(Originally appeared in the New York Post:
Alton Nolen Photo: AP Photo/Oklahoma Department of Corrections
The signs were all there, glaring, waiting to be seen. The predisposition to violence, time spent in prison, emotionally unstable Web postings.
Alton Nolen, the alleged perp in last week's horrible beheading in Oklahoma, was no aberration.
If anything, he was a ticking time bomb with a short fuse.
His firing from Vaughn Foods was simply the catalyst that seemingly tripped the trigger in his mind to move from jihadi thoughts to violent action: One small switch, one perceived slight and he was gone — doing what he had seen ISIS members do, beheading innocents.
Several radical Islamist groups had recently urged American "lone wolves" to act in the name of Allah and attack innocents wherever they could. Nolen evidently decided to heed the call.
But it could have been stopped before it started. Authorities should know beforehand what an individual like this can do. There's even a profile of tell-tale signs that authorities should pick up on.
Back in 2004, a US intelligence agency issued a report on the profile of potential terrorists, a k a violent extremists. This said, in part:
"Based on a variety of reporting — including a preliminary analysis of a small sample of US converts to Islam who become associated with extremist violence . . . Some individuals, particularly those who convert in prison, may be attracted directly to jihadi violence at the outset of their conversion for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons. For this group, jihad represents a convenient outlet for aggressive behavior."
It goes on: "In an apparent play on this psychological vulnerability . . . extremist groups are actively recruiting prisoners."
The same year that report was issued, the FBI instituted the Correctional Intelligence Initiative, a program designed to track radicalization in prison and forward the data to the local Joint Terrorism Task Forces when such a prisoner was released.
In this case, the Oklahoma City JTTF should have received an alert from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections when Nolen was released. It seems likely someone fell down on the job.
Spending time in prison did not in and of itself make Alton Nolen a potential terrorist. But media accounts tell us there were additional warning signs: exposure to radical Islamic teachings and an apparent in-prison conversion, followed by Facebook postings and verbal rants against America and the West, then incessant attempts to proselytize co-workers. The authorities should have picked up on all that before the fatal day.
If we think that groups like ISIS don't seek individuals just like Alton Nolen to do the dirty work of jihad, we are gravely mistaken. They aren't seeking "a few good men" — one crazy is sufficient. Another Jose Padilla or Richard Reid will do just fine.
Authorities need to recognize the traits beforehand. Counterterrorism can and does make use of "predictive policing" — the use of metadata collection and analysis as well as other techniques to identify not only where a crime is most likely to occur but also who is most likely to commit such an act.
Major city police agencies, including the NYPD, regularly use such techniques against crime of all kinds.
Islamist terror groups adapt to our counter-terror strategies, constantly changing their methods for getting their message out. Today they recruit via new forms of communication, such as social media, but their core audience is the same as outlined in those 2004 reports.
That's why the NYPD has personnel assigned to collect and analyze data from the prison system, as well as monitoring Web sites and chat rooms used by radical Islamic groups to attract new believers.
On a national level, agencies such as the FBI, CIA and NSA need to be vigilant in monitoring chat rooms and Web sites in addition to mining intelligence data from prisons and other areas of concern to stay ahead of the "lone wolf" crazies listening to the voices of ISIS.
The threat is real — but so are the signs.
Patrick Dunleavy is the former deputy inspector general for New York State Department of Corrections and author of "The Fertile Soil of Jihad."