Once again we have witnessed how the greatest strength of a democracy can also be its greatest weakness. London was struck on Thursday at the height of its morning rush hour in a bombing like nothing seen in that country since the Nazi blitz, air bombings that Hitler used in his attempt to break the spirit of the British people. Hitler failed and ultimately so will al-Qaida, the many headed snake that attempts to spread radical Islamic fundamentalism across this planet in its effort to drive the western world and its modern influence out of the Middle East, while simultaneously working to incite terror and instill fear in free people around the world. It's interesting that this deadly attack would occur on the first day of the G-8 Conference in Scotland, one where world leaders are coming together to fight poverty and disease while the terrorists come together to create murder and mayhem.
What we do know is that al-Qaida has franchised its murderous ideology to cell-like groups around the world, in this case the so-called Secret Group of al-Qaida Jihad in Europe, groups that, like the U-boats of WWII, lurk just under the surface of society, hiding in plain sight but still invisible until they rise to the surface to kill innocents and then quickly dive to avoid retaliation.
In London a group of probably 25 - 50 terrorists may have planned this attack for at least six months to a year, and, like in the Madrid, Spain, train bombings of last year, they probably studied their targets, in this case London's underground train or "tube" system, in order to identify the best time to strike, i.e., when could their terrible bombs create the most carnage.
Each of the four believed bombs of yesterday weighed less than 10 pounds, but 10 lbs. of high explosive, especially in a confined environment, can wreak havoc, and in this the terrorists did succeed. Three bombs went off in three different trains, while a forth detonated in one of London's famed double decker busses, this last perhaps as a demonstration of the terrorists' capabilities where such would be highly visible to citizens and the media, or perhaps a premature explosion, i.e., one intended for another train that exploded while the terrorist was in route to deliver the bomb to its intended target.
Police so far have rejected the idea that this fourth bombing was a suicide attack, although witnesses saw someone on the bus handling a backpack in a strange manner prior to the explosion. Unlike the recent Madrid bombings, ones in which the deadly bombs were activated by cellular phone calls to the detonators on the bombs, these bombs were probably set with timers as cell phones don't always work in the London tube system, something the terrorists would have learned in their planning and practicing for these events.
As members of western society we live in a target rich environment. The challenge is not for terrorists to identify one potential target, but to choose from the thousands of soft targets that free societies present. In the U.S., since 9/11 we have hardened our airline industry, at a cost of billions, to include some airlines going bankrupt, all done to prevent a reoccurrence of the use of airliners as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This obviously needed to have been done, but are we always behind the terrorism power curve, i.e., are we preparing to fight the last war while the terrorists plan to fight the next war?
The investigation concerning the London bombings, acts that have murdered upwards of 50 and wounded perhaps 1,000, is ongoing around the world at this moment. Unlike the London IRA bombings of the late 20th century, these new attacks were designed for maximum murder. There was no forewarning of the blasts, only a claim by yet another believed Al-Qaida splinter group on an Islamic web site for responsibility for the bombings. British police and U.K. security forces have been very good at preventing such acts of terror, but it appears that you can't stop every attack, especially if the terror cell or group practices good operational security in its planning and implementing of its diabolical plan.
Much to the chagrin of civil libertarians in England, London has an elaborate system of 4,000 security cameras throughout the city that watch and see just about every move by every person traversing the city at any moment. In fact, the average Londoner will be seen 300 times a day by these cameras. The terrorists will be aware of this, but they still can't hide from every camera, and just finding the few frames of film that show the bombers on their "way to work" will be a huge task for the authorities, but one that they are up to.
Cell phone intercepts and Internet sites known to be frequented by suspected terrorists will also be reviewed, again a monumental undertaking but one that must be done. We know that terrorist groups use the Internet to send coded messages, sometimes concealed in a single pixel in an otherwise nondescript picture. Technology has, unfortunately, raced past our ability to follow the movements and messages of those who would use such modern ideas and methods to destroy the very societies that created these technologies in the first place. Simpler methods of investigation, though, are also available to the authorities, and interviews are currently being conducted to head off a possible second wave of bombings or copycat like attacks. Have the terrorists run or otherwise slipped away to strike again at another time, possibly in another country? One investigative lead is who was in London yesterday that has moved away today, and why have they left? These cowardly terrorists may be good at bombing innocent men, women and children of all nationalities, but they still get caught, like part of the group responsible for last years Madrid bombing that committed suicide when the authorities closed in for the arrest.
In the USA we have ramped up the Homeland Security Alert level to orange for mass transportation, including trains, busses and other means of travel that move 16 times more passengers on a daily basis than our heavily defended airlines now transport. Do we now need to search every person getting on a bus or a train like we do in airports? If so, we'll need to add more hours to our day, something, like the searches, that is simply impossible to do. We can be hit in so many way though. Almost lost in the news of the London bombings yesterday was the closing of the southbound lanes of I-95 about 60 miles south of Washington, DC. It seems that one tractor-trailer carrying toxic chemicals slammed into two other transport trucks, resulting in one death and closing part of the main north/south method of transportation for the entire eastern seaboard for 24 hours. Thousands of vehicles were left with their engines idling and 10's of thousands of people were left stranded on the interstate while authorities cleaned up the mess. Alternate routes were also quickly overcome by traffic, therefore travel, at least along this stretch of I-95, was brought to a complete halt. This was an accident, but what if this would be done intentionally, on multiple highways, in different states, all across the entire country?
We all witnessed what two so called snipers with a $300 dollar rifle and a $20 box of shells could do to us while driving around and shooting at victims of all races, sexes and ages, this from an old beat up Chevy in the Washington, D.C. area. People were afraid to leave their homes, and even more fearful to stop to buy gas. What if there were five or 10 such two-man teams operating across the country at the same time? Al-Qaida no longer needs to send it members who are "dying" to commit suicide for its cause to flight school for a year; no, they simply need to carry a 10 pound bomb concealed in a backpack onto a train, tuck the backpack under their seat and get off at the next stop, with the bomb left to do its deadly business without the need for the bomber to set off the bomb and start his trip to radical Islamic fundamentalist heaven. And this doesn't even address the possibility of wrapping a chemical or biological agent around the bomb, (note that just last year the Brits broke up a plot by jihadist terrorists to use deadly Ricin as a WMD), or even a radioactive waste package that would change the explosive device into a low order "dirty bomb."
We are in yet a new phase in the war on terrorism, one that may not be totally winnable, and one, at least, that will not witness a surrender of such terrorists on the battleship Missouri moored in some middle eastern gulf. As this multi-splintered, multi-headed monster called terrorism continues to kill, we must have a greater resolve to cut off the heads of the creature, one at a time until it can no longer breathe or attack. Do the British, the French, the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Iraqis, the Americans, and especially the Danes and the Italians who have been directly threatened by these bombers, and the many other nations of the world really have the guts, the determination, the resolve and the strength to stand up to such murders, in reality sub humans who blow up children and kidnap and execute others who are working for peace, like Egypt's ambassador to Iraq who was killed by terrorists just this week. If we don't have the requisite intestinal fortitude to meet this test of wills, we may as well just sink back into our lazy boy rockers and rely on Tom Brokaw's memories of our finest hours in WWII, for without the strength and tenacity that was brought to bear by our mothers, fathers and grandparents, our children and grandchildren will inherit a world in which terrorism reigns, and one in which men and women of freedom hide their faces in shame and fear. That's not the world I want my grandchildren to inherit. How about you?
Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."