By Stephen Bryen
You don’t stop terrorists by waiting for them to be terrorists! Had Britain bothered to follow this rule, a lot of people, young and old, citizens and visitors to their country, would be alive today. Instead we have been treated to debacle after debacle.
The latest mess, following close on the heels of the Manchester bombing, is another case in point.
At first the Metropolitan Police in London would have us believe that the terrorists were independent and acting alone, and that their attack wasn’t planned but was kind of spur of the moment.
People always carry an assortment of big knives getting ready for a spontaneous event.
Even worse, the rented van used by the terrorists had on board some twelve Molotov cocktails which the terrorists did not get to use because they were gunned down.
One of the reasons for the slaughter was that the Metropolitan Police are not armed. “ … more than 90 percent of the capital’s police officers carry out their daily duties without a gun. Most rely on other tools to keep their city safe: canisters of mace, handcuffs, batons and occasionally stun-guns,” reports NBC News. These tools are, by and large useless against a charging terrorist. More to the point, had they been armed far fewer people would have been killed or wounded.
Britain does have rapid reaction teams, like American SWAT teams, who are tough, professional and strongly armed. But it took them 8 minutes to arrive on the scene, which was far too slow. London is a congested city, which may help explain the slow response, and a big city (so if there are only a few SWAT teams it is going to take some time before they can get to a crime scene). Add to that the fact that the London terror attack was a moving target, a kind of rampage that moved from place to place. This too makes it hard to pin down the exact location of an attack. A well armed policeman could have slowed them down and maybe killed the attackers; but there was no one to do that.
Perhaps there are other shortcomings one should also notice.
London was not prepared for an attack by vehicle, so there were no barriers along well-used bridges and walkways. Now there are, although inexplicably the authorities in London declined to put any barriers on London Bridge, probably for aesthetic and touristic reasons. Avoid London Bridge.
In Germany at the outdoor Christmas Market in Berlin, which borders on a main thoroughfare there were also no barriers, so a terrorist in a hijacked truck was able to mow people down. The next day the Germans had the good sense to put barriers along with roadway to prevent another attack. Given that the Germans were warned and sat on their hands is, however, a testimony to the malaise at the decision making level across Europe. One wonders whether we are any better off here in the United States?
Then there is the fact that virtually all of these terrorists were fingered by authorities who knew they were potential murderers. But what did they do? In the case of one of the killers in London they hired him to work in the underground (subway) just underneath parliament. Another terrorist named Khuram Butt, who beat up a moderate Islamic scholar who was not sufficiently radical, got off with a warning because the authorities “concluded he did not pose a terrorist threat.” “One of two Moroccan-born extremists who murdered innocent victims at London Bridge was refused asylum in Britain eight years ago” but then was inexplicably let off the hook so he could marry a local girl. Khuram Butt, the ringleader of the terrorists in London appeared in a Jihadi documentary. In one scene the group bows down to an ISIS flag. Another of the killers, Moroccan-Italian Youssef Zaghba who previously had been stopped at the Bologna airport trying to go to Syria, told the authorities he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians say they warned the British; MI-5 claims Zaghba was not a person of interest in the UK, leaving aside whether they got a warning from Italy’s Carabinieri or from Italy’s intelligence agency, AISE (Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna, formerly SISMI ).
The truth is that while there are always gaps in intelligence, we know that both in Manchester and in London the terrorists were not only tracked by the authorities but they also got warnings from citizens who recognized the danger at hand. So far as we know at present, while some of them got on various warning lists, including even the U.S. “no fly” list, the authorities did little else.
Here we come face to face with the biggest problem in counter terrorism. Lists are nice and useful, of course, as is good intelligence. But if the police are just waiting around for some sort of warning of an impending terrorist attack before they act, most of the time they are going to be too late. Yes sometimes they will get some terrific and timely information and intercede; these are the success stories. But if otherwise most of the job is waiting for something to happen, it will be too late.
There is no perfect solution, yet there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a terrorist or terrorists mounting an attack.
Potential terrorists should be constantly harassed by the police; dragged into headquarters for interrogations, court approved searches and seizures, warnings to neighbors, friends and colleagues and any other way pressure can be brought on them. In short, as much as possible destabilize the threat.
There are, in Europe as in the United States civil liberty protections that make it hard for law enforcement to do its job. But with the pendulum mostly pushed very far to the left on the scale of inaction, it is time to move the needle forward. A good start is for law enforcement to stop claiming attacks are lone wolf and not connected to a systematic war against the west and against our civilization. Out with this PC garbage –it only leads to defeatism and makes it politic to make bad mistakes.
If a destabilization program is combined with reasonable defensive measures, perimeter protection, armed and present police, and hard enforcement there is a better chance to avoid tragedy and get the bad guys.