Source: Harvard Crimson
Abstract: The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) subway system is perhaps the most underappreciated public resource in the Boston area. Although many grumble over its inconveniences, few could do without it, and many quite literally need it to survive. We may lament its early closing time or uneven schedule, but without the ‘T,’ vast swaths of the public, not just we tight-budgeted students, would be hamstrung.
Nevertheless, our subway is in trouble—the perennially underfinanced T is not nearly as secure as it should be from terrorist attack.
History, as well as common sense, shows that mass transportation systems are a particularly attractive target for terrorists—the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo subway attack, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, and the 2005 London subway bombings are proof enough. But while the federal government has undertaken a massive and fairly successful campaign to beef up airline security, measures to secure local mass transportation systems have lagged far behind, whether as a result of wrangling over the disbursement of lucrative homeland security grants at the state level, lack of initiative at the local level, or plain old bureaucratic foot-dragging at every level.
A recent report authored by the office of Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios ’90 (D-Cambridge), chairman of the Joint Committee of Public Safety and Homeland Security, suggests that the T has been one of the prime victims of this syndrome. “If there were an attack today, the first responders to a T attack are, by all accounts, not any better prepared than they would have been five years ago,” Barrios told the Boston Globe.
It is unconscionable, for example, that five years after Sept. 11, MBTA police officers still don’t possess the adequate technology to communicate with local fire departments or ambulance services and will not be able to do so for at least 18 more months. In addition to better communications equipment, Barrios’ report calls for the hiring of 100 more MBTA police officers, for full-scale subway terrorism drills, and for better allocation of federal homeland security money to help local communities outside of Boston proper to secure their T infrastructure. All are necessary measures to improve the safety of the subway and its passengers.
Officials from the MBTA have characterized Barrios’ report as overwrought, pointing out that the T is in the middle of a security initiative to upgrade its surveillance cameras, with 310 installed now and 200 more planned. But we remain unconvinced that enough has been done to make the Boston subway system as secure as it needs to be. We strongly support Barrios in his efforts to appropriate enough money to plug these holes.
Moreover, it’s frightening that Beacon Hill has placed such a low priority on the MBTA that the safety of T riders is in doubt. Whether the current situation has arisen intentionally, it turns our stomachs to see wealthier commuters driving to work on a massively expensive highway system when the MBTA system, which has a ridership largely composed of those in the lower income tax brackets, continues to struggle financially. With a projected $70 million deficit (or 27 percent of its annual operating budget) for the coming fiscal year, the largest debt service of any transit agency in the nation, stagnating tax revenue, and a legal obligation to be financially self sufficient, security is just one of the MBTA’s many worries. And the least the state government can do is to make sure that the MBTA continues to have the resources necessary so that it can continue to safely serve the regions riders and communities. Maybe the Red Line won’t ever be as safe as the airlines, but right now, it’s nowhere close (Harvard Crimson, 2006).
Title: Beirut Comes To Washington
Abstract: Twenty-five years ago this week, an intelligence report crossed my desk warning that Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon's Bekka Valley were preparing a major attack. Two months prior – on April 18, 1983 – a Hezbollah truck bomb had exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 and wounding another 120. With this grim event in mind, we launched an "all-source" effort to determine the nature of the planned attack, the timing and the target. We failed.
At 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, October 23, 1983, the killers carried out their assault. A single terrorist in a Mercedes truck loaded with explosives crashed into the U.S. Marine compound near the Beirut Airport, turned into the lobby of the four-story headquarters and detonated his lethal cargo. The blast brought down the building, killing 241 Americans and wounding 81 more. Two minutes later a similar bomb exploded beneath a nearby French Paratroop barracks, killing 58.
Until 9-11-01, it was the deadliest terror attack against Americans in history.
Since the truck-bomb attack on the Marines in Beirut, we have taken to calling these types of terror weapons "vehicular-borne improvised explosive devices" or "VBIEDs." In 1993, ten years after Beirut, Islamic terrorists in New York City used a VBIED to bomb the World Trade Center, killing six and wounding 1,042. The same kind of weapon was used in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia to kill 19 and wound 515. By 1998, Al Qaeda had made the VBIED their weapon of choice – using them for near-simultaneous attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya – killing more than 200 and injuring over 4,000.
