More on the real travel risks

As outlined in another post, I believe that there are real and tangible risks involved with train travel. I based my comments on the observations that I made when travelling in upstate New York, and then from Vancouver to Los Angeles. The way that I saw the problem is that there is little in the way of security in those smaller rail stations. I should add here that it was only at Vancouver in Canada where there were any serious checks of our luggage.  However, I think it would be difficult to execute a large rail disaster as proposed by material that was gathered up in the raid on the compound at Abbottabad, and the reason that I think that this is the case is due to the fact that there are very few longer trips per day. Take for example the trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. It is a two day trip that departs at around 10.00 am. and it arrives in Los Angeles late in the evening. The delays we experienced were due to the track buckling in the heat (record temperatures in 2009) and because freight trains receive precedence.  It would be very difficult to predict exactly when the passenger train would reach a certain spot because of the unpredictable timing of freight trains.

That being said, the greater danger is on the metropolitan trains, and this is the point taken up by Doug Powers on the Michelle Malkin site. 

A senator on Sunday called for a “no-ride list” for Amtrak trains after intelligence gleaned from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound pointed to potential attacks on the nation’s train system.

Sen. Charles Schumer said he would push as well for added funding for rail security and commuter and passenger train track inspections and more monitoring of stations nationwide.

“Circumstances demand we make adjustments by increasing funding to enhance rail safety and monitoring on commuter rail transit and screening who gets on Amtrak passenger trains, so that we can provide a greater level of security to the public,” the New York Democrat said at a news conference.

U.S. officials last week said evidence found after the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan indicated the al Qaeda leader or his associates had engaged in discussions or planning for a possible attack on a train inside the United States on September 11, 2011

Jihadi rail attacks have been a threat for more than a decade here and around the world, dating back to the 1997 NYC subway bombing plot and reaching all corners of Western civilization from Russia to Spain to London.

As I noted back in 2005, KSM’s interrogations yielded details of some of these ongoing bloody schemes. In March 2004, from Terror on the Trains and Al Qaeda’s Chechen Connection, Josh Lefkowitz and Lorenzo Vidino of the Investigative Project reported:

In the United States, the rail network has also been repeatedly targeted. On July 31, 1997, the NYPD launched a pre-dawn raid on an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, after receiving information that two men living in the apartment planned to bomb the New York City subway system. During the raid, police discovered nail-studded pipe bombs, one of which, in the words of a senior law enforcement official, was “all set and ready to go.” NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir remarked, “these individuals intended to take these bombs onto subway trains, set them off, and the probability is that they and many others would have been killed.”

The vulnerability of the New York City subway system again came into focus in September 2003, when Time magazine reported that Saudi Arabia had detained a terrorist with extensive knowledge of a plot to launch a poison gas attack on the subways. In April 2003, news broke that another captured terrorist, Al-Qaeda operations head Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had informed interrogators of an Al-Qaeda plan to target Washington D.C.’s metro.

The warnings from Mohammed and the detainee in Saudi Arabia roughly corroborated an October 2002 FBI statement that “information from debriefings of Al-Qaeda detainees as of mid-October indicates that the group has considered directly targeting U.S. passenger trains, possibly using operatives who have a Western appearance.” The statement also noted, “recently captured Al-Qaeda photographs of U.S. railroad engines, cars and crossings heighten the intelligence community’s concern of this threat.”

The information gleaned from the detainees, coupled with the foiled 1997 Brooklyn bombing plot, make clear the peril posed to the U.S. rail system. When this bleak picture is merged with the international threat assessment, it seems likely that the horrors of Madrid may be repeated in the not so distant future.

My 2009 reminder:

Terror suspect Najibullah Zazi has done us all a favor. But is it enough to rouse a nation in permanent snooze button-mode?

The arrest of Zazi, a Colorado-based Afghan airport shuttle driver whom counter-terrorism officials believe may have been plotting bomb attacks on New York City mass transit trains, raised alerts on rail lines across the country. A joint FBI-Department of Homeland Security assessment issued Monday warned law enforcement agencies about the use of improvised explosive devices against passenger trains overseas. Zazi was allegedly trained in manufacturing liquid explosives with hydrogen peroxide – the same material used in the London subway attacks in 2005. FBI/DHS analysts have recommended random sweeps and patrols at rail stations and terminals as deterrents.

Remember: The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the New York Police Department a few years ago to try and stop random bag searches. The civil liberties absolutists are against random searches because they constitute “unreasonable” invasions of privacy. They’re against targeted searches because they amount to racial, religious, or ethnic “profiling.” And they’re against across-the-board searches because they lack “individualized suspicion.”

The ACLU homeland security strategy: Do Nothing.

Over at the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder is committed to eliminating racial “disparities” in law enforcement. His anti-profiling allies at the ACLU and something called the “Rights Working Group” are working to end Bush administration counterterrorism initiatives “including FBI surveillance and questioning, special registration programs, border stops, immigration enforcement programs and the creation of ‘no fly lists.’” The ACLU and RWG have appealed to the United Nations to intervene through the “U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)” – which they say is empowered to require sovereign governments “to review national, state and local policies and amend or repeal laws deemed to be creating or perpetuating discrimination.”

Now, add anti-gun activism and stubborn union squabbling to the mix. As I reported two weeks ago, the Obama administration has quietly gutted the nation’s most highly-trained post-9/11 counterterrorism rail security team. According to multiple government sources who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, OSSSO’s East Coast and West Coast teams have not worked in a counterterrorism capacity since the summer. Their rifles were put under lock and key after Amtrak vice president for security strategy and special operations Bill Rooney and Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, who played an instrumental role in creating OSSSO’s predecessor at Amtrak, the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), were pushed out by Team Obama.

Amtrak confirmed to me last week that the elite members of the specialized Office of Security Strategy and Special Operations (OSSSO) no longer carry long-arm weapons, which played a vital role in the unit’s show-of-force patrols. Government sources blame anti-gun hostility inside Amtrak for the move. Amtrak also confirmed to me that West Coast members of the rail security unit – most of who come from Special Forces, counter-terrorism, and other military service — have been denied police credentials. According to OSSSO sources on both coasts, the rival Amtrak Police Department, in conjunction with the local police union in California, have stymied the process over labor issues (OSSSO members are non-union).

“Amtrak fully expects to have a resolution in the near future,” I was told by the rail agency’s press office last week. In the meantime, according to a high-ranking homeland security source, Amtrak’s unionized police chief has taken over and makes counter-terrorism deployment decisions based on pay squabbles. The rail agency is still dealing with grievances filed by Amtrak police officers over compensation during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Says my rail security source: “The deciding factor is overtime, not security.”

Dickering while jihadis plot. Feel safer yet?

I have substantially copied a lot of the post over at MM because there is much to digest regarding rail safety, and regarding how Eric Holder has worked to water down the safeguards that had been in place.

I still think that the real threat is to metropolitan transport because this is where most people would be crammed into the trains. Also, I think that having security at the bigger stations will not help if jihadists are intent upon making mischief with Amtrak. This is because of the low security at a myriad of small rail stations on the network. As I stated, Seattle is a good example of a station where there could be a disaster (and that is excluding the checking in counter!!! Ouch my bruised leg and knees and arms). Another station is Albany, it would not allow the jihadist entry to the train but the number of people congregating in the station could become a target. However, those smaller stations in upstate New York are extremely vulnerable.

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