Background: There have been multiple instances of terrorism domestic and abroad. Between the tragic events of the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Twin Towers attacked on September 11, 2001 there is a high probability that another attack could happen on either a train or the use of an automobile again. These attacks forced our country to ensure our planes are safe to fly on from future threats/attacks that terrorists will make an effort to find other holes of weakness in our infrastructure through our transportation systems.
I remember as though it happened just yesterday. It was a bright and sunny morning with so much promise, triumph, and hopes to be accomplished. It was a normal day at Lake Zurich High School. I was a sophomore sitting in my Spanish class when over the radio, on a local news station; we began hearing something about a plane accidentally hitting the World Trade Center. People on the radio thought it was just a mistake or bad piloting skills. It wasn’t until later, another twenty or so minutes passed by, when another plane intentionally hit The World Trade Center! Everyone stood in shock and awe at the sight of this unforgettable tragedy. It was as though we did not know what to do! I felt myself thinking, how do we help those people in the buildings that were burning; those poor innocent people who were falling to their deaths from the towers collapsing? Like many of my peers I did not understand the enormity of this event at first. When realizing that this attack was not accidental, I felt this overwhelming surge of anger, fear, sadness and a strong sense of a need for justice overwhelmed me.
That emotionally painful morning of September 11, 2001 was an undeniable turning point for all of America. The man who led the attackers was a well known terrorist named Osama Bin Laden, who previously attacked us in February of 1993. This 1993 attack was coincidentally at the same place. This coincidence brought many questions to the minds of Americans everywhere. Could this tragedy have been prevented? Was there more that our government could have done? Some of these questions have been answered and some have not. Nevertheless, one thing we can all agree on is that we never want anything like the tragedy of 9-11-01 take place ever again.
During the weeks and months after September 11th, it was almost as if you could hear the America’s pulsating heart still bleeding with grief. The U.S. became unified once again unlike anything our country has seen and felt for decades. People’s everyday lives revolved around what had happened and what was going to happen. I heard about it on the radio, it was all over the internet, there were commercials, newspapers, and magazine articles written. People always had something to say about that day in their daily conversations. It seemed for a moment in time, a very troubling moment, we came together to help our fellow man. Not long after the collapse of the two towers; the sky still blackened from all the ash, the ground and people completely covered in soot from the still burning remains of concrete; rescue workers started searching for survivors and slowly clearing away the rubble. It took months to clear the debris. With the help of the American Red Cross along with multiple law enforcement and fire agencies and volunteers from all over America, who each brought a vast variety of backgrounds skilled with handling disasters; on the scene working day and night, the rubble was eventually sifted through. Some survived, but unfortunately many died. It was so sad to see how many people were missing on the cork boards and pictures pinned up on the walls and telephone poles just outside ground zero.
It didn’t take long for people to start pointing fingers, trying to figure out why this tragedy happened and playing the blame game for this unprecedented act of terror. Our country wanted answers, so there were political ads made and Hollywood of course wanted to capitalize on this tragedy. This angered many of us, but more importantly we wanted peace of mind and our security and safety restored once again. Osama Bin Laden and his group of attackers brought us to our knees and shattered the coveted ideals we had about the fallacy of our safety, security and wellbeing of our heartland. Additionally, on that fateful day, we realized that our country is not absent from attacks. We are not a special, unique or even less prone to an attack just because we are the United States of America. Our society has programmed our minds to believe that we are this indestructible and unstoppable force. We were forced to change and adapt the way we lived our lives prior to that morning in order to overcome the pain and despair caused by these awful events. We all fell into a state of unbelievable shock by how hate, ideology and prejudice can drive men to such horrific acts…Something had to change! Something had to be done! In order to amend the holes of knowledge, we needed to restructure, readjust and rethink! We needed to create STRONGER, more reliable security protocols within an existing machine that would be beneficial to our needs as time moves forward in order to form a more perfect nation which foresees possible future attacks from here and abroad.
