Yesterday, the FBI announced the arrest of a Virginia man, Farooque Ahmed, on charges of “providing material support to terrorists and collecting information for a terrorist attack.” Ahmed is suspected of plotting to bomb several locations around the D.C. area, including several stations in the Metro rail system.
This arrest will have quite a few commuters on edge. Yet, this is a good example of the right way to stop terrorist plots against the United States—early on and before a plan of attack can ever get off the ground. In fact, the FBI has emphasized that they infiltrated the plot so early in the process that the public was never in any danger.
Too often, rail security rhetoric from Congress and the White House has focused on differentiating rail threats from other forms of terrorism (i.e., airplanes, car bombs, etc.). The message seems to be that rail requires more money and more aggressive regulation in order for riders to be secure. For example, in the first few months of the Obama Administration, the White House published a surface transportation assessment, placing this threat at the top of its domestic security priorities. Millions in taxpayer dollars were shoved into the stimulus bill for rail/subway (ex. $6.6 million for Chicago alone for subway and commuter rail security).
However, this plot demonstrates that rail threats are not unique and can be prevented in the same exact way as other terror plots—through robust information sharing and quality intelligence gathering.
Congress and DHS must be careful to resist knee-jerk security measures aimed at the D.C. Metro system or other rail systems in the United States. One of the stupidest ideas proposed in recent years was a proposal that rail trains be re-routed around urban centers in order to make them less of a target for terrorists. Attempting to child proof the Washington D.C. transportation system by throwing more dollars at physical security measures or silly regulations is the wrong way to stop terrorism—making it more difficult for everyone to get to work, wasting more taxpayer dollars, and simply not making Americans any safer.