Overreactions starting to nonexistent Metro plot
Following news that the FBI orchestrated its own, fake Metro bombing plot to catch a potential terrorist, Metro transit police are already pondering instituting useless "security theater" methods like random bag searches.
Bag searches look good but don't do anything. Anyone can simply turn around and enter a different station. If someone wanted to bomb a station, they just wouldn't do it when the bag searches are taking place. As I discussed on yesterday's Kojo Nnamdi show, we've spent far too much money building security barriers around buildings or running big "show of force" exercises.
When law enforcement has caught terrorists, it's through classic undercover police work. They infiltrate the cells and find the guys who want to harm us. That's the right approach, not barricading every place and searching everyone.
Besides, is there really a specific threat to Metro at all?
The Post reported this morning that the idea to bomb Metro came from the FBI. In other words, no terrorist (that we know of) actually was planning to hit Metro. The FBI could easily have suggested any other target. If they had suggested Ben's Chili Bowl, would we now be talking about the need to beef up security in half-smoke shops?
This is the typical pattern of reacting to security risks. As security expert Bruce Schneier frequently explains, we focus on ways to stop the most recent attack, instead of trying to determine what future attacks will look like. This seems to even hold true if the target was picked by law enforcement instead of by any actual potential terrorists.
It's great that the FBI ran this sting. If the allegations against him are true, Farooque Ahmed clearly really did want to cause harm to Americans, and by organizing this fake plot, the FBI was able to steer his destructive desires in a way that allowed them to arrest him. I'm really glad they got him. But anyone who thinks this is evidence of a risk to Metro isn't paying attention.
Meanwhile, Metro is telling riders to be vigilant. Having average, untrained citizens report people who look odd is only likely to increase the number of useless reports. It will probably waste a lot of resources that could go to training undercover officers who could patrol stations and actually find threats.
There are terrorists out there. We need to catch them. The government should spend lots of money hiring good FBI investigators to seek them out, like they did here. I feel safer knowing the FBI took action to catch a possible terrorist. I wouldn't feel safer by having my bag searched or seeing guards standing at the entrance to every station. I know it's hard, but Metro needs to respond based on the best way to actually prevent an attack, not the best way to simply look like they are.
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.
| October 29, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
Categories: D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, Metro, crime, transportation
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