London Transport Bombings

I am on vacation today and this weekend, and won't be able to read about the London Transport bombings in depth until Monday. For now I would just like to express my sympathy and condolences to those directly affected, and the good people of London, England, Europe, and the world. Targeting innocents might be an effective tactic, but that doesn't make it any less craven and despicable.

I would also like to urge everyone not to get wrapped up in the particulars of the terrorist tactics. We need to resist the urge to react against the particulars of this particular terrorist plot, and to keep focused on the terrorists' goals. Spending billions to defend our trains and busses at the expense of other counterterrorist measures makes no sense. Terrorists are out to cause terror, and they don't care if they bomb trains, busses, shopping malls, theaters, stadiums, schools, markets, restaurants, discos, or any other collection of 100 people in a small space. There are simply too many targets to defend, and we need to think smarter than protecting the particular targets the terrorists attacked last week.

Smart counterterrorism focuses on the terrorists and their funding -- stopping plots regardless of their targets -- and emergency response that limits their damage.

I'll have more to say later. But again, my sympathy goes out to those killed and injured, their family and friends, and everyone else in the world indirectly affected by these acts as they are endlessly repeated in the media.

Posted on July 7, 2005 at 1:27 PM • 69 Comments

Comments

ZJuly 7, 2005 1:44 PM

Thanks Bruce,

Being British, I know that Londoners have lived with more of the spectre of Terrorism than anyone else in Britain. While that does not make this attack any less evil it does mean that the plans and support to deal with this are more likely to exist there than anywhere else.

I've already heard comments about what was happening in New York on the news and wondered "what's the connection between London and New York?" I would have thought that other large British cities would have more immediate cause for concern.

Z.

anonJuly 7, 2005 2:18 PM

I'm curious: London has one of the world's highest densities of security cameras (http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd%5B347%5D=x-347-65433). I wonder to what extent these cameras actually help security, and if they will turn up any useful evidence.

markJuly 7, 2005 2:27 PM

Every morning my train in Chicago stops some where short of the downtown loop and waits while a bomb sniffing dog is quickly walked by the train. This always seemed like not enough to really catch anything. Anyone with more detailed knowledge know if this is anything more than the illusion of safety in action?
Can I assume that London had similar measures on their trains?

davidJuly 7, 2005 2:41 PM

In their ever-ready stance against the attack that has already happened, the US Department of Security Theater has ordered all mass-transit systems (and ONLY mass-transit systems) to Code Orange. Gaaaaaah.

I am on my way to the airport, it'll be interesting to see what new invasions of decency Big^H^H^HUncle Brother^H^H^H^H^H^H^HSam has cooked up in the wake of this.

Felix_the_MacJuly 7, 2005 2:59 PM


I live in the UK. I good make lots of points, however, the one thing which made me shout at the radio today was hearing Tony Blair say:

"We will not let these people change our way of life"

Blatant hypocracy, we have already changed:

1. ID Cards
2. Imprisonment without trial
3. Launching an illegal war.
(You may agree or disagree with the war but I believe that almost everybody in the UK acknowledges that it was illegal, i.e. not authorised force under the UN charter.)

British history is a tale of people gradually taking power away from the few. Now this process has gone into reverse.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 7, 2005 3:04 PM

Nice message Bruce.

Although you say there are too many targets to defend, I remember the "curtain" in central London established in response to the IRA's intent to damage the financial district. Do you feel that this was effective?

No matter how smart we get about counter-terrorism and response, I suspect it is human nature to establish a layered perimeter of security to define who we "trust" (like the moat(s) and walls of a castle surrounding a keep).

An interesting review of past terror attacks in London:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/...

NickJuly 7, 2005 3:29 PM


Administration sloganeers like to point out that 'we're fighting the enemy over there (Iraq), so we don't have to fight them over here (US).' This is a prime example of what happens when slogans pass for sensible security and international policy. Just because bad guys are knocking on the front door does not mean they won't come in from the back door or the side window. You don't have to be paranoid, you just have to be aware.

Timm MurrayJuly 7, 2005 3:31 PM

Let's assume for the moment that the reason was to disrupt the G8 summit. Why make the attacks in London, instead of Scotland where the actual summit is being held?

The summit itself is going to be on alert. By hitting London, the summit can still be disrupted, but success is more likely. In other words, the attack happend at a more vulnerable, but roughly equally vital point. Keeping the whole country on alert is logistically impossible.

Although I think the G8 explaination is more likely, I don't buy the reasoning that it couldn't have been in response to the Olympic announcement. The reasoning goes that it would take too long to plan and implement the attacks. But just how long would it take to put together a few simple bombs and leave them around? A few people with the materials on hand could probably put four bombs together in a half hour, or a few hours if you have to drive around and buy what you need.

Still, the G8 explaination seems more likely, due to the fact that it tends to piss off more people than the Olympics.

YaytayJuly 7, 2005 3:39 PM

My question on terrorism, is what are they actually expecting to achieve?

