Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Faisal Shahzad Arrested for Attempted Times Square Attack

Possible Co-conspirator(s) Arrested Overseas

Lessons Learned? Unfortunately There Probably Won't Be. It May Even Send The Country Into A Deeper State of Complacency.

Faisal Shahzad, a 30 year old originally from Pakistan was arrested in the nick of time at JFK airport overnight. He was apparently taken off an aircraft, just before departure. More here.

I knew it would be just a matter of time before we started to see this kind of activity here in the U.S. (Car bomb attempts, IED's, etc). More of these events are probably inevitable. Unfortunately, the level of security in the U.S. is woefully inadequate for dealing with these types of threats. It was luck that prevented a disaster in Times Square.

The U.S. still has gaping holes in its security. At the moment, there is no effective comprehensive or cohesive security strategy. The U.S. system relies too heavily on the intelligence community on one extreme, and too heavily on conventional military power on the other extreme. In the middle lies a big hole (domestic security). I have always been baffled by this notion that the intelligence community should be able to stop every event. Traditionally, this has never been the role of intelligence. It was never meant to be 100%, 90% or even 80% effective in thwarting terrorist attacks. Intelligence - which began as a military concept - is just a tool in a much larger toolbox. It was traditionally meant to be used in conjunction with other resources, not as the end all be all. But due to sensational media coverage since 9/11, Americans have come to believe and expect that intelligence could magically stop everything. Events that go undetected are often mistakenly labeled as "intelligence failures"....regardless of whether they are really failures or not. In an open society like the one we have in the U.S., the best intelligence system will only stop about 50% of incidents like the Times Square event (and that's pretty good).

That "middle" that I mentioned includes an immigration system that should be more effective at screening who enters the country, should have a more effective vetting system for entrants from certain parts of the globe, should have a more selective system for determining who receives residency status, citizenship, etc. The "middle" also refers to a better ability to track suspects, the need for a system to limit or prevent the purchase of ingredients that could be used for IED's (ammonium nitrate for example), and soft targets, including high value targets, that are wide open. Our passenger rail systems, metro train systems, bus systems, and passenger ships are all inadequately protected. Commercial rail, which transports tons of hazardous materials through heavily populated areas, also lacks adequate security measures.

The U.S. also needs to utilize biometric ID technology. State ID's and drivers licenses should be tamper proof. Federal law should require ID and information to be recorded whenever there is a private transaction involving the sale of automobiles,
hazardous store-bought ingredients that could have dual uses, etc. Certain items shouldn't be available for sale at all, unless the customer can demonstrate a legitimate use for the materials. Americans would be surprised at what kinds of materials are available over the counter.

The biggest part of the gaping hole in the "middle" is the private security sector. We have a private security industry in the U.S. that is a complete joke. While other countries such as India, Israel, and much of Europe have nationalized most aspects of their security (like the nationalization of Health Care for example), the U.S. maintains a weak private, for-profit, security system. In the years to come, Americans will unfortunately begin to see how bad this really is. It's one of those gaping holes that has always been there, but won't be fully understood until there is a catastrophe. I recall flying from Germany one year (way back in the 80's) to come home for some kind of family visit, and I remember how strong the security was. The screening agents, even back then, worked for the State (West Germany at the time). It took a tragedy like 9/11 to get the U.S. to nationalize its screening operations (although the private screeners were not directly responsible for 9/11... they were used as a convenient scapegoat). But there have been other cases where private screeners, which worked directly for the airlines, proved inadequate. It was nonsensical to put airlines in charge of their own security screening operations. The whole concept was flawed from the beginning.

Hopefully the U.S. will wake up and strengthen its security posture before these sorts of events become the new normal.

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