduct rapid, granular searches, determining both the forensic grade details of the method of attack as well as the perpetrator in less and less time than ever before.

Bolstering this, and in the most exponential of ways, has been the experience of our military in the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT). On multiple contingents and involving the deployment of over a million troops, one of the three most common methods of attack, and most casualty producing, against our troops has been that of the IED. This advancement in countering IEDs led to the military’s establishment of a massive, highly funded organization to focus on this threat, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO. Billions of dollars of contracts were awarded via JIEDDO as well as DIA and other entities focused on the defensive and offensive measures against IEDs and those that fund, build, and employ them against us. This has caused one of the most dramatic series of changes ever seen in how our military equips and operates, to include its vehicles, protective items, intelligence processes, and so much more.

Nearly every type of completed and planned terrorist attack on American soil, especially involving explosives, has been terrorist techniques, tactics, & procedures (TTPs) pioneered by and/or that are in widespread use by foreign terrorists. This is especially the case with IEDs. Even the co-conspirators of the Oklahoma City Bombing had the advice of a foreign terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG, a designated FTO very active in the Philippines at the time). The 1993 WTC bombing was the work of foreign and foreign connected terrorists. And, was only partially successful as it did not work as intended. Nearly every element of the set of bombings on April 15th, 2013 at the finish line area of the Boston Marathon was an IED type and method of initiation developed and perfected overseas. In fact, these were among the exact same type that myself and other troops faced in Afghanistan in the first two years of the war. Although much of the Weapons Technical Information (WTI) and “how-to” of IED making originated in the USA, most of it is perfect overseas by our adversaries, to include the Islamic Republic of Iran. And to a rare art form at that. These foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) and malign actors spread these IED WTI and TTPs far and wide. This gets into the hands of persons based in the USA. This is why we are seeing highly successful bombings. The question is who did it and why did they do it.

Who did it and Why?

This bombing most probably was a terrorist attack based upon its method of attack and specific time and place chosen.

However, there are some very peculiar aspects to this event which are not the type modus operandi (M.O.) of international terrorists. At first glance, the choice of the morning of one of the two most significant Christian holidays would lead some to believe that this was the work of foreign, non-Christian terrorists, in particular, islamists / jihadists. And yes, they have for decades very often chosen dates and holidays either of significant to them or to their intended victims. However, I do not believe that this was the work of foreign terrorists. There are a number of reasons for this:

1. Primarily because their M.O. is to seek mass terror, most often by producing the most number of casualties possible in the target population and/or destroying a high value target. Although investigators stated that they have found human tissue remains at the crime scene, there has been no official determination of casualties at the scene yet, to include the perpetrators themselves.

2. The perpetrators issued a warning and picked a time and place that would be completely absent of human activity, in what is becoming obvious was an effort to avoid human casualties. Foreign terrorists almost never do that. In particular, islamists / jihadists. The perpetrators focused their efforts on a time, place, method, and target that was very specific and not at all what an FTO sponsored or foreign inspired, remotely radicalized terrorist would seek to do. Americans almost never specifically set out to target and kill large number of Americans. There have been a few attempts over the years, some successful. But, mass casualty events are almost always the work of foreign national or foreign inspired terrorists, or at least with their assistance. Of course, there are exceptions. In some of those cases, it served the purposes of foreign terrorists to aid domestic terrorists who had a separate agenda.

3. The perpetrators may have chosen a target that is not considered of high value to foreign terrorists. If they had intended to bomb this important cultural hub for live music, eateries, and bars, they would have done so when it was lively and packed with people. If they had intended to bomb the infrastructure present at the site, they would have both picked a more high value target and done a better job emplacing the explosives.

This and other clues all lead me to believe that the nature and motive of this attack was at least partially symbolic, perhaps to send a message. One of those clues lies in the location of the VBIED and its positioning.

Therefore, the intent and target of the attack could have been any of the following:

1. A disgruntled former employee at one of the local establishments, or person affected by the economic losses in the pandemic, seeking to inflict damage to an important cultural and economic district in Nashville. I believe that this has a low probability.

2. Someone intending to attack the critical infrastructure present in the very large, multistory building located directly in front of the VBIED, belonging to AT&T and home to a major center for internet and server based digital communications in the region, to include a consideration portion of the phone network. This explosion disrupted or knocked out ATT internet and mobile service both in Nashville and extending outwards to several other states. The president of technology at T-Mobile, stated on Saturday “We continue to see service interruptions in these areas following yesterday’s explosion. Restoration efforts continue around the clock & we will keep you updated on progress,” naming service disruptions affecting Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham and Atlanta. It also affected flights in the area, temporarily grounding flights at nearby Nashville International Airport. In my monitoring the twitter accounts and websites of these various emergency services agencies in and around Nashville, they continue to have problems getting their services back in proper operation. Portable cell sites had to be brought in to temporarily restore coverage. Therefore, the fact that such an important piece of local and regional infrastructure as the AT&T building cannot be ruled out as being the target of the attack. So, if the AT&T building was the target, any of these motives could have existed:

a. An attempt to damage our critical infrastructure, either for some yet to be known purpose, or to send a message of sorts, as a “sample” of further and continued attacks. Federal law enforcement must always assume that there will be follow-on attacks and a nexus of continued terrorism by an active cell or network until that is ruled out.

b. An ideological motivation that involves the AT&T building, to include possibly the conspiracies involving the developing 5G network. There are some absolutely preposterous theories going on regarding this 5G network, their connection to the pandemic, and more. Much of it is the mind-numbing, mindless “tin foil hat” conspiracy theory nonsense that spreads among intellectually lazy and amateur night folks on the internet. Many of these persons are either mentally ill or driven to the point of delusion and militancy by the fiction spread online. Periodically, the influence of these result in mass shootings, workplace violence, and other terroristic events. Additionally, there is increasing ire and animus towards the various “Big Tech” companies by millions of Americans, to include for their role in election interference, censorship, deplatforming, and a massive destabilization campaign against the President for the past four years. All of this flows through the primary internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile & internet service companies such as AT&T.

c. Something connected to our strife over the 2020 General Election. In less than ten days from the explosion is to be the final counting of the Electoral College votes by our legislature. It may be the most contentious in history. Some of the rhetoric online is concerning. Anyone seeing the contentious and volatile rhetoric on social media and in chat rooms would easily conclude that there is a dramatic uptick the strife and banter over this. To include talk of a “civil war.” After a few hours of this, I have observed very concerning discussions by left wing, libertarian and anarchist, and right-wing account holders. This is not isolated to any one political party or faction. Luckily, our federal counterterrorism capabilities monitor and investigate articulated threats and any nexus to conduct such. They are constantly on the watch both domestically and overseas. Yet there is cause concern, especially when it comes to entities which have clearly demonstrated in the recent past their propensity to act on their threats.

In particular, we have