You, they may well cause a whole bunch of knee jerk reactions that constrain our civil liberties, but half of the knee jerk reactions will merely hurt those they purport to represent.
I understand some violent acts (I condone none) but I just don't see what they think they will gain.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 7, 2005 3:42 PM

The only thing I fear about these attacks is the possibility that someone responsible for security out there, out of fear or anger, will make stupid security decisions that will only either waste lots of my tax money or make my work or everyday life harder for little or no security benefit.

SimonJuly 7, 2005 4:07 PM

Thank you. However, I'm afraid that the political pressure to do something highly visible (like U.S. airport security checks) immediately will keep leading to ineffective security measures that "prevent the last terrorist act" (like those generals who always 'fight the last war"). Many, many more attacks will have to occur until there is another kind of pressure, to look at the underlying causes.

Nomen NescioJuly 7, 2005 4:31 PM

mark: if the bomb dogs in Chicago are properly trained (and properly used), and if the bad guys decide to use one of the substances the dogs were trained to detect, i'd say the K-9 patrols are likely to notice them. the canine sense of smell is almost incredibly acute, and drug dogs have amassed some truly impressive finds in the past; there's no reason to believe explosives dogs could not do as well, within their field.

the problem is, of course, that dogs can only find the substances they've been trained on, and there's likely no way to train a dog on everything that can be made to explode. people in the shooting sports have told me anecdotes of dogs not reacting to common gunpowders, even when the scent of them should have been clear.

gunpowder, of course, isn't a high explosive and may not be well suited to bomb making. still, there's bound to be some explosive compound that'll slip through regardless. for all we know it might even come down to the bad guys not knowing how a bomb dog is trained, which could be a rare case of security by obscurity actually being important and useful.

(as well, there are only so many bomb dogs to go around, and their number can only be increased so fast. scanning a daily commuter train may or may not be the best use of such a scarce resource, with such a narrow applicability, as a K-9 unit. i don't know enough about those trade-offs to guess if they've been decided "correctly", though.)

Ricardo BarreiraJuly 7, 2005 5:06 PM

One thing that dogs can't prevent are suicidal bombers... They would just "push the button" as soon as they saw it.

But they do protect against lone bombs left in random places :)

DylanJuly 7, 2005 5:24 PM

@x:
Australia?

Two possibilities:
1) A high profile attack on an internationally iconic location. Most likely Sydney. Not very likely, but you never know.

2) A lone crazy islamic extremeist decides to do something silly in his/her local area. Much more likely than 1, but with less impact (probably.)

I have been incredibly impressed with the attitude and reactions of the British people, especially the emergency services (and by extension the media, which is telling us about it all.) They seem to have performed very well in mitigating the damage.

Ian MasonJuly 7, 2005 5:28 PM

I too fear a knee-jerk reaction that introduces more measures that infringe on our civil liberties here in the UK while failing to add any security to our lives. We're already seeing previously introduced 'temporary' legislation being used as a method of limiting legitimate political dissent - anti-terrorism legislation was used to suppress protest at an arms fair in East London a short while back.

One of our most senior and respected politicians, who retired from parliament at the last election, said a few days ago that we are drifting into becoming a police state. I prey that we don't let this become an excuse to let it drift further that way.

What frustrates me is that the UK government is packed full of lawyers, yet they ignore the lawyers saying that "hard cases make bad law" - that is, that baseing a law on a particular case or event leads to a bad law.

I'm also rather disappointed at how much we're letting the threat affect us. We're used to the IRA trying to blow us to kingdom come - I missed the Army and Navy Store bomb by seconds and have been close to others. We learned to let it not impact our daily lives. The events today brought London to a transport standstill. We never let the IRA do that, we pressed on with normal life as far as possible. And sixty odd years ago London carried on regardless of the best efforts of the Luftwaffe. Today a few pounds of explosive brought us to a grinding halt.

markJuly 7, 2005 5:57 PM

Well I guess that is good to know on a certain level. This particular train line goes directly under a number of large and important state and city government buildings - which is probably why they believe it is a potential target and have the dogs checking most rush hours.

They walk along the train so fast it is hard to believe they actually could sniff anything. The overall inconvenience, is somewhat small - as for the cost/scarcity side of the equation, who knows.

Another note on Chicago's "L" security.
I live right next to one of the emergency hatches for the train - today the fire department was working on it, for reasons I assume are related to the London attack. Graffiti taggers use it as an entrance to the subway train tracks and practically never caught. Here is an example of a safety measure (an emergency exit) that could be exploited to make things less safe - even if you make it one way, someone could still walk along the tracks, open it, and allow others to enter the subway tracks with dangerous cargo.

Terence TanJuly 7, 2005 6:04 PM

"2) A lone crazy islamic extremeist decides to do something silly in his/her local area. Much more likely than 1, but with less impact (probably.)"

Yesterday, some guy threw a 'burning package' (I heard that it was a Molotov cocktail, but that's probably apocryphal) at the Australian Prime Minister's residence in Sydney. Doesn't appear to be Islamic extremists - just your usual run-of-the-mill nutter. http://smh.com.au/articles/2005/07/07/...

And yeah, there have apparent threats against the Sydney Opera House, etc. etc. by Islamic extremists.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 7, 2005 6:47 PM

@Ian Mason

Well said. Several commentators have suggested that London is a target for maximum disruption and exposure.

