Any terrorism expert will tell you that suicide bombers are among their worst nightmares. They are virtually impossible to defend against. The twin suicide bombings Monday at two landmark Moscow subway stations show why, no matter what local officials might tell us on television and radio, the Los Angeles Metro subway system is an open target, especially once the extra security just put in place in response to the Russian terrorist attacks is removed.
In fact, while no one would argue against more security--if for no other reason than it makes riders feel better knowing the police are nearby (and it just may stop some garden variety bad guys from lifting someone's wallet or purse), the truth is, against a would-be suicide terrorist or terrorists, even a virtual army stationed along LA's subway route could probably do little to stop the sort of incident that happened Monday in the center of Moscow and only a few years ago on the London subway system.
Before I get angry emails about giving ideas to terrorists, believe me, they already have such ideas. And, as we have seen repeatedly now, they put these ideas into practice.
Over the years, the many terrorism experts I have dealt with, as well as police officials in various American cities, have all wondered aloud why suicide bombers had not yet come to American shores.
One former head of the local FBI office here in LA once put it to me bluntly when he said that all it would take is one or two well placed suicide bombers at some public arena (a subway station, or movie theatre or ball park) to have LA's economy grind to a virtual halt for, perhaps, days, maybe longer.
For many years, though, the conventional wisdom was that the U.S. was just not a good place for a suicide bomber... that it would be harder here than in Europe or the Middle East to blend into the crowd.
But the conventional wisdom used to also be that women would not become suicide bombers, and that it was unlikely that native born Americans would morph into fanatical terrorists.
Well, we've seen both of these conventional wisdoms shattered in recent years: There have now been several cases of U.S. born citizens accused of plotting terrorist attacks. The two bombings in Moscow that killed at least 38 people and seriously injured scores more were allegedly set off by two female bombers.
With these in mind, it would be foolish to think that that other conventional wisdom--that suicide bombers would not attack within the United States--could possibly stand up forever. It won't.
Here in LA, as elsewhere, extra security was, indeed, added to the mix following news of the Moscow attacks. But in a time of fiscal austerity, the extra men, women and bomb sniffing dogs will simply not last long. In fact, we've gone through this routine previously following other terrorist attacks in the world. Most of the time, the LA Metro subway system is among the more lax systems when it comes to overt security, compared to other mass transit systems, especially the ones in London or Paris or, yes, Moscow.
In the end, it probably doesn't really matter much.
I've been to Moscow several times and have ridden its subways and trains. Unlike here in Los Angeles, it doesn't take long to spot a heavily armed Moscow cop on a subway platform or riding between individual subway cars. That, however, clearly did nothing to prevent Monday's brazen suicide bombings.
But maybe that is the point? Many news dispatches have called the Moscow attacks "brazen"--but were they, really? I don't think so. The dirty little secret of counter terrorism is simply this--such suicide attacks are not really brazen at all. Sadly, they are fairly easy to pull off.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-Hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995. He also has covered terrorism related stories for many years. He currently is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.
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