Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Prevention Fails in London and Glasgow Bombings

The title of this post is not an error. I'm calling these the "London and Glasgow Bombings" because they were bombings; they just fizzled. As AFP has reported, the car bombs failed for purely technical reasons:

The attempted London car bombings were meant to be detonated by calls to mobile phones in the two vehicles, but failed for technical reasons...

The bombers twice called the car outside the "Tiger Tiger" nightclub on Haymarket off Piccadilly Circus and the one in nearby Cockspur Street off Trafalgar Square four times.
In short, prevention failed. In the absence of technical glitches, we'd be talking about another Bali instead of a "successful counterterrorism operation." We're simply lucky the suspects were doctors and not engineers. We're also lucky they were - at least initially - reluctant to engage in suicide terrorism, in which case the driver could have detonated the bomb without relying on a remote device. (Note that I'm only addressing the London incident here, not Glasgow as yet.)

On the Counterterrorism Blog, Walid Phares asks (and answers) a good question: Did Britain's silent army of surveillance cameras really help, or would it have been better to intervene earlier?
The UK pride itself for having installed more cameras in their capital than all other European cities combined. But when one wonders why the dense surveillance is so extended one realizes that Britain had to develop an extreme system of monitoring because it was forbidden to be preemptive in the war. Over the years, authorities were pressured by lobbies not to engage the Jihadists "before" they become terrorists and before they strike. So resources were reverted to spy on the Jihadis (and other terrorists) "after" they attack but not before...
My view, as I've written about before, is that one of the best opportunities to prevent terrorism occurs during the recruitment phase. Not only is this a vulnerable time for the terrorist, because he has to reveal himself, but it is also the time during which a potential recruit may most easily be "flipped."

Phares also clearly sees the implications for the U.S.:
Should the US be worried about this development in London? Is there a potential link? ... There is no question that Americans and British alike should be worried about a terror act anywhere on both sides of the Atlantic. For the Jihadi campaign targets both nations, and all other societies obstructing their goals. But on the other hand, terror operations taking place in one country do not have to replicate automatically in another country. Unless al Qaeda has coordinated an international spectacular campaign worldwide (which may not be impossible), uncovering car bombs in London don't have to mobilize police forces necessarily in US cities. We must be logical in perceiving the enemy's moves. Both extremes are unreasonable.
The Glasgow bombings were something of a different animal. Again, prevention failed. The bombers reached their intended target. Fortune smiled again, though, as they were quite inept. For first responders, an initial problem was failing to recognize that the crash and fire were intentional:
As the driver, a massive man, described as over 6ft tall with a broad build, struggled with the boot, Stephen Clarkson, an off-duty police officer, snatched up a fire extinguisher and tried to put out the flames. The man turned and is alleged to have screamed: "It's a bomb. It's a bomb."

A confused struggle then took place with police officers who arrived and squirted CS spray into the driver's face.

Meanwhile, witnesses said the Jeep's passenger tried to run into the terminal with canisters of gas or petrol, before being tackled by security guards, police and members of the public.
For about two hours after the Jeep crashed, they also did not recognize a potential - though eventually false - secondary threat:
The driver of the Jeep Cherokee, who had been extensively burned, had been taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley. He was admitted to the accident and emergency department, accompanied by police officers armed with sub-machineguns.

At about 5:30pm, the entire unit was swiftly evacuated as hospital staff, after removing the suspect's clothes, discovered what they believed to be a suicide belt. Fearful that the device could detonate in the ward, police officers picked it up and sprinted to the nearest open ground - the Ferguslie Cricket Club.

Angela Docherty, a minibus driver, saw a man run down the hill carrying an object. He shouted: "Run for your f****** life." When the bomb squad arrived, they found it was not an explosive device.
Compare this to the response to an incident in Israel in 2006, described in a case study on the In Homeland Security blog. The response was pre-emptive, quick, and coordinated:
The driver of the van, who aroused the suspicions of police, ignored orders to stop the vehicle and a high-speed highway chase ensued. The police, their weapons drawn, eventually surrounded the van, which was stopped in traffic due to multiple roadblocks erected by police on the highway, were able to arrest all 10 men inside the vehicle. During the arrest, police ordered all the passengers to strip and lie on the ground as police searched their bodies for explosive belts. Ambulances rushed to the scene, fearing the occupants would try to detonate the explosives. Police sappers neutralized the explosives on the scene.

In this incident, similar to other incidents in Israel in the past, intelligence was received and disseminated down to the local precincts for their response and interdiction. The dissemination of information between the agencies is an imperative tool for interdicting the bombers and their supporters before the explosive device is detonated.
Police officers are specifically trained in counterterrorism:
As a result of Israel’s history with terrorism, the patrol officers in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, have been trained both in a law enforcement capacity, but also hold a dual role as a counter terror unit that can interdict on its own and mitigate or defuse many adversarial schemes of maneuvers.
The police training includes vulnerability analysis:
It is not enough to simply control the entrances and exits to the city while awaiting the arrival of the adversary. Understanding the tactic of the adversary and the targets the enemy has chosen in the past, law enforcement must consider securing locations where the bomber may target. Taking into consideration that the bomber was able to bypass the overt checkpoints established based on the intelligence that was disseminated to law enforcement, the command should increase the presence of both covert and overt officers at assets where the bomber may target. These sites include the highly populated areas, transportation venues, Center City, business districts, hospitals and other sites within the jurisdiction.
Israeli counterterrorism operations also involve close collaboration with private security (as this previous post on mall security also indicated):
Considering operational security and the disclosing of intelligence secrets to personnel without clearance, law enforcement can disseminate the information in a format that can be passed on to private security forces. Based on the information relayed to relevant private entities, security managers would be able to initiate an elevated threat level with responses that may include the hardening of their respective assets. ... Testing of such cooperation between public and private enterprises needs to be a part of the routine relationship between the management.
Collaboration with other first responders is a key part of the plan, too:
As part of the response to such incidents, the Jerusalem Police attempts to secure immediately, adequate means for emergency medical services and supporting agencies, easy access to the scene while ensuring a secure perimeter.

The successful response to such an incident is dependent upon the preplanning between all the agencies at all the levels of the command. Dissemination of information, and at a fast pace to the other security agencies is critical in interdicting such a threat. This needs to be done on a regular basis, with open dialogue and cooperation between all agencies.
The London and Glasgow bombings were successes only in the sense that no one was killed and the terrorists were caught.

Prevention failed. The plot was not discovered until the first bomb was fizzling outside Tiger, Tiger. Earlier intervention is essential. More "successes" like this are unacceptable.

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