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Air Travel Safety

Terrorists' boots on the ground lead to travel fears

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Apr 10, 2011

Is it by design or accident that crime on surface transportation often comes under the media radar screen. Thanks to the high-profile activities of the TSA and Homeland Security, our fear of terrorists exploding bombs in their shoes as they take their seats on airlines takes center stage while the reality of explosives and other disastrous assaults on public ground transit is more likely to negatively impact our lives.

According to Brian Michael Jenkins of the Mineta Transportation Institute, another major attack in the USA is likely to come from local extremists who find their motivation in Middle Eastern politics. He believes that governments have learned from 9/11 and the threat to the air traveler is less likely to happen then before this incident. The cockpit doors are locked and airline passengers are empowered to protect and/or defend themselves. Even the bad guys recognize that desperate people will take desperate measures to protect themselves and the terrorists themselves are at risk of being beaten to death by enraged passengers.

It is easy to believe that the bad guys continue to be observant of passenger behavior and government/private security responses to security breaches; constantly working on devices that will go unnoticed by the current state-of-the-art security technology and body scans. Jenkins suggests that we must, “…recognize the vigilance of the terrorists and develop security procedures that are dynamic; we should see the situation not as a problem to be solved, but rather as a constant ongoing contest.”

Fortress Mentality
If the terrorists are unable to get on airplanes, Jenkins reminds us “…they will get you at the airport.” Accepting this observation as a fact, the question is raised as to whether the entrance/exits to airports should be more heavily secured. The check-in counter and baggage claim areas of airports are public spaces and while costly and disruptive, a fortress could be constructed to add layers of passenger security; however, if these measures did add deterrence, terrorists would just move their focus to the airport lobby, or the mall, or a popular city center. All public spaces are potential targets and could provide a windfall of destruction enabling the bad guys to feel like they had reached their desired objective.

Whatever is an acceptable level of risk is determined by “choices” according to Jenkins whose research has determined that, “Terrorists who attack transportation systems often seek slaughter,” with bombs killing an average of 20 people per incident. Surface transportation targets include: 1) busses (32 percent), 2) subways and trains (26 percent), 3) stations (12 percent), 4)tourist and school busses (8 percent),5) rails (8 percent), 6)bus terminals (7 percent), 7) bridges and tunnels (5 percent), and 8) other (2 percent).

Jenkins determined that terrorist threats focus on people and not infrastructure. The Jihadists have considered releasing cyanide in NYC’s subways(2003), bombing NYC subway stations(2004), spreading ricin on the Heathrow (UK) express (2005), attacking and releasing deadly gas in the London subway system (2005), bombing trains in Melbourne or Sydney, Australia (2005), blowing up a commuter train in Milan, Italy (2006), seizing hostages aboard a passenger ship or ferry in the Philippines (2006), blowing up NYC subway tunnels (2006), and detonating bombs aboard a train in Germany (2006).

Ground Transportation as Terror Targets
Surface transportation can be seen as a killing field as it provides attractions and distractions, is easily accessible, involves crowds of people in a confined environment (i.e., tunnels), enhancing the opportunities for serious destruction of property, considerable body counts, enormous disruptions, combined with fear and alarm.

“Terrorist attacks on public transportation are not new,” determined Jenkins in his statement before the Committee on Judiciary of the US Senate (2004). “Since the early 1990s, those concerned with security of pubic surface transportation have been increasingly worried that trains and busses…” were targets that could produce high body counts.

Sometimes terrorist succeed in their dangerous game. For example: 2003 Stavropol, Russia (42 killed), 2004 Moscow, Russia (40 killed), 2004 Madrid, Spain (191 killed), 2004 Russia (10 killed), 2005 London, UK (56 killed), 2006 Mumbai, India (207 killed), and 2007 Dewana, India (66 killed). The average fatalities per bomb: 24.

Lessons Learned
Jenkins does not suggest that everyone change their travel habits from public to private vehicles nor does he think that we have a problem without a solution. With a focus on deterrence or prevention, he recommends detection and diagnosis as a way to mitigate causalities and disruption through design and preparedness:

1. Visible security patrols
2. Closed circuit television coverage
3. Enlisting employees and the public in surveillance
4. Emergency phone boxes
5. Detection technology to determine if the incident includes chemical, biological or radiological weapons
6. Vehicular and facility design to eliminate hiding places, facilitate surveillance, reduce causalities
7. Safe areas to secure transit passengers during bomb threats when evacuation is not feasible
8. Exercises and drills to include transportation staff, police, emergency responders

Think Global Act Local
Since surface transportation is not a national system, Jenkins believes that a “best practices” approach will allow local authorities and operators to do what is best for their community. With this approach, the role of the federal government is to support research, develop and deploy experimental technology while providing intelligence and other resources when threats escalate to emergencies and result in terrorist attacks. Jenkins also advocates the integration of security into the construction of new transportation infrastructure.

Jenkins believes that, “Ultimately, the strength of this nation depends not on the thickness of its concrete walls or the severity of its criminal code, but upon the courage self-reliance and inherent creativity of its free citizens.”

Advisor to Presidents
Brian Michael Jenkins is an author (Will Terrorists Go Nuclear, 2008), and researched several RAND Corporation monographs as well as reports on al Qaeda. He is the former chair of the RAND Political Science Department and has served as a paratrooper and captain in the Green Berets. In addition, he is a decorated combat veteran having served in the Seventh Special Forces Group in the Dominican Republic and the Fifth Special Forces Group in Vietnam. Upon his return from Vietnam he was awarded the Department of the Army’s highest award for service.

President William Clinton appointed Jenkins to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (1996), and he has advised the National Commission on Terrorism (1999-2000). In 2000 he became a member of the US Comptroller General’s Advisory Board. From 1989-1998 Jenkins was deputy chair of Kroll Associates, an international investigative and consulting firm. Currently Jenkins is the Director of the National Security Center of Excellence at the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Director Jenkins holds a BA in fine arts and a Masters degree in history from UCLA, and studied at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and the University of San Carlos in Guatemala where he was a Fulbright Scholar and a Fellowship with the Organization of American States.

Terrorists' boots on the ground lead to travel fears
Brian Michael Jenkins, Director, Mineta Trans. Institute, Natl. Trans. Security Ctr. of Excellence

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