The link I provided above provides some background data relevant to your point:

"The IRA bomb campaign, which hit London from 1973 onwards, sought to create a climate of fear over a long period, but it soon tried to explode two or more devices at a time to maximise the havoc. There were 36 bombs in London in 1973."

I find it interesting that this rash of bombs appear to have not disrupted London, and are not even mentioned on "terrorist incident" lists:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorist_incidents

This reminds me of the chilling quote by Ayman Al-Zawahri recovered from a HD in Afghanistan that "we only became aware of [biological weapons] when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concern that they can be produced simply."

http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2001/...

Ari HeikkinenJuly 7, 2005 7:08 PM

The US response to the attacks in London appear to be almost hilarious. Unless raising the alert level of mass transit systems didn't impress you atleast I was most impressed by that temporarily closing public restrooms for security reasons. I'm sure everyone in the US feel much safer now considering possible terrorists might cancel their plots knowing those public restrooms are closed.

Anyone ever thought this whole response might actually make everyone less secure? While all the police and their security patrols (with machine guns and bomb sniffing dogs) are currently checking mass transit systems those terrorists might already be elsewhere (possibly attacking other targets).

Ari HeikkinenJuly 7, 2005 7:14 PM

Meant to write "might actually be elsewhere". That is, if they attack mass transit systems in the UK by what logic they also have to attack mass transit systems in the US?

David DeavesJuly 7, 2005 8:00 PM

I was pleased to hear one news report refering to a cafe owner giving away food and coffee to the emergency services working in the area. I would much rather the media focus on these good, human and appropriate re-actions to a terrible situation. Rather than them speculate randomly for hours about who gets 'credit' for the attack, which seemed to be the main focus of the earlier reporting.

JoeJuly 7, 2005 8:16 PM

The IRA bombed specific targets usually giving a coded warning in advance - These guys seem to be less picky in their targets, anyone will do as long as it gets media attention. The right response to the IRA attacks is not the right one for this new threat, but neither is a knee jerk reaction. You firewall dangerous traffic at it's entry into your network - we need to do the same with terrorists - not worry about countermeasures in specific places. It all comes down to one thing in the end, good, human intelligence.

NickJuly 7, 2005 8:35 PM

The closing of restrooms as a security measure doesn't seem to make sense, unless it is planned as a staging area - the one place you can absolutely be sure of privacy for a couple of minutes (enough to say, attach the wires to the detonator). However, this strategy also presumes the bad guys all make a pit stop before doing the dirty deed.

Closing the restrooms probably does more to prevent transient drug users from shooting up in the loo than it does to safeguard the system overall from a terror attack.

anonJuly 7, 2005 9:08 PM

This is really a stupid move by this terrorist group. Britains are not going to fold in the face of terrorism like people in some other countries might.

The first thing I thought when I heard the news was: "Wow they sure wasted a ton of money on cameras there." Hopefully this will convince people in other areas that turning your city into a scene from 1984 does little to prevent terrorism. I can't help but think that the money could have been spent in a more intelligent way.

DavidJuly 7, 2005 9:50 PM

After 9-11 gun sales in the US went way up. Too bad that cannot happen in the UK. Since the police can't be everywhere, it would be smart to have civilians be able to react at the scene.

DylanJuly 7, 2005 10:09 PM

@Nick:
Many offenders experience involuntary bowel spasms when committing crimes (a reason that many home invasions involve defacation incidents.) This is a documented part of the human 'fight-or-flight' response, a voiding of the bowel to lighten the body for potential escape. It is just possible that by closing public restrooms, you are putting up a psychological roadblock.

Paul OJuly 7, 2005 10:29 PM

It'll be at least several weeks before truth can be sorted from various untruths, but there are already early suggestions that the cameras, while not able to prevent every attack, will prove extremely useful in identifying who perpetrated this act and go after the remaining members of that group directly and quickly.

Spending billions to defend our trains and buses does make sense. But it should not be viewed as only, or even primarily, a preventive measure. Just as calling the police after a murder has occured doesn't prevent that death, it has prevention of further crime as its security goal.

In this particular instance, it is also important to note how well the response planning worked. Attackers hit but a few hundred yards from the heart of the Financial District of The City and the London Financial Exchange didn't need to halt trading. There are some reports (CNN) that the cellular network was closed to personal calls, but the communications infrastructure continued to function. (Some timing devices were later recovered, according to ABC News online.) I suspect as facts come out that we will see this as a security success overall (though clearly not an unqualified success), despite the tragedy for many.

That the City of London has spent decades preparing against terrorist attacks shows through in their response.

NickJuly 7, 2005 11:38 PM

@Dylan ...

You're assuming the perpetrator intends to escape, which is not the case for a suicide bomber.

I would also be interested to see if the correlation - based on criminal behavior/modus operandi - applies equally to terrorists, or if the framing of a political goal allows them to rationalize their actions and avoid the obvious.

The question remains, if the lavatories are closed off, would the bomber choose to soil himself and complete the mission, or abort - perhaps giving up the perfect timing or circumstance? A closed bathroom does not automatically preclude a successful attack.