The President at the time, George W. Bush went to survey the damage at ground zero. He evaluated what took place and went to Capitol Hill to amend the problems with our security policies. Over the next few months, President Bush addressed the country many times in order to keep Americans updated on the progress of the response to the attacks on 9-11. An article on the BBC website states, 1“Soon after that speech on Monday November 25, 2002 former President Bush signed the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security and said, ‘Today we are taking historic action to defend the U.S. and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era. Creating a new department called Homeland Security and will ensure that our efforts to defend this country are comprehensive and united. We are fighting a war against terror with all our resources and we are determined to win!’ ” After signing this bill into action, public transportation civil liberties as we know it would be forever changed, hopefully for the better.
We have multiple forms of transport to apply security protocols to: planes, trains and automobiles. It seemed as though only airports were the focus of this bill, which makes sense considering the plane was the main form of transportation used to attack the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and an unsuccessful attack on The White House. Keeping that in mind, it seems as though we have neglected to focus on the rest of American mobility. Breaking down homeland security to find the flaws and the loop holes for possible terrorist attacks, along with figuring out the statistical probability for future acts of terrorism on our land from both domestic and most importantly foreign invaders, will help the government to know what the next stages of security should be.
Trains have been around in America since the 1830’s. The first documented railroad tracks laid in America was only 39.8 miles long. After this, the use of railroad lines grew rapidly. Since trains first arrived on the transportation scene, there have been significant advances making them faster and more efficient. Some can be operated unmanned and some are even rail-less using magnetism as a form of energy! The United States uses trains to transport everything from agricultural goods, food and equipment to people. Anyone with the correct amount of coinage can ride a train for a day or they can get a monthly pass. When entering a train, bags are hardly ever checked, if ever, and carry-on luggage is always welcomed. While you ride on the train you will hear the occasional audible pre recorded voice echo throughout the train cars, “Please take all baggage belonging to you when leaving the train.” I believe that this message is so that if anything is left behind on the train it would be considered suspicious and Metra or Amtrak could take further action if and when necessary. You will see all walks of life on the train; from your average business man or women, to single mothers, to the everyday college student who commutes to and from home, work and school. On the other hand, you will also see drug dealers, rapists and many other people who may look like normal day to day people, but have other plans that could be detrimental to the safety of the other riders.
It seems that the department of homeland security has yet to really influence train transport. I have yet to see any rail marshals, metal detectors or anything that would deter a person from using a train as a means to an end in the form terrorism. This doesn’t mean trains have not been used in terroristic activities. Train targets are plentiful and up till now minimally protected, as previously stated they are compact and combustible allowing for maximum carnage with high amount of probable collateral damage. The news is an excellent example of this and will show that even if we do have officers on trains, terrorism attacks are still possible.
Here are several documents that help to prove this point. One such document is on the web-site known as the Transportation Security Administration Office of Intelligence Mass Transit System Threat Assessment. This document was developed and written by the department of Homeland Security for the specific purpose of analyzing trains and possible terrorist threats, “At this time, there is no credible intelligence regarding specific plans by any extremist groups or individuals to perpetrate an act of terrorism against the U.S. mass transit system. The U.S. mass transit and passenger rail systems are vulnerable to terrorist attacks because they are accessible to large numbers of the public and are notoriously difficult to secure.” Also found in this article are examples of undeniable acts of terrorism, all occurring on trains,
2in India February of 2007: Kashmiri extremists placed six suitcases IID’s (improvised incendiary devices) in three cars of the ‘Friendship Express’ passenger train traveling to Pakistan from India. Four of the six IID’s ignited and caused fires in two passenger cars, killing 68 and injuring 13. In July 2006: Seven bombs exploded over a span of 15 minutes on the Mumbai Suburban Railway system, killing 187 and injuring more than 700. In the United Kingdom during July of 2005: Four suicide bombers attacked the London Underground subway systems and a double-decker bus during morning rush hour. 52 people were killed and 700 injured. Two weeks later around 12 noon, four young Islamic extremists in London attempted to conduct bombings similar to the earlier attacks in this same month containing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) made from peroxide-based explosives. In Spain March 2004: Explosions on four Madrid commuter trains during the morning rush hour killed 191 passengers and injured more than 1,800. Finally in Russia December 2003: An explosion aboard a commuter train near Yessentuki, northwest of Chechnya, killed 41 people and injured more than 150. Russian officials blamed a Chechen suicide bomber for the attack.