While covering U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for Fox News, I have been an eyewitness to nearly a dozen VBIED attacks. Last week a suicide terrorist driving a small car swerved into the main gate at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. When security officers moved to stop him, the driver detonated his deadly cargo, blowing himself and 41 others to pieces. Had the VBIED gone off inside the compound, the carnage would undoubtedly have been even worse.
We have learned that VBIEDs are difficult to detect, hard to deter, and when detonated in an enclosed space, they are incredibly deadly. Bloody experience has also taught us that the best way to prevent this lethal destruction is to keep vehicles well away from buildings that are potential targets. Unfortunately, it is a lesson we may learn again – in our nation's capital.
Today, Pennsylvania Avenue is a maze of bollards, vehicle barriers, high fences and heavy gates. Without the appropriate pass it is practically impossible to get a vehicle anywhere near the White House – or any other federal building. In the parlance of security specialists, this is called "offset protection." Regrettably, that kind of safeguard is lacking at one of the busiest buildings in Washington, D.C. – one that I use nearly every week – Union Station.
The 101-year old landmark is a terminus for 4.1 million Amtrak passengers a year. Annually, more than 25 million tourists, Metro and regional rail commuters pass through the facility. Reflecting bloody experience in Madrid and London, trains arriving and departing from platforms behind and beneath Union Station are patrolled by armed law officers. Yet, the front of Union Station practically invites attack by a terrorist driving a VBIED.
Unlike other public buildings in Washington, including our nearby Fox News bureau, there are no barriers to prevent a vehicle turning off the street and into and the front entrance of Union Station. Worse, the nearest vehicle lane – a taxicab rank – is less than seven feet from the face of the structure. In short, there is no "offset protection" whatsoever. You don't have to be paranoid to envision a VBIED bringing down the 96-foot high ceilings and turning the busy lobby into a charnel house.
"Why," I asked Amtrak officials, "are vehicles allowed so close to the station entrance?"
The response came as fast as a trip to Manhattan on the Acela – and straight from the front office of Amtrak CEO and President, Alex Kummant. "Amtrak completely agrees that additional protection against vehicle-borne improvised explosives should be deployed at Union Station," wrote Cliff Black, Chief of Corporate Communications. He also noted that, "Amtrak has requested that the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), provide a permit for the railroad and station management to install added protections."
Amtrak – a "tenant" at Union Station – has even offered to pay for security measures that would prevent a VBIED from crashing into the building – to no avail. Apparently, the "owner" of the property – the Department of Transportation can't make it happen either. Worse, the NCPC – and the half dozen other federal and local bureaucracies which purport to have a "say" in the matter – don't seem to care as much about security as the railroads using the station.
Had Amtrak officials not promised to take "immediate, interim measures to prevent VBIED attacks," I would not have publicly acknowledged this vulnerability. But until somebody does something smart, the millions of us who pass through Union Station had better move fast through the lobby, pray for no VBIEDs – and think: "Beirut" (Military.com, 2008).
Title: U.S. Terror Alert Expands To Transit And Stadiums
Date: September 23, 2009
Source: CBC News
Abstract: The U.S. government expanded a terrorism warning from transit systems to sports stadiums, hotels and entertainment complexes this week, as federal investigators look into a possible plot to set off bombs hidden in backpacks.
Federal bulletins were sent to police departments this week saying that while no specific plots against stadiums and other entertainment venues were known, police officers and private companies were cautioned to be vigilant.
The warnings come after the arrest on Saturday of three men, including Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Denver airport-shuttle driver who authorities say received al-Qaeda training in Pakistan and who was found entering New York City two weeks ago with bomb-making instructions on his computer.
Zazi, his father and a local imam in New York face charges of lying to authorities in a continuing terrorism investigation.
Authorities claim in court documents that Zazi played a direct role in the alleged terror plot, although officials have said they don't know the timing or location of any planned attack.