For a system like San Francisco's BART, the optimum target would be the transbay tube, either requiring a timed or manually triggered device (not sure if radio signals would work reliably) ... not three miles away at the station with the closed bathroom.

Nick BarronJuly 8, 2005 1:55 AM

Nice post Bruce; you are right on the mark. We need to stop "fighting the last war" and deal with the root causes rather than expensive and inneffective point defences that score easy points with the tabloid press.

Nick BarronJuly 8, 2005 2:01 AM

@David "After 9-11 gun sales in the US went way up. Too bad that cannot happen in the UK. Since the police can't be everywhere, it would be smart to have civilians be able to react at the scene."

Oh yeah, that's what we need, more guns. Because an armed civilian population is such an effective deterrent against terrorist bombings.

From a Yahoo postJuly 8, 2005 2:27 AM

Why are Iraqi lives valued so little?
by: rashers102 (927/M/Near a Beach on an Islan) 07/07/05 12:24 pm
Msg: 257 of 3836
5 recommendations

The idea that all people are created equal is at the basis the American and other constitutions around the world.

But in Iraq, atrocities like this happen on a daily basis, and are all but ignored.

Yet when one incident kills 40 people in Britian or America there is media and political hysteria.

Each explosion in Iraq, whether from a suicide bomber or an American jet, causes the same deaths, the same screams, the same grieving parents and orphaned children, the same maimed, the same blood, the same pain.

Yet so many people accept it, don't think of it and, whenever they think of the victims, see them as somehow unreal, like characters in a cartoon or Hollywood movie.

What has happened in London is horrific, but what happens almost every day in Iraq is equally horrific. The difference is that in Iraq the horror is not just one day - it is continuous.

From a Yahoo postJuly 8, 2005 2:37 AM

Almost as Barbaric as attacking a
by: columbian12 07/07/05 12:57 pm
Msg: 1120 of 3837
9 recommendations

basically defenseless nation and killing 100K and destroying their infrastructure all for the sake of a pack of lies.

almost!!

ChrisJuly 8, 2005 3:38 AM

As a London resident, I welcome Bruce's call for a calm and measured response to these incidents.

There is a strong danger that elements within the British government will not react so rationally, and will resort to security theatre in the face of public pressure. The battle against ID cards just got harder.

British people must unambiguously tell their representatives that curbing civil liberties will weaken, not strengthen, our stance against terror. If we relinquish a free and open society then we have already lost.

AndyJuly 8, 2005 3:40 AM

Funny, I don't remember as much of a fuss over Omagh - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omagh_bombing - and attacks like this happen regularly in Iraq too.

What I want to know, is what do they expect to achieve by this? To 'slay the infidel'? To stop British interference in Iraq? That is a war which a large part of the population didn't want - but this will only harden attitudes.

Why do they slaughter innocent Iraqis?

I guess might point is, remove the motivation and you remove the terrorist.

As for the 'Almost as barbaric' post - Iraq was basically defenseless in the sense that Saddam did have mustard gas, had used it, and was thought to have more.

AndreJuly 8, 2005 6:16 AM

@ David:

"After 9-11 gun sales in the US went way up. Too bad that cannot happen in the UK. Since the police can't be everywhere, it would be smart to have civilians be able to react at the scene."

Aehm, 'react' with guns means what? Shooting I guess - but at what? The next moving target? Great, that will help a lot...

JB RobertsonJuly 8, 2005 8:01 AM

The horrible thing is that at the same time the bombs exploded, the city centre of Edinburgh was placed under Section 60 (Anti-terrorism) because the government was disliked the fact that people would protest against the G8.

What a terrible example of misuse of the anti-terrorism laws. Labour said they would never use these laws against political Dissent, and yet...

Obviously it must be terribly difficult for the authorities to fight against real terrorism, still they cannot help making the entire policy a joke by pretending that non-violent protesters are terrorists.

Condoleances to the Londoners, shame to the government that uses these dolors to ease its control.

GiacomoJuly 8, 2005 8:08 AM

Isn't it ironic that the ones loudly shouting for more "security precautions" and "let's nuke Mecca" are always the ones not involved. Londoners know that this is not a civilization fight, this is a bunch of lunatics looking for an excuse to give up their worthless life. The best counter-measures, as Bruce said, are to cut any link between these fucked up individuals and the puppeteers who provide them with explosive/organization/plans. We know this time the puppeteers succeeded, but how many times they didn't, thanks to serious intelligence efforts? This time, they probably used some local shit-head that intelligence people didn't know about. The first analysis note that a single person could have done this, and the bus bomb was probably an error (the bus should have gone to a metro station nearby, but the route had been changed on the day). I sincerely hope the UK Islamic Council will keep its words and keep emarginating these fuckheads as they should, because I sincerely don't want to have to stop again some mancunian chavs from assaulting innocent Sikhs because "he's a towel on his head, like Osama".

BenoitJuly 8, 2005 8:12 AM

While I totally agree with you concerning the fact that you can not protect every group of people from a terrorist plot, I would just like to say that the only real way such a horror works for the terrorists is the fact that the medias make headlines out of it.

