Yesterday, a series of bombings in Moscow subway stations killed 39 and injured more than 70. The bombings, conducted by two female suicide bombers, are undoubtedly a horrible tragedy for the families of the victims. What followed, however, was a decision by transit companies across the United States to ramp up security from more officers, tighter physical security at transit stations and bomb sniffing dogs. While these types of attacks may lead Americans to think that the U.S. needs to change its counter-terrorism strategy—the U.S. already has an effective means of stopping terrorism without the need to child proof the transit system.
Such knee jerk responses to terror attacks are not a new phenomenon. After the Christmas Day plot in December, where a Nigerian man attempted to blow up an airplane landing in Detroit, the Obama administration came out with a number of silly airport security measures, including plans to target 14 suspicious countries for secondary inspection—something that made little sense given the fact that terrorists often come through a number of different countries in order to get to the U.S.—most often ones not included in the 14.
Congress, for its part, fares no better the silly security measures department. In its 2007 9/11 Implementation bill, Congress put in place measures that would require 100 percent scanning and/or screening of maritime and air cargo. All that these measures managed to achieved was to scan cargo that is already subject to effective risk-based screening—not much of a gain in the security department. It is no wonder, given these examples that the private sector tends to over-react to terrorist attacks. Subways and other forms of public transportation will always be vulnerable—putting in place new security measures for every threat is a waste of money, and doesn’t do much to stop attacks.
The formula for combating terrorism effectively remains the same. Stopping terrorism in the earliest stages, through smart investments and effective intelligence gathering/information sharing has been and will continue to be the most successful way to stop these types of attacks. We have done this multiple times since 9/11.
We already know the right formula for effective counter-terrorism. The impetus is on the White House and Congress to set the example.