"It's not totally clear to us at this point what it is they had in mind, though I think it is clear that something very serious and something very organized was underway," Attorney General Eric Holder told CBS.
The bulletins to stadiums note that al-Qaeda's training manual makes specific instruction for "blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality and sin ... and attacking vital economic centers."
Sports officials from the major hockey, football, baseball and basketball leagues in North America said they were confident they had adequate measures in place to thwart a potential attack
"We are aware of the memos from the federal government, including that there is no information specific to any sports stadium," National Football League spokesman Greg Aiello said.
"This underscores the high levels of stadium security that are maintained and will continue to be maintained at every NFL game for the safety of our fans and teams."
National Hockey League spokesman Frank Brown said security is a collaborative effort for the league.
"We work closely with our arenas and local law enforcement agencies to create a safe, secure environment for our fans at all times," he said. "We work with our partners continually to update and apply appropriate security measures to address security concerns."
Sports fans said the latest warnings wouldn't affect their plans.
"If it happens, it happens," said Lynn Calhoun, an Indianapolis computer programmer who visited Conseco Fieldhouse — the home of the Indiana Pacers — to purchase orchestra tickets.
"Where are you going to go? What are you going to do? You can't just go and hide out in Canada for a month."
At a Cleveland Indians game, Jess Pryor said she thinks most fans don't worry about their safety at games.
"It will be that way until something else happens again," she said.
New York's transit agency said it has increased police presence around the city, in part because of the meeting in the city of the United Nations General Assembly.
Thousands of visitors and politicians are also scheduled to meet in Pittsburgh on Thursday for a two-day Group of 20 economic summit (CBC News, 2009).
Title: Railroad Police On High Alert As Sept. 11 Anniversary Approaches
Date: September 5, 2011
Abstract: Railroad police are on high alert for suicide bombers at Union Station in Chicago as the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks approaches this week, authorities said.
Based on intelligence that al-Qaida might attempt to strike again in the U.S., Amtrak police are stepping up patrols at the Amtrak-owned Union Station using one of the newest high-tech security tools in their arsenal: vapor-wake detection dogs.
Conventional bomb-sniffing canines that are used by the Chicago Police Department, the CTA and Metra are trained to identify explosives hidden inside stationary objects, such as a garbage can, an abandoned suitcase or carried by a person in the immediate vicinity.
Vapor-wake detection dogs can do that too. But their extraordinary value involves the ability to pick up the scent of explosives that passed through an area up to about 10 minutes previously and follow the scent to its source, experts said. They do so by sniffing the plume of air wafting off a person and what they are carrying.
Your Getting Around reporter and a Tribune photographer observed as two vapor-wake detection teams went on their rounds last week at Union Station. The dogs patrol in a back-and-forth sweeping motion, and they never touch an individual, but their behavior changes dramatically, sending an indication to their handler, when they hit on a potential explosive, officials said.
"If someone were taking explosives through a station, the dog might be at the top of a long escalator, and even with the person passing quickly below, the dog would pick up the vapor wake and follow it back to that person," Amtrak police Chief John O'Connor said. "It gives us the power to detect a suicide bomber in the middle of a crowd."
Amtrak police Officer Stan Bailey and his partner, Riot, a Belgian Malinois, patrol Union Station and its rail yard. The team also rides Amtrak trains in the Chicago region checking out other rail stations.
"We take train rides so the dogs operate with passengers,'' said Bailey, who has been on the police force almost five years. "The vapor-wake dogs work for about three hours, take a break and then go back to work."
Riot recently picked up on a scent and followed it to a man dressed in a business suit at Union Station, Bailey said. It turned out the individual was a U.S. marshal passing through the station, and Riot had picked up the odor of black powder in the marshal's gun, Bailey said.
Although it was a false alarm, it demonstrated the dog's keen sense of smell.
"If the explosives are actually moving or the person has come and gone, Riot will detect it and follow the scent,'' Bailey said, adding, "I will put my dog up against any other detection dog anywhere."
Amtrak has two vapor-wake detection teams based at Union Station, along with conventional bomb-sniffing canine teams, officials said. The vapor-wake dogs were trained at the Auburn University Canine Detection Training Center in Alabama.