Is it he bomb itself and the poor people that were killed that the terrorists are looking for? Or is it media coverage? Terrorists rely on terror (strange isn't it) and terror is based on what know is dangerous but can not control at all.

The number of person killed and mutilated may not be very far off what happens, unfortunately, in a regular weekend in England concerning car accidents. You can not control the fact that you will be or not be in next weekend's car accidents.The medias don't talk about the total deaths every weekend and terror is inexistent. So the real question is: how much noise should the medias do about terrorist attacks?

A while back security bugs were reported as they were discovered and everyone found this nice to know where the holes were. Today the holes are made public two months after (if my memory is good) or when a patch is available if this happens earlier. This change of security procedure did not please everyone at the beginning but it was meant to insure that nobody could take advantage of the media disclosure before the patch was available. Couldn't the mass medias do the same with terror, on their own? Just talk about an explosion, not deads, no cameras on the scene, no theatricalism?

This security problem did not exist until TV news "sideshows" appeared. Could it disappear if journalists accepted the fact that they are maybe playing on the terrorist's side the way they are relating the facts? Is increasing your Nielsen rating worth the death of the ones that will be in the next bomb attacks? I sincerely don't know but I do know that what really hurts me is the fact that people are going to die because it'll be in the front page of all magazine's.

Roy OwensJuly 8, 2005 8:51 AM

1. What did they hope to achieve? Joyful glee in the Islamist world. (For how it plays there, ignore the sermons in English, attend only those in Arabic.)
2. Note that the entire UK security system was a perfect failure here.

AndrewJuly 8, 2005 9:43 AM

A truly wonderful Editorial appeared today in the Mirror, espousing everything that is so often said here.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/...

A cogent paragraph:

"Don't let our government take that freedom away from us, by pushing through knee-jerk, Draconian measures such as compulsory fingerprinting and identity cards. Can Charles Clarke explain how they would have stopped one single death yesterday?"

Don HydeJuly 8, 2005 10:01 AM

I submit that the security precautions against terrorists were 100% effective. The eight participants at the G-8 summit were quite safe behind their 10,000 guards.

The terrorists were driven away from the actual decision-makers and forced to deploy their scarce resources against expendible ordinary citizens.

As Bruce points out, a defensive perimeter is extremely difficult to deploy, and becomes prohibitively expensive as the perimeter grows. It is physically impossible to defend an entire country against terrorist attacks. But if the assets being guarded are few enough and the resources available to guard them are vastly larger than the resources of the attackers, then that defense can be extremely effective.

The resources of entire countries can defend a small group of rulers against all sorts of attack. Even an antimissile defense could probably be made to work if it only had to protect eight men.

Such a defensive strategy was employed in Europe during its feudal period, and it was successful for a millenium which we now know as the Dark Ages.

Each noble had his own castle. These castles were built, stocked, and defended using the resources of the entire duchy, county, principality or whatever. They protected only the nobleman, his family and retainers, and defenders. The peasants and artisans who supported the enterprise were expendible and no attempt was made to protect them from attack.

I feel like this is an awfully cynical assessment, but fear that it is realistic. I would appreciate any evidence to the contrary.

jammitJuly 8, 2005 11:06 AM

Terrorists are good for one thing. Terror. If I was a bad guy and I had an equal opportunity to hit a military base or a pet store, I'd bomb the pet store. It's crazy and makes no sense.

ChrisJuly 8, 2005 11:11 AM

Bruce wrote about this in _Beyond_Fear_:

"In a transit system, every rider is a trusted person who is allowed through the barriers and onto the trains and buses."

With many riders carrying backpacks and briefcases to work or school, preventing this type of attack in a manner we can afford might be virtually impossible.

I doubt that the security checkpoints used in an airport that carries 50 million passengers a year would be acceptable in a transit system that carries over 2 billion riders per year - at least without raising fares exhorbitantly. And since riders embark at 17,000 points across the city, fixed infrastructure at these locations is not likely to provide a usable and cost-effective solution.

The only potential solution that comes to mind is training bus drivers to look for unusual behaviours among the passengers. Of course, a driver is already somewhat busy navigating city traffic - and adding a guard on every bus again raises the question of cost-effectiveness.

JulianYorkeJuly 8, 2005 11:15 AM

"The only potential solution that comes to mind is training bus drivers to look for unusual behaviours among the passengers."

I imagine its usual to see unusual behavior as a driver

Davi OttenheimerJuly 8, 2005 11:45 AM

@Chris

Good point. Behavior profiling has been discussed extensively on this site, mainly with regard to the new airport procedures.

To be realistic though, we should admit that information security precautions are a reality. For example, before we start worrying about screening passengers, we must first know that the drivers themselves can be trusted. And then there's the issue with bus mechanics...a few days ago we discussed the issue with catering company access to planes.

Sorry Bruce, but the idea that "In a transit system, every rider is a trusted person who is allowed through the barriers and onto the trains and buses" is culturally naive.

We might have (had) this perception in the US, where we maintain a very strong bias towards unfettered personal transport, but when you travel widely (and not just via Air) through diverse systems you quickly discover that your rights vary wildly. Some cultures start out with an implicit distrust, and some react to the abuse of trust (e.g. freeloaders) by implementing preventative and detective measures that basically presume riders are guilty until proven innocent. And to take this one step further, there are always locals intimately familiar with the system and who regularly skate the line -- transport hackers who know how to quietly evade controls they deem unnecessary.

