This appeared in the LA Daily News, on Sunday, November 28, 2004:
L.A.'s trains and subways targets for terror?
by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to: Arthur@lacp.org
The world remembers
the horrific bomb attacks on 10 commuter trains March 11 in Madrid,
Spain, where terrorists killed nearly 200 innocent passengers and
wounded 1,800 more. Should this have been a wake-up call for Los
Angeles city and county? Absolutely. There is a growing body of
evidence that points to one or more terrorist strikes on public
transportation in Southern California in the very near future.
Despite some success in the War on Terror abroad, we cannot allow
ourselves to become complacent. The CIA warns that before the end
of 2005, one or several terrorist attacks on rail or bus transportation
in this region will be inevitable. Most independent experts agree
with that assessment. Others call it too mild.
In late October, police raided an apartment in Zurich, Switzerland,
and arrested Mohammed Ashra, the high-ranking al-Qaida terrorist
who planned and orchestrated the Madrid train bombings. At the time
of his arrest, Ashra had reserved a flight to Mexico. In his apartment,
police found proof that Ashra had been sending money and instructions
to his terrorist cells in the United States.
Remember, this man is the grand master of train bombing. And it
appears clear that he was taking his act on the road to America.
We don't know precisely how far his plans had advanced when he was
arrested, but we must assume the worst.
We also know that Middle East terrorists are flying into Mexico
and are staying there long enough to learn Spanish. Many already
learned French in school, so Spanish is relatively easy for them
to acquire. Then, using forged identification _ or none whatsoever
- they slip across the border into Arizona or California, disguised
as Mexican farm laborers. They can then join up with their terrorist
support cells in the United States or start new ones.
This is not to imply that U.S. officials, including the Department
of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department
and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, have been less
than vigilant. They are, in fact, working wonders on a minimal budget.
But experts agree that, to make our trains as safe from terrorist
attack as we know how, we will need to allocate and spend more than
$62 billion between now and mid-2005 on rail, bus and other land
transport infrastructure. Much of that money, if it were appropriated,
would be concentrated in several main hubs such as Los Angeles,
New York, Chicago and other densely populated areas of train and
In addition to more video surveillance cameras and other electronic
hardware, we urgently need to hire and educate a large staff of
employees capable of responding to disasters quickly and efficiently,
as well as preventing them.
How much are we spending now? Over the past two years, federal funds
appropriated for protection of railways nationwide totaled only
$120 million. Next year's budget will be even smaller. At this time,
the war in Iraq consumes more money in a week than spent on homeland
infrastructure defense in a year.
Clearly, the best direction we can take is to make miracles happen
by sheer efficiency. This means sharing information between police
agencies, using every ``force multiplier'' of cooperation we can
identify, and using new technologies to their fullest.
Also, we can review the recent anti-terrorist successes in Europe
and consider adopting some of the improved approaches placed into
effect by police forces in the European Union in the wake of the
Madrid train disaster. After all, Europe has a tradition of making
the most of scarce resources.
For example, European police are heavily committed to the philosophy
of community policing. Within the 25 countries of the EU, foot-patrol
officers pound the beat in the heart of neighborhoods where they
know - and are known by - the residents. They communicate with residents
as partners and as familiar allies. They develop confidence and
trust. They also develop a keen instinct for unusual activities
that may be related to terrorism but which no amount of high-tech
surveillance will detect. They develop human intelligence and combine
it at command level with bits of information their colleagues in
other cities and countries have contributed.
Community policing helped Spanish police on March 11 to find and
defuse four additional bombs before they could explode, thus saving
many lives through effective prevention. Since March 11, Spanish
police have arrested 85 terrorist suspects in connection with the
Madrid train bombings. French police have arrested 45 terrorist
suspects in the same period. Each month, Italian police have been
arresting 15 to 20 terrorists - most of them train-bombing experts
and nearly all of them allied with al-Qaida. Twenty-five more have
been arrested or killed thus far in November.
Europe has not hesitated to spend the money to equip its police
forces with several high-tech weapons. Among them are digital voice
communications networks that link up many kinds of police across
borders of countries and enable all of them to talk at any moment
with central command offices and make quick decisions. Large numbers
of global positioning system or GPS locator units are being installed
in patrol cars. The unit sends an electronic message of the car's
exact location by satellite at all times.
That information is then programmed into new computer mapping software
that shows all the players and their movements, from Stockholm to
Palermo, from Warsaw to London. In Italy alone, more than 4,000
police patrol cars are now equipped with GPS units. Adjusted for
size of population, this is like having more than 700 GPS-equipped
patrol cars in Los Angeles County.
Despite the lack of adequate funding, preparations and terrorist
prevention efforts are speeding up here at home. The Los Angeles
County Sheriff's Department has been installing scores of patrol
cars with GPS locator units, and it's making its dispatch computers
compatible with new software technologies such as XML (extendible
markup language), which allows all participants in a pursuit or
a disaster response to communicate with each other and with command
centers quickly and reliably. Deputies are being trained in new
skills and anti-stress methods that will make them more effective
and aggressive in discovering and eliminating terrorist cells.
But much more needs to be done. Los Angeles will remain vulnerable
because of its sheer size. Combined, the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority and Metrolink operate more than 500 miles of commuter
rails in Los Angeles County. Every mile must be protected to the
Just as European countries were forced by the events of March 11
to unite their forces, we must also use these and more force-multiplier
methods to achieve top efficiency on limited budgets. Properly deployed,
community policing can help make Los Angeles a much tougher target
for terrorism. It can also help remove the allure of terrorism,
stop recruitment and cut it off at its international roots.
--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human
rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe.
They are consultants and authors on international policing, social
policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here
at LA Community Policing.
For more of their work, please see the Think
additional information or a complete list of references, contact: