Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Terror on the Subway

     On July 7, when I heard about the London terror attacks, I felt sad for the victims, but not devastated. A horrific thing happened to those people riding the subways, but no worse than what happened to the people in the World Trade Center or to innocent Iraqis living next door to criminals that were bombed to oblivion from the sky or to ordinary Israelis riding buses or shopping in malls every day. Just more senseless killing, but not an earth-shattering act. London did not stop on July 7 - businesses operated as usual, the stock exchange pulsed with activity. I did not even think the London attacks were worthy of much debate. What's to talk about, really? Terrorists attack the West. Did Bloomberg overreach when he instituted random bag searches in New York's subways? Maybe, but the intrusion on our civil liberties seems so commonplace now it hardly seemed worth the effort to discuss it. But then we heard that London police had shot and killed an Underground passenger. And so began the unexpected discussion.
     We talked about the victim, a 27 year old Brazilian electrician. We talked about the police. We talked about terror. The people I spoke with expressed their sympathy for the police (and little for the dead man), saying how frightened the police must have been after 2 bombings in the subway and how they could hardly be blamed for having twitchy trigger fingers. I actually agree – I don’t blame the officers too much. But I don’t lay any blame on Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian, either. In fact, his death scares me more than subway bombs. Here are the facts of the case: police were suspicious of this man from the start, because he lived in the same neighborhood as the bombers. Plainclothes officers followed him to the subway station, actually boarding his bus. They noticed he wore a heavy jacket, which made him very suspect in the summer heat. And when he boarded the train and they yelled at him to stop, he ran. This odd behavior, while not normally a death sentence by any twist of the imagination, was enough for my friends to conclude that he alone was responsible for his early death in these fearful times. Who in their right mind could go on a London subway without being aware of the increased security and tension?
     But consider this: First, the terrorists lived in his neighborhood not because it was a place that supported terrorism, but because it was a place that could escape notice. It was home to immigrants, but hard working ones. Before July 7th, police had no reason to suspect any sort of terror activity from there. Second, Menezes was from Gonzaga, Brazil, a small town about 200 miles from the coast. Weather there is closer to Florida’s than England’s. Today, the high in Gonzaga is 86º F. Today’s high in London is 64º F. Keep in mind that right now we’re in the middle of Brazil’s winter and England’s summer. I grew up in South Florida. If I were in London today, I’d be wearing a coat too. My mother, who thinks 64º is practically freezing, would be wearing a heavy coat, if she went outside at all. Third, it seems Menezes’s visa had expired recently. He probably could have renewed it, but neglected to do so. He probably lived with a daily, underlying fear that Immigration would catch up to him. Until July 7th, the worst scenario he could probably imagine was getting caught in a routine traffic stop or to have the police look at his papers. When he ran, he was running from plainclothes officers who had been following him from his home. Whether he knew they were police is in doubt. In addition, he had been attacked by a gang only a few weeks earlier. He had reason to be scared of people, especially if he didn’t know they were police.
     In short, Menezes was caught in unlucky circumstances directly related to the fact that he was a foreign national. But why am I worried? Well, in 2001, Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijaakers, lived in my hometown in Florida, probably no more than a mile or two away from my parents. Would I be a suspect? Are my parents? I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve run through airports since 2001, despite the knowledge that security was on alert. Now I wonder what my chances of being shot were. Am I really that different from this Brazilian guy? Can we really blame him and go on as if nothing happened? London police say that they were working on a revised security manual that says to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head. The idea goes that if you shoot them in the chest, the bomb may explode. But this is flawed, because in Israel, every train station or restaurant or mall has armed security guards at every entrance checking bags and people. If it ever comes down to shooting someone in the head, they know the person is a terrorist. You can’t apply part of the Israeli solution to London and feel safe.
    One last thing to think about – What is the mission of the London police? Is it to fight terrorists? If that’s the case, then by all means go shoot anyone you suspect. Or is it to protect the people who live, work, and visit London? If that’s the case (and I suspect it is, old chap), you don’t protect them by shooting them. How safe would I feel if I knew that if I wore the wrong clothes or acted funny, I might be a target of the police? How safe would I feel bringing my children to the subway if I knew that at any moment they may break out of my arms and start running away? And that I would run after them, jumping turnstiles and ignoring police if I had to? I don’t blame the officers. But I don’t feel any safer if this is our idea of security. 52 innocent people died in the bombings. So far 1 has died in the response. If the thought of us killing our own in panic isn’t the definition of “success” for a terror operation, I don’t know what is. We have to do better.