Paul OJuly 8, 2005 11:51 AM

The goal of a security system is not to prevent all attacks from occuring, but rather to make any such attack more costly in planning, execution, and escape. Let's say it again: any safe can be cracked; any computer can be hacked; any target can be attacked.

That this attack occured is not a security failure unless those responsible are never identified. People lost their lives, and that is terrible. But while we work to minimize the murder rate, we accept ourselves as secure while that rate is still above zero.

Steps are taken to protect the populace, additional steps are taken to protect the infrastructure, and yet more steps are taken to help the authorities with their investigation when the initial steps prove insufficient - as they eventually will. And we learn what additional protective steps are appropriate to be put in place in the future.

I'm certainly not advocating collecting a list of who is sitting where at all times on every train or bus, but surely we can acknowledge that security is enhanced if a would-be terrorist knows that he and all his associates will be quickly caught. The phrase "soft target" has meaning for a reason.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 8, 2005 11:59 AM

@Don

Very illuminating. Your comment about the dark ages brings to mind that technology should significantly change the situation. For example, when the police established a physical perimeter around the financial district of London, many companies simply said their commuters could take advantage of remote offices as well as tele-communting/conferencing. This dispersion should raise the question again of whether the main point of these attacks will be to destroy infrastructure, inflict casualties, grab attention, or some combination of the three.

ChrisJuly 8, 2005 12:12 PM

@Davi;

How does one design a transit system where you don't trust the riders sufficiently to let them on the bus?

I think the point of Bruce's comment is that you have to at least trust them that much if the system is going to operate at all. If you decide that passengers are too risky to trust on board the bus or train, then perhaps you go into the freight business. But the London transit system doesn't have that option.

Freeloaders are only one of the possible attackers. And the system still largely takes the point of view that if you pay your fare, then you are sufficiently trusted to enter the bus - not that those two things are linked, though. Just because you give the driver money doesn't mean you are trustworthy.

AnonymousJuly 8, 2005 2:04 PM

Bruce, well said. This is a tragedy, and I hope the UK can move on without resorting to worse "Big Brother" tactics.

@Don: You are confusing soldiers with terrorists. None of the G-8 participants were targeted. The goal of terrorism is not to kill any specific person. The goal of terrorism is, in part, to gain attention by making a visible public threat. In this case, the incident is very visible, and statements from those claiming responsibility are widely available. They are bringing attention to their cause. They succeeded at gaining attention, which may have been their only real goal. In short, they succeeded, and preventative security did not hamper them.

@Benoit: You are 100% correct. Terrorists need the media to be effective. Without media coverage, they can't spread their message. Maybe they chose London *because* it has so many cameras and terrorism is a huge media issue.

As for the issues of citizens with guns, there is a difference between terrorism and regular crime. A criminal's goal is not to get attention, a terrorist's goal is the opposite. Here in the USA, the areas with the most violent crime are the areas with the most restrictive gun control. Read that again: the areas with the _most_ restrictive private gun control have the _most_ violent crime.

Back in the old west, when the settlers and townsfolk were mostly veterans of the civil war, crime was almost unheard of. Why? Because nearly every townsperson had a weapon and knew how to use it.

Armed citizens wouldn't stop terrorists with bombs, necessarily, because terrorists have different goals and different deterrents. However, armed citizens can still be a great benefit - look at what happened on 9-11 with United Flight 93, even without weapons. The same thing could have happened on the other planes. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd feel a lot better stopping a criminal or terrorist if I were armed.

DavidJuly 8, 2005 2:51 PM

A group that manages to bomb repeatedly over the course of a decade, who is well-funded and well-trained by wars against the Soviets and now the U.S./U.K., it may be time to at least talk with terrorists, even if we don't necessarily give them what they want.

In the end, open communications will make us safer. By allowing the terrorists to exploit the masses with their rhetoric, new terrorists will appear, especially since there are so many people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that hatred for invaders is pretty easily understood.

Some of their stances may be justified, such as having foreign troops leave the area. What nation would the U.S. allow to host troops in its country? It certainly wouldn't allow any, much less those from Islamic nations, so it may be clear that having U.S. (Christian and Jewish!) forces in their nations might be upsetting.

However, their desire for a caliphate may not be very popular, and thus that stance will have less support. By reducing support of the causes, we can reduce terrorism. We cannot kill our way out of it. That battle is a losing proposition, especially among parties that are used to warring over centuries, not just decades.

Open communications will let ideas be shared, increase understanding, decrease misunderstandings, and allow people to learn about freedoms and other aspects. Rather than bombing these areas, we should be spending money on cell phones and Internet capabilities so that all people can have access to information. The more people know, the less they will be tricked by these terrorists.

It is well known that education works better, but we seem intent on beating ploughshares into weapons.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 8, 2005 3:51 PM

@Chris

Good question. I suppose you would design it the same way you would design any screening system, by assessing the trade-offs between efficiency and safety.