These are all great examples of times when a train has been used in order to cause death and destruction. Though these events have taken place over seas and throughout other countries and trains have not yet been used in The United States of America for terrorism, it does not give our country the right to shrug off or ignore these horrific incidents. It’s the reason why the United States intervened on D-Day during WWII, because we didn’t want Mussolini, Hitler and his Nazis to take over and aggressively push their control over all European countries. It’s the reason why we make our presence known in other countries. America does this to maintain her status as a policing power of the world. This also helps us to maintain our status as one of the most powerful military influences in the world. That along with the fact that we have the most bombs helps us to maintain our superior security level.
Even though there is no evidence to date linking these acts to terrorism, Al-Qaida is reportedly interested in producing compact chemical dispersal devices. The device is called a mubtakar for disseminating cyanogens chloride and hydrogen cyanide. It is considered efficient in enclosed spaces and could be effective if used in a subways, cars and underground rail stations. It is important for Homeland Security to take a proactive approach in order to prevent tragedies like 9-11. We must train officers so that when they are in the field they know what to look for before the personal chemistry sets come out to play. Suspicious activity can always help law enforcement and security officials identify unusual behavior, trends, patters, and possible criminal acts. This will only help us if we know what to look for, of course.
Changing gears now and turning our attention to the most widely used form of transport know to the world as the automobile. Some sort of a form of a car was created as early as 1769 by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, but most people who you would talk to on the street would say Henry Ford was the creator. Wikipedia, a widely used information source stated, 3“Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was the American founder of the Ford Motor Company and father of modern assembly lines used in mass production. Ford’s introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry and created what would soon revolutionize the car juggernaut.” Since this time the automobile has become the cornerstone of American mobility. As teenagers we all looked forward to the freedoms that having a license to drive could give us, but many times we fail to remember the dangers that come along with the responsibility.
Societies drive their automobiles for just as many, if not more purposes, as the train or plane. Along with this, the lethality of accidents in cars verses in trains is significantly higher and totals per year of car accident mortality are much higher than in train accidents. This is exactly why we have police and are required by law carry car insurance so that people don’t do anything excessively destructive while on the road. The automobile can also take many forms; as long as you have the right parts to make it a legally functioning machine you can carry, move, remove, aid and destroy pretty much anything. Taking a larger concern for the security approach to the car is a very important step our government needs to take. Lately, in the news car bombs are becoming a more predominate headline that is highlighted for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of these bombings takes place overseas and are used to target churches, office buildings, medical clinics, and military bases, typically American facilities.
When talking about car bombings and bring to our attention the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it is important to take a moment and define what a car bomb is, 4“A car bomb is an improvised explosive device placed in a car or other vehicle and then detonated.” They are most commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupants of the vehicle, people near the blast site, or to damage buildings or other property. Car bombs act as their own delivery mechanisms and can carry a relatively large amount of explosives without attracting suspicion; in larger vehicles, they can weigh up to 1000 pounds. Car bombs are activated in a large variety of ways, including the opening of the vehicle door, activation of the car ignition, and applying pressure on the brake and or acceleration pedals.
The Oklahoma City bombing was all over the news and until the 9/11 attack, it was one of the deadliest acts of terrorism on U.S. soil to date. 5“the man that carried out this terrible act of domestic terrorism was 26-year-old Timothy McVeigh. Shortly after the explosion, Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger stopped him for driving without a license plate and was arrested for that offense and for unlawfully carrying a weapon. Within days, McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both arrested for their roles in the bombing. Investigators determined that they were sympathizers of a militia movement and that their motive was to retaliate against the government's handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents and the bombing ironically occurred on the anniversary of the Waco incident.” McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001 while Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, who testified against McVeigh and Nichols, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to warn the U.S. government. As with other large scale terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories dispute the official claims and point to additional perpetrators involved.
The attacks led to widespread rescue efforts from local, state, federal, and worldwide agencies, as well as considerable donations from across the country. As a result of the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the U.S. government passed legislation designed to increase protection around federal buildings and against future terrorist attacks. Under these measures, law enforcement has since foiled over sixty domestic terrorism plots.
On April 19, 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on the site of the Murrah Federal Building to commemorate the victims of the bombing and annual remembrance services are held at the time of the explosion.
In regards to safety with the automobile, there are crash test ratings that are done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Their goal is to pick the best cars that keep hard working Americans like you and I alive each day on our commute to work, home and vacation. The cars IIHS chose can with stand high roll and hit stability. 6 “Ford and its Volvo Subsidiary had 16 winners, including the Ford F-150. Honda and its Acura unit had 13 winners. The IIHS, which is funded by insurance companies, pointed out that Honda, Acura and Subaru each have at least one Top Safety Pick in every vehicle class where they compete.” These are the cars with the highest crash safety rating for 2009.
Last but definitely not least, due to the fact that they have most recently been used to attack American soil, we look at mass transportation dealing with the security dilemmas in airports and on planes. As we turn our attention to the big birds in the sky, the airplane has been around for quite a long time and has been used for almost every war ever since its creation. Its evolution has made it easy to transport people and various types of material goods all over the globe. The first airplane was created in 1800 but it did not get off the ground until 1900. 7“In 1900, the Wrights successfully tested their new 50-pound biplane glider with its 17-foot wingspan and wing-warping mechanism at Kitty Hawk, in both unmanned and piloted flights. In fact, it was the first piloted glider. Based upon the results, the Wright Brothers planned to refine the controls and landing gear, and build a bigger glider.” Planes started to become a new way to get around, as well as faster way to travel instead of the old way of sitting on a boat for endless hours on the ocean. As we advanced, we used them to fight wars and protect our boarders here and on bases around the world.
Moments after the events of 9/11 took place all air traffic was grounded by President Bush’s orders. 8“Thursday night, British Airways banned carry-on bags from all flights between the United States and Britain, and on Friday, passengers in the U.S. will be subjected to a second security check at their boarding gates. Officials want to prevent anyone from getting onto a plane with liquids that could be used as explosives. Airports across the U.S. struggled that Friday to adapt to stringent security precautions put in place after British authorities arrested 24 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes.” These new precautions were just the beginning of many new safety protocols that would be put into place, changing the way people travel on planes.
When The World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit by planes, many American passengers were killed. One plane full of people, however, would not allow the terrorists to control their final destination. They refused to sit around, watch and wait for their soon foreseen death, but instead chose to act, to fight back! A&E T.V. does an excellent job depicting the heroic effort of these people:
9The courageous men and women aboard Flight 93 hatched a hasty, desperate plan to attack the terrorists and try to prevent them from hitting their selected target, probably the White House or the US Capitol. The passenger leaders, including Tom Burnett, Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, and the rest of the passengers and crew, began making final, heartrending calls to say goodbye to loved ones and family. By 9:58, most indelible farewell calls were released and re-played, all of America and people around the world got to hear, firsthand, the extraordinary bravery and determination of the ordinary civilians who chose to give their lives in order to save the lives of countless others. Daring, honorable and self-sacrificing, they are true American heroes. The story of Flight 93 is a legacy for us all and will live forever in our hearts, minds thoughts and prayers of those families who were devastated by those whom were sacrificed on that fateful flight.