26 comments:

Matt said...

Regarding the subway searches, Flex Your Rights has an excellent tutorial on how to assert your 4th Amendment rights during a subway search. The Flex Your Rights Citizen's Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches details how to assert your rights should you be chosen for a random bag search when boarding the subway. There's a downloadable flyer version, too.

Ben said...

You don't protect people by allowing terrorists to bomb things, either. It's unfortunate this guy got shot. Who caused the shooting? The terrorists, nobody else. If people would stop being so politically correct, and start racial profiling, some problems might go away. Why waste time searching old black grandmothers and chasing Brazilians when most every terrorist incident was carried out by people who are unmistakenly Middle Eastern in ancestry? I don't like the idea, but while not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists (at least the ones that have declared war on the West) are Muslim.

Shannon said...

Historically speaking, not all Terrorists have been Muslim, especially in London...and not all Muslims are middle eastern...and who's to say London Police are capable of distinguishing between a Brazillian and "a muslim?" I heard a BBC report that one Pakistani man was killed in a small town in England in response to the bombing(s) in London.

I agree with Scott. I don't blame the police officer- if I were in his shoes, I wonder if I wouldn't have done the same. However, if someone I knew were killed under similar circumstances, I would be furious.

He was obviously innocent and acts like these indicate to me the terrorists have unfortunately won a battle. They kill, inspire fear, and force us to imprison ourselves with reactionary policies.

Ben said...

But what is the alternative? Give up, give in, keep all our civil liberties, don't worry about being shot by the police, but get killed by a suicide bomb in the process?

These people have declared war on us, the sooner we catch on and declare war back, and take the offensive, the better. Otherwise the terrorism will just get worse and worse until we have a war whether we like it or not. I'd rather do it now than later, and one thousand years of history prove that the Jihad cannot be negotiated with, it can only be killed. We did not bring this on ourselves, however. We were not the agressors.

Dave said...

Here's a scary thought....how about having people trust their governments? If the dude trusted the cops and didn't run, he'd be alive today. If you don't act suspicious, don't lie, and don't give someone a reason to shoot or arrest you, you'll be fine. Of course there will always be some exceptions. But it's just common sense. If I decide to fly my plane around DC, within the approved airspace but a bit too close for comfort, should I be shocked if an F16 pilot waves to me? It's all common sense...and while I feel bad for the guy, running away from the cops in London a day after the bombings while you're wearing a thick coat in summer is just plain stupid. This shouldn't even be controversial, it should be in the Darwin Awards books.

Dave said...

And as far as racial profiling....it's sad, but it will always happen, and for the reasons that Ben stated. I think ultimately it is self defeating, because if you try and tell the moderate Muslim world you are on their side, but incessantly harass their community, it doesn't fly. Not to mention that just because you're Muslim doesn't mean you're middle eastern, and vice versa. There are plenty of Indonesian Muslims and middle eastern Christians. Also plenty of people who hate America and are not Muslim at all. I think you need to focus on the radical Muslims who have a Jihad against the west, but you can't be so narrow minded with racial profiling that you forget about the rest. If you do that, you prove the terrorists right that America is declaring war on Islam.

Mike said...

It's unfortunate an innocent person had to die, but these are the times we're living in. It sounds cold, but he is a casualty of war.

Let's keep in mind the enemy uses racial profiling. How many of you would feel safe walking through the streets of Falluja as a pale skinned blond haired blue eyed person? The enemy doesn't waste time kidnapping 85 yr old arab women. They go right for people of European decent. A few weeks ago I was in the airport in Chicago and I saw an elderly old man in a wheelchair getting patted down at security. It seems silly to waste resources on people who obviously have absolutely zero chance of being a suicide bomber. I'm sure the enemy is having a good laugh.

Dave said...

So is patting someone down like Tim McVeigh a waste? Or what about the American Taliban we captured in Afghanistan??

The enemy, if they are smart, will always attack the weakest link. Why attack via airplanes, which are now heavily secured, when the ports are wide open? Why have a middle eastern guy attack when you have a sympathetic white guy on your side? We shouldn't use the reason that our enemy uses racial profiling as an excuse to do it ourselves. If nothing else, it's not as effective as you think.

Ben said...