In many countries, you would only be sold a ticket after you have been formally screened, while others would probably not need any information at all. As a passenger would you ride a bus because you feel inconvenienced but safe from the other passengers, or because it is convenient but risky. Another way of looking at it is, have you ever tried to ride in the upper-level at the back of the night bus through southwest London? The bus riders tend to arrange themselves in different groups, already divided by their level(s) of trust, and I would guess that most drivers have a good idea of who is going to sit where.

Come to think of it, those millimeter wave video screening devices seem like exactly the sort of thing that you might expect to be mounted over bus doors in a few years' time.

Israel probably provides some detailed case examples because they have had to deal with the suicide bomber problem for years, yet their buses still run reliably. Some other countries (which I will not mention here) provide bad examples because passengers are as much at risk of being mugged or killed by the actual tranportation company employees as from other passengers.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 8, 2005 4:16 PM

"Back in the old west, when the settlers and townsfolk were mostly veterans of the civil war, crime was almost unheard of. Why? Because nearly every townsperson had a weapon and knew how to use it."

Whoa! That's the funniest thing I've heard in a while. Crime "unheard of" in the "old west" because everyone had a gun? Hilarious.

Ever heard of Dodge City? It became a byword for violence as each person stood a much greater chance of being killed than normal. Statistically it was far worse than US cities today with the highest homicide rates.

Believe it or not, there's a grain of truth to the fact that "the Old West" was a violent place, even though most of it has been greatly sensationalized by writers as a bunch of wily characters brandishing arms in saloons, holding private lynchings, and shooting at each other over the smallest difference of opinion (lawlessness)...in fact, if you consider the open advocacy by some to exterminate Native Americans, you can really open a can of worms about what constituted "law and order" and "crime" at that time.

BobJuly 8, 2005 4:21 PM

Wouldn't the easiest way of defeating terrorism would be taking away their political motivations? If they have no reason to bomb us (i.e. occupation) then it would just be about hating the West for its ideas, which wouldn't gain as much support and eventually die out.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 8, 2005 4:56 PM

Yeah, give everyone a gun so they can go out shooting anything that looks like a terrorist. And while at it, they can also shoot anything that looks like a criminal. Both terrorism and crime problems solved! That probably tops even that closing public restrooms for security reasons idea..

Ari HeikkinenJuly 9, 2005 7:56 AM

The biggest threat about terrorism isn't the next attack, it's the stupid response by governments (and even people) to the last attack.

Brian Reade of Mirror.co.uk has some intelligent things to say about response to attacks like those in London in an article named "HOW SHOULD WE FACE OUR OWN 9/11?".

Everyone should read that and then stop and think about it for a while.

P.S. I made the earlier post on purpose to stop the thread.

Ron HelwigJuly 11, 2005 8:30 AM

I would like to know Bruce's (and other people's) thoughts about the security of PRT vs. Mass Transit. It seems to me that a PRT system, where you wouldn't have large groups of potential victims locked into one compartment would make a much less compelling target.
(They're also hugely cheaper to construct and operate, according to their PR)

CRFJuly 11, 2005 6:50 PM

Regarding the terrorist's motives, I don't agree that they place much consideration upon the UK's involvement with the US in the Iraq occupation. It is worthwhile to note that the thesis expressed by Islamic militants such as Osama Bin Laden were developed much before this event, and that these events do not add to that thesis's validity as seen by a jihadist or even a neutral observer (I am not making claims as to the rightness of al Qaeda's views, merely how sympathizers or others understood them).

Recall the uniqueness of this man's life. He grew up with an insider's knowledge of the present development of Saudi Arabia and its relationship with western powers. He saw how selling oil to western nations did little or nothing at all to advance his country, and in fact brought much harm to it.

Saudi's are ruled by people who's wealth and influence depend on America. The course the nation is setting is not being done through the consent of the populace, or through even through a generally accepted law in that land (the Koran). It is no longer a culture that is ruled by itself, but corrupted by outsiders.

Osama would ask "how does selling Oil benefit Saudi Arabia?" and he answered "It doesn't". It doesn't make Saudi's happier. It doesn't make them more godly. It doesn't give them more freedom (in fact, it gives them LESS, despite the small democratic measures inacted by the corrupt rulers). It has created a society at the height of corruption and duplicity in the world. Remember the privileged position Osama grew up in -- he saw this Saudi Arabia, and knows it for what it is.

The fact, barely mentioned, that terrorists rarely come from countries who are truly independent from the United States, even where that independence expresses itself in ways that are diametricrally opposed to US mores and foreign policy, is significant. Consider Libya, Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Congo, West Bank, even Iraq: these are NOT countries where terrorism run's amok, and are not large sources of terrorist suspects. The source of terrorism finds itself in states where society's course has been dictated by a complete reliance upon selling oil or other goods precious to the US, AND the absence of developing an identity seperate from that. It isn't just about oil.

Islamic terrorism's main goal is not truly the harm of the US or the West. It is not because the terrorist hates "our freedoms". The main goal of Al Qaeda is the dissolution of the corrupt middle eastern regimes that depend upon the west for their very identities. But it will attack all allies of those corrupt states.