Authorities are being extra vigilant at Union Station, which serves Amtrak and Metra trains, and other rail stations in the U.S. because of intelligence gathered during the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, O'Connor said.
"We know based on information recovered from the bin Laden compound that there had been some talk about launching an attack in the U.S. in association with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and using trains in that attack," O'Connor said.
"We are doing everything possible that nobody picks up on that intent," he said, adding that the FBI is not aware of any specific target or terrorist operational plot. "We can't ignore the fact that al-Qaida was talking about attacking trains."
The threat of an attack succeeding against commuter or mass-transit systems is considered high because the systems are much more difficult to secure than airports and they are accessible to everyone, according to experts.
Terrorists detonated 10 bombs placed in backpacks at four locations in Madrid's train system in March 2004, killing almost 200 people and injuring more than 1,500. Terrorists struck again in July 2005 on the London Underground and a bus. More than 50 people were killed, and about 800 were wounded.
O'Connor said he believes that the mobility and versatility of vapor-wake canines are major advantages.
"At the airports, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has machines that they have to single-file people through,'' he said. "We've got these dogs that can literally walk among 1,000 people and pick out a suicide bomber.''
The TSA this year deployed vapor-wake detection teams at O'Hare International Airport after the first TSA class of dogs graduated the 13-week program at Auburn in April, officials said.
Amtrak police Sgt. Michael Stoltz went to school for three months with his partner, a vapor-wake dog named Ryder, a yellow Labrador retriever. The two haven't had a day apart from each other since then.
Stoltz said it took a little while to learn Ryder's "quirks of behavior,'' but now the pair communicates clearly with each other.
While on patrol last week, Ryder displayed curiosity about a bag a woman was carrying in Union Station. Stoltz knew immediately that the dog was not flagging explosives because the pooch didn't give the subtle pull of its leash to signal something dangerous is there.
Just as your Getting Around reporter started to ask Stoltz how he could tell the difference between mild curiosity and Ryder lighting on a suspicious package, the woman carrying the bag bent down to face the dog and said in a grandmotherly way, "No, No. I've got cookies in there. You can't have them" (Chicago-Tribune, 2011).
Title: Amtrak Funding In Crosshairs In
Date: September 10, 2012
Source: KPTV News
Abstract: Warning to Amtrak from Mitt Romney and Republicans: You're on your own.
The platform Republicans adopted at their recent convention includes a call for full privatization and an end to subsidies for the nation's passenger rail operator, which gobbled up almost $1.5 billion in federal funds last year.
The platform says taxpayers dole out almost $50 for every Amtrak ticket.
At its core, the debate over Amtrak juxtaposes differing visions about what role government should play in ensuring access to public services.
For President Barack Obama, Amtrak symbolizes a communal investment in
the American infrastructure that enables and catalyzes economic growth. For
Romney, who built a career mending the balance sheets of unprofitable
companies, dropping Amtrak fits neatly into his message of doing away with
spending that government can't afford (KPTV News, 2012).
Title: Report: Amtrak Employees Failing Drug,
Alcohol Tests At Alarming Rate
Date: September 29, 2012
Abstract: A new report blasts Amtrak, the nation's largest passenger rail carrier, for dangerously overlooking drug and alcohol use by its employees.
The report released Thursday, an internal audit by Amtrak's Office of Inspector General, says drug and alcohol use by employees has steadily risen since 2006. The majority of employees who failed drug tests were reported to have tested positive for cocaine and marijuana, according to the report.
Amtrak's employees failed drug and alcohol tests at a staggering 51% higher rate than the rail industry average, the report said. Amtrak officials estimate that they've spent $1.5 million to screen employees in 2012 alone, but employees have exceeded industry averages failing drug tests in each of the past five years.
Federal regulations requiring railroad companies to implement drug and alcohol testing were put in place after a deadly 1987 Amtrak collision with a freight train in Chase, Maryland. In that accident, investigators concluded that a Conrail freight train engineer was under the influence of marijuana and ran three signals before colliding with the passenger train, killing 16.