Dave, I think I read that the cops that shot the guy in London were plainclothes. If several men in trenchcoats start yelling at me and pulling out guns, I'd probably run, too. Just a bad situation all around.

As far as racial profiling.... You're right, they will go for the weakest link, but the stories about 85 year old women being searched at airports seems a little nutty. And up to this point in time, all the major terrorist acts committed recently against western interests have been by Muslims who are obviously Middle Eastern in ancestry. Until that changes, maybe we should focus on the type of people doing this. It makes sense to me, and it's what the Israelis do. They've stopped far more bombers than we have using such profiling. And it's not like there aren't non-Middle Eastern Palestinian sympathizers, but none of them have become suicide bombers that we know of.

Mike said...

I concede not all terrorists are arab muslims, but you have to play the odds here. We have limited resources. We can't afford to put a security checkpoint at every bus stop and subway station inspecting every passenger. Cops have to be smart and look for a certain profile. If you see a young man looking nervous with a baggy coat or a backpack, maybe you should try to talk to him. If you see a couple arab males congregating with large backpacks saying goodbye to each other before they split up and go separate ways, perhaps you should question what is going on there.

Besides, security checkpoints will not stop terrorists. It will just make them look for other targets. They are smart enough to research their targets beforehand. If they don't think they can get on a bus they will blow up a marketplace. That's why you have to come up with a blanket policy like profiling that makes the terrorists feel like they can't go anywhere without the possibility of being stopped. If that means all innocent arab males have to deal with the inconvenience of being stopped and searched frequently, oh well. I would hope they would understand it was for their own safety.

Dave said...

You're not getting my point. If you state you will only, or primarily, be checking young males of middle eastern descent, then the terrorists would do everything to not meet this profile, and not attract attention. The examples you both give are so suspicious and obvious, I fully expect they would be searched, and for good reason. This is why suicide bombings have worked involving women, since they do not meet the standard profile. Sept 11, and July 7 are only 2 attacks. Terrorists have existed for years, hundreds of years if you consider all of terrorism. If searches are random, it means no one can assume they are safe from searches. Maybe middle easterners would be searched more, but if it's random then they can't assume that if they make themselves appear to be part of another group that they won't be searched. All I'm saying is taking your anger out on one group may make you feel better, but I don't think it will make you safer

Mike said...

I'm not taking my anger out on any one group. Anger has nothing to do with this. I'm not suggesting we punish arab males. I'm just saying they should get more scrutiny since 99% of Al-Queda members are muslim males. If they check out clean they are free to go. If they don't like getting searched every day, move to a less populated area or another country. But I'm just saying we have to be smarter with our resources. Patting down 90 yr old men in wheelchairs is a waste of time. While it's possible he's a suicide bomber, it's highly improbable.

I get your point perfectly, Dave. If we say we're going to only search young arab males the terrorists will work around that by using other people. For one thing, I wouldn't expect the police to make a public statement like that. You don't give out your tactics to the enemy. Two, if the terrorists feel like they can't successfully carry out a suicide bombing without outside help, then we have throw them a significant roadblock. By forcing them to go outside their circle to look for nutjobs stupid enough to blow themselves up for Allah, they will have to recruit which will open themselves to exposure.

Shannon said...

The question remains- does this type of specific profiling work? Can anyone name an instance where this policy has actually stopped a terrorist? I'm not arguing that instituting "racial profiling" (It's more like religious profiling anyway) isn't effective, I just don't want to assume it is or isn't without some facts.

Random security checks are meant as a deterrent and to instill fear on the part of potential terrorists. Have you ever heard of a terrorist being caught this way? No, not exactly. That's not really the ulitmate goal, so you can't say they are ineffective.

More effective is the "behind the scenes" (for lack of a better term) work. I'm sure this already includes profiling. My friend is a security manager at a Vegas Hotel. He was accoladed last year for identifying and apprehending a person on an FBI list of potential terrorists. The suspect had an outdated Visa and was accused of bomb making. My friend received an award from the hotel, but no public mention. The less public, the more effective. Of course.

For me, this makes a discussion of racial profiling moot. The suspect was identified for a number of factors, visa status, travel history, and probably race and religion. It's more effective to not be so narrow in the scope of profiling as "Young Arab Male." The July 7th bombers were African, after all. An effective profile must not rely soley on something as intangeable as race (can you tell a Brazillian from a Pakistani?) or even religion (not all Christians bomb abortion clinics).

What makes terrorists so effective is their ability to blend, recruit, and remain anonymous. This is why traditional offensives do not work with them. I consider pulling over the old white man at the airport not a waste of resources, but hopefully a distraction from the other "behind the scenes" work and a possible deterrent.

Mike said...

I would argue that security checkpoints are ineffective. Can anyone name me a terrorist that was caught at a security checkpoint? All they do is tell the terrorists "We're not going to let you bomb this place. Go blow yourself up someplace else." Some places need this type of protection, like airports. But we can't put a security checkpoint at every bus stop and every building. It isn't possible.

But we can put cops out on the street and tell them to stop people who look out of place. People who look nervous, sweating, carrying large bags or heavy coats in the summer time. And since 99% of all terrorists are middle eastern males, it would make sense to stop them and briefly question them. I'm not saying haul them off to jail and put them on trial. Just approach them and ask them their name, where are they from, what are they doing, are they in this country legally, and yes even ask them papers please? If their story adds up, let them go. Apologize for the inconvenience. But if the person looks nervous, turns out to be an illegal immigrant, or runs away when approached, I would say racial profiling works.

Sylvana said...

I find it ironic that we try to keep these terrorists from taking away our freedoms by taking them away ourselves.

Dave said...

I don't feel too bad or disagree with the NYPD policy of random bag searches on the subway. I don't think this is a restriction of my freedom any more than World War II rations affected the country 60 years ago. As with the Nazi's and the Japanese, the terrorists attacked and declared war, and life changed. It had to. Sure I'd rather not have cops swarming the streets of Manhatten with assault rifles, but war is war. I think the problem is we don't know who we're at war with, and can't agree on who to attack...it's not as clear cut as tradional wars. That's why to me the "War on Terror" and the Iraq War are 2 separate issues, where conservatives think they're one and the same. I say if you create a fire and then say it must be put out, you should put it out but then be held accountable for starting it in the first place.

Shannon said...

Mike,

The Police use a similar policy in Russia and they were unable to stop any of 4 terrorist attacks (Beslan, the Metro station bombing, the Theater Siege, or the concert bombing) in the last 3 years...

Much as we can't afford a security check point, we can't afford more cops without raising taxes (My community just raised taxes to hire more cops, actually). I still don't think that "front line" approach will serve to catch terrorists, so much as it will encourage more events like the unfortunate death of the Brazilian man in London and instill a hyper-fear in us. I still think they're designed to deter- which may or may not work.

I don't mind random bag checks actually, but I have yet to see statistics/facts (not ideas and theories) which show it's the most effective means of fighting terrorism.

Vernie said...

Nice, mostly political correct, good intentions, all right guys with your concerns and protect our rights talk! Reality is, the islamists declared war on us! You can't act like, I just don't accept it. Reality is, we have to go through rough times and leave some of our liberties at home. We have to give up on this political correctness bs. Yes, there might be a few no brainers from other ethnic groups, but everybody knows where most of them are, right between us misusing our legal system and tolerance. Throw them out, put them back to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, ... These countries wouldn't do anything else with European people, if they would be a threat to them. Oh, you cannot do this ..., I hear many saying. I tell you, if you don't do it now, in 10 years you may not even have the opportunity to do so. It's cancerous!

sideshow bob said...

If you look at how the British eventually put an end to the IRA terrorism that they fought for so long, it bears little resemblence to the techniques that the Western nations are using to fight terrorism today. It wasn't until they switched focus from conducting a war on the streets to concentrating on infiltrating the IRA covertly that they had much success. Developing economic opportunites in Ireland didn't hurt, either.

And did you hear that Bin Laden planned to buy millions of dollars of cocaine, poison it, and flood the US market with it? How dumb would that have been?

Ben said...

Someone asked if racial profiling has ever worked. It has, because that's what the Israelis do. Now granted they are in a different spot, since it's primarily Palestinians trying to kill them, as opposed to the entirety of Islam, but they use profiling. As a Mossad agent once said, "We don't look for terrorist's wepaons, we look for terrorists," which is why they won't confiscate nail clippers when you get on a flight, but if you are an Arab with a bulky shirt, you're gonna get pounded.
I'm not sure it would work well for us here in the states, but it makes sense to me to focus efforts instead of this gigantic umbrella of security we have that has so many holes in it.
I guess no one knows all the answers, but it seems we can all agree that something needs to be done and the problem cannot be ignored.

Mike said...

The problem is you will never hear a law enforcement agency admit they caught a guy using racial profiling. They don't want the political firestorm.

Here is your example of racial profiling at work:

Remember after 9/11 there was all kinds of concern about securing our nuclear plants? I was living in Reading, PA at the time. Near Reading in a little town called Exeter a local policeman saw a middle eastern male driving an old beat up pickup truck down Rt. 422. The officer noted that the truck was so weighted down in the back the bumper was almost scraping the ground. Now about 25 miles down the road in the direction the guy was driving was the Limerick Nuclear Power plant. The officer pulled the guy over and it turned out the guy was in the country illegally and wanted by the feds for several years. Had he been a white male with a confederate flag in the back window would he have been pulled over? I doubt it.

Like I said, I was living in Reading at the time. I have a good friend on the Exeter Police force who verifies this is not an urban myth. Here's a link you can read about the story.

http://www.infostew.com/Hot_Topics/_topics/00000044.htm

Mike said...

Sorry, the link didn't come out right. Serves me right for being lazy. Try this link.

Here's another link as well.

ORF said...

Shannon, I have to correct you. The perps in the London subway bombing (I'm sorry, I refuse to call it 7/7 because I can't deal with having another arbitrary day on the calendar give me goosebumps...it's like freaking Voldemort or something) were all British. They were British citizens of Pakistani descent, except the one who was born in Jamaica. All were Muslim. But Ben, not all terrorists ARE Muslim, as Dave mentioned Timothy McVeigh and someone else the IRA. Furthermore, not all terrorist acts are even related to religious conflict. When the US infiltrated Afghanistan in the 1980s (and hopped in the sack w/ Osama for the first time) in order to prevent the Soviets from invading or getting close to certain economic interests, I'd say that the terrorism-of-its-kind involved that time was strictly related to ideology. Of late, religious terrorism seems to be in fashion, but let's not be hasty in saying that it's all we're limited to because that can quickly turn into something akin to ethnic superiority.

This entire thing is so tricky. The father of a good friend of mine from childhood is Indian and fairly dark skinned. About three months after 9/11, they came to NY for a wedding and had been planning to fly but decided to drive instead. When I told her that flying was just fine as I'd already done it post-9/11 she said, "Well, I wouldn't want to be on a plane with someone who looks like my dad, would you?" It had never ocurred to me, but clearly, her dad had thought about the dirty looks he might get and decided to steer clear. I suppose some people are cooperative, but even I get testy when I have to take my shoes off and I'm an average-sized white woman with little chance of being profiled.

I agree that there is a great deal of irony in the fact that we are acceding any number of our civil liberties to the government in order to prevent them being threatened by terrorists, but the truth is, it isn't our liberties they are after, it is our entire way of life, because see it as a threat to what they are trying to accomplish. To a certain extent, we DID bring this on ourselves, simply by being ourselves. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we try to adhere to anything they think we should do with regards to the words of the the Prophet, etc., but we would do well to see that throwing people in Gitmo and beating them senseless for years on end gives them good reason to hate our guts and perhaps someday try to retaliate. Until we stop waving guns around and start trying to understand how the "enemy" operates in this "War on Terror," by attempting to understand Islam and the theories it espouses at its heart in the first place, then we are just going to end up in our own self-imposed police state, which might as well get blown up for all the fun that is.

A side note: What always sort of baffles me about the whole 9/11 thing is that after seeing the visa applications of the 19 men on those planes, I continue to marvel at the fact that the people who approved them were not fired (some were actually promoted!) or that our screening system wasn't instantly re-vamped. One wrote the word "hotel" on the line that asked for his address during his stay. Another wrote his occupation would be "techur." For all the trouble I hear about how hard it is to get a visa for the US, they were clearly given out like freaking candy to those guys.

Shannon said...

ORF- I'm sorry. I was referring to the 7/21 bombers...they were of African decent.

Ben said...

ORF, awesome comment. You're right when you say we brought this on ourselves for being ourselves. Any other civilization that can't handle coexisting relatively peacefully is toxic. On the other hand, some might make the argument that Islam is acting like the West did during the big days of colonization, as far as wanting to rule the world and all. That might be true, but we live in 2005, not 1600, and it's today's world we care about.

ORF said...

Shannon, my bad! I think I just didn't read your comment that thoroughly.