There is a second part of this thesis, the terrible, confused, sickening part, in which recruits who believe in Osama's views should kill and main those in the west, and (more to the point) those who cooperate in Saudi Arabia's, and other nations' decent. Osama was well exposed to business. He knows how to sell a good con in order to get what he wants.

It is not difficult to see that the west's iraq invasion can be seen as another exemplification of al Qaeda's thesis. Al Qaeda themselves trumpet it (it is an outrage to them, and useful "recruitment tool" to attract those who might be interested in their main message). But outrage at Iraq's occupation is not their main message. It is not what drives them now, and I doubt it is what has truly driven any of the post Iraq invasion terrorism strikes. Those who bomb are, likely, truly immersed in al Qaeda's world view: realities like the current status of Iraq, are less important, realities like murder and blood up close and personal, even less important. The thesis of alQaeda is central in their lives.

There is a real lesson here. Many, many people find Osama's views logical, and just. But very few believe in his terror component, and fewer still would do anything to carry it out. Still too many.

I think there is much the west could do, politically, to help stop terrorism. One is to honestly confront Osama Bin Laden's ideas, and also, more importantly, to logically destroy the validity of the second part of his message (the mass murder and killing part). It is such an easy task! Islam itself forbids and never condones Osama's perverted ideas of justified killing! Instead, the west refuses to listen to or debate any of the real wrongs that Osama talks about. It is a mocking, provocative stance the west has taken. It makes the second part of Osama's message seem even more appealing to a potential recruit of alQaeda.

What we hear some talk about (mostly among the talking heads on TV who want to be seen to be 'in control of the situation') is to allow the Saudi Royal family to be overthrown in a silent coup by the Saudi military, in a controlled manner. Execute them. This would do much to placate the real and logical grievances that drive terrorism's recruitment. Rather extreme one might say (and illegal and somewhat psychopathic), but oil needn't be totally cut off from that country necessarily. Other sources could be brought to bear. People can conserve or put on a sweater, or stop their air conditioner, or halt the production of useless goods. Oil crises are something the world can live through anyway (its been done before).

But we do neither, and so we do nothing (neither scheme for revolution, nor meaningful dialogue). The alternative to doing nothing to address the real concerns of Islamic terrorists (except avowing to officially maintain a complete ignorance of them, and pretend that they "only hate our freedoms") is truly psychopathic.

Ankur VermaJuly 12, 2005 7:33 AM

Don’t Rush

Destruction of the humans, by the humans, for the inhumane. Just destruction, nature may destroy its unruly creation one day but we are bent on proving that we are no less at that either. Man, woman, black, white, caucasian, magnolian, arab, american, african…. so many versions of human being that we are taught about today but the fact remains that we are all human beings. Some believe we are on the verge of discovering ET, believe me they are gonna refer to us as Human Race only.

We have problems at hand today that are not of concern to just one human being, one community, one religion or one country-but to US ALL. Poverty, illiteracy, global worming, nuclear threat most of them man made. But as if it was not enough. As if we are tired of being humane, tired of seeing each other every day – day in day out and just wanna do away with all this -(expletive deleted)- and start afresh. But that’s not our job, never was. Let nature be. And let the God.

Don’t rush.

You see, every one has to die. Who is to say whose faith is right and whose not. Its just about doing what you think is right so that you would be at peace with your own soul. And curses never let you be at peace with your soul, blessings do. You know that.

This is a message for all those who try to justify crusades or jihads or wars on so called righteousness grounds. Nothing has been foisted upon us. Its all man made, created right here by us. We don’t need to do anything extra to come out of it, just need to STOP doing a few things.


I hope the message would be heard by the right people and the wrong people alike.

StomaphagusJuly 12, 2005 6:23 PM

@jammit:

"Terrorists are good for one thing. Terror. If I was a bad guy and I had an equal opportunity to hit a military base or a pet store, I'd bomb the pet store. It's crazy and makes no sense."

Exactly. I'd blow up a bookstore in, say, Chapel Hill, or a post office in Juneau. Something to say, "I can kill you anywhere, big city or small town, I don't care."

laurenSeptember 27, 2005 9:33 PM

I live on the same street as the affected Edgware Rd tube station and I think that the desparate, pathetic actions of the small minorities of this country cannot tear us apart. We are a multi-cultural society and WILL remain that way, I am happy living in Edgware Rd despite the large Arabic community, as far as i'm concerned we all live in one of the luckiest and safest places in the world where justice and peace preavail. My main message is that I AM AFRAID but i will NOT let ANYONE change my views and way of living in the heart of Britains capital. I LOVE LONDON!

AnonymousMay 12, 2006 7:39 AM

hello this is darren mitchell no complaint but to the sad sad london bomings i think we shouls stop terror atacks the army and sas should take out alcider and the iraks jenirals once and for all so the world of iraq should all be gong good luck?-darren

lolaJanuary 9, 2007 5:01 PM

? im sorry but i was doing a project on thr problemes and threats for london (im in high school) and i was expecting to find some good information on your site...but i didn't. now that makes me a little angry but its still a good website. so keep it up! maybe you should take some not very interesting stuff out and put in some interesting stuff.buh bye

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