The policies as to what you can and cannot have in your carry-on in the passenger portion of the plane became much stricter. People and government felt a need for an armed officer for every plane in flight to ease the tension and fear for passengers on these flights. These are the men and women who fly the skies with us to protect us from future attacks:
10Federal Air Marshals must operate independently without backup, and rank among those Federal law enforcement officers that hold the highest standard for handgun accuracy. They blend in with passengers and rely on their training, including investigative techniques, criminal terrorist behavior recognition, firearms proficiency, aircraft specific tactics, and close quarters self-defense measures to protect the flying public. Federal Air Marshals have an ever expanding role in homeland security and work closely with other law enforcement agencies to accomplish their mission. Currently, air marshals staff several positions at different organizations such as the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Targeting Center, and on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces. In addition, they are also distributed among other law enforcement and homeland security liaison assignments during times of heightened alert or special national events.
When people board planes, statistically, most men and or women don’t know where to sit, so when the worst case scenario comes time to play out, you will have a higher possibility of survival for the incident using the following information, 11“Seats located behind the trailing edge of the wing are credited with the highest survival rate, at 69 percent. A fifty-six percent rate of endurance occurs at the coach section, both ahead of the wing and the over-wing area. Without a doubt, the safest place to be is in a plane’s exit row, but that area’s reserved for able-bodied people who speak English. Sitting near those rows is also preferential for survival, with the rear exit row considered the best spot.” Now most people say that you are safer in the air than on a four lane highway in a car. They say this because the probability of hitting another plane in the air is one in a million. So do not be afraid to board a plane and fly the friendly skies because it has been eight going on nine years since the last terrorist attack using an airplane as a destructive weapon.
We have come a long way since the Wright brothers and overcome multiple attacks dealing with terrorism in America. In the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, we as a country have made strong strides to counteract terrorism in America. In employing Federal Air Marshals, we have highly trained people to fly with us to protect us from those who are pro chaos. Car companies are also inventing and creating new cars that are going from gas to water to air powered. This new technology causes cars to be less combustible and destructible when they crash, so all we need to worry about are seatbelts and strong steel internal cages for car chassis. President Obama’s new cabinet is making changes and adapting to our past attacks. They are creating laws, regulations and policies that will fortify our boarders, creating safer planes, trains and automobiles and thus ensuring the safety of all Americans.
Although terrorism is still a very real threat in our country, there are definite steps being taken to create safer machines and situations. It is said that the first step to change is realizing that there is something wrong with the current system. It is unfortunate that it took the day of September 11th, 2001 for our citizens and government to come to this realization that changes undeniably had to occur within our airports on planes. Some have said that mistakes were made in dealing with security in airports before 9/11. If this is the case it is very unfortunate that people perished due to those mistakes. But, what would be far more unfortunate would be if we did not learn from our history and become more proactive in creating stronger security protocols involving trains and cars. We as a nation must make progressive strides and learn from our shortcomings and work hard to overcome them and we can only do this if we learn from what our past failures have taught us.
Results: The Transportation Security Administration Office of Intelligence Mass Transit System Threat Assessment is a written document by the department of Homeland Security for the specific purpose of analyzing trains and possible threats. They specifically stated to us that “there are no credible plans on these mass transit systems” but anything is a vulnerability to any attack ever.
Conclusion: After analysis of the data given, to date there hasn’t been any attack or threat on our rail systems or any car bomb in the past year. But that does not give us the right to write it off to say it won’t happen again or ever. You must always keep your guard up and be aware of your environment surroundings for any possible, suspicious, and threatening activity.
Bbc.com. 2009. BBC World News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2512891.stm
Msnbc.msn.com. 2009. MSNBC. Transportation Security Administration Office of Intelligence Mass Transit System Threat Assessment. http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/tvnews/masstransitsystemthreatassessment.pdf
Wikipedia.com. 2009. Henry Ford. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_ford