Employees in safety-sensitive positions are subject to closer federal regulatory scrutiny when it comes to drug and alcohol testing. But the inspector general's report suggests that Amtrak officials have turned something of a blind eye toward enforcing its own policies for testing employees and complying with regulations.
In a blistering criticism of the role senior management at Amtrak has played in its failure to curtail the problem, the inspector general noted, "Amtrak's current senior management's lack of knowledge about the extent of drug and alcohol use, the lack of engagement in the program, and the limited response to (the Federal Railroad Administration's) concerns about its physical observations raise serious questions about Amtrak's commitment to controlling drug and alcohol use."
Officials are required to physically observe each employee for signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use once every three months, on average, the report said. Amtrak is required to randomly perform drug testing on at least 25% of its employees in safety sensitive positions and alcohol testing on at least 10% of safety-sensitive positioned employees each year.
Employees who are in safety-sensitive positions have maximum hours-of-service regulations and minimum off-duty hour requirements between shifts. Amtrak has more than 4,400 employees who meet those requirements, including locomotive engineers, conductors, train dispatchers, signal maintenance employees and mechanics.
The report suggested a number of ways Amtrak could prevent employees from showing up to work drunk and on illegal drugs. The recommendations include increasing the frequency of drug and alcohol testing, reviewing results and comparing them to industry averages, demonstrating that drug and alcohol control is a priority for Amtrak senior management, improving the physical observation of employees and increased training of supervisors.
Amtrak's Office of Inspector General conducts and supervises audits, inspections, evaluations and investigations for the rail company. It provides reports to customers, the public and Congress. The Amtrak inspector general is responsible for preventing and detecting fraud, waste, abuse and reviewing security and safety policies in agency programs and operations.2011 was a record year in terms of ridership for Amtrak. It carried nearly 30.2 million passengers, an average of more than 82,000 passengers on 300 trains daily. According to Amtrak, its ridership has increased in eight of the past nine years (CNN, 2012).
Title: Authorities Warn Terrorists Increasingly Eyeing Attacks On Buses Over Other Transit Targets
Date: November 11, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: In the lead-up to one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, a new intelligence bulletin obtained by Fox News warns that terrorists have targeted bus networks more than any other mode of surface transportation.
The two page assessment, sent to law enforcement in the nation’s capital, says in part, “bus systems are considered attractive terrorist targets because they are relatively soft targets.”
Earlier this week, Transportation Security Administration Director John Pistole underscored the threat to reporters in Washington.
“It's something that we've seen in reporting over time that terrorists around the world clearly are interested -- because of the accessibility, the open architecture -- both of buses and rail.”
The bulletin, called “Terrorist Concerns Regarding Mass Transit Bus Systems,” was sent to law enforcement in the nation's capital on Nov 3. It says bus attacks, similar to an attack by a suicide bomber using an explosive-laden backpack in 2005, are more widespread than attacks on the airline industry. The assessment says over 725 such attacks have been documented from 2004 through 2009.
While improvised explosive devices are common, the feds warn that the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, through its online magazine Inspire, “advocates the use of vehicle ramming attacks against crowds, buildings and other vehicles."
Pistole said the intelligence was sent to local partners to reinforce the view that terrorists are not fixated on aircraft.
“We actually reissued not just bus but mass transit [bulletins], just being cognizant of what goes on around the world as we enter the busy holiday season,” he said.
Fox News has also learned that intelligence obtained from Usama bin Laden's compound shows he even considered using buses to attack Americans, by ramming the buses into buildings.
“He always felt that he wanted to leverage his targets,” Chuck Pfarrer, author of “Seal Target Geronimo,” told Fox News. “Both to use a soft target, one that he had access to, and one that was spectacular because you know terrorism it has to resonate within the world of ideas. It's political theater, and he had a really good grasp of that.”
Homeland Security and TSA officials say there is no credible intelligence that terrorist groups have immediate plans to hit the bus network, but the law enforcement bulletins warn of terrorist groups trying to recruit employees or “insiders” who work in the bus, train and airline industry (Fox News, 2011).