Securing Homeland Trains and Subways

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", March 12 that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, intelligence agencies continue to sort out whether the Basque separatist, Al Qaeda (search), or some other group are responsible for the attacks in Spain yesterday. The question is being asked. Could it happen here? Are our trains and subways secure?

For more on that, we turn to Professor Edward Turzanski, a national security analyst at La Salle University and a senior fellow at the Center on Terrorism for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Professor, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.


WILSON: Let's see. You know, the Homeland Security Department has issued a warning to train companies saying be more vigilant, saying Amtrak, be a little more careful. We are getting word now from the State Department that if you are traveling to Spain, you need to be careful there. I guess the question is can what happened in Spain happen here? How secure are our railways and our subways?

TURZANSKI: Brian, theoretically, the answer is yes. In fact, it could happen anywhere. But let's keep in mind that a very important component of our defense against these kinds of attacks, has to do with our posture in going after terrorism at its root.

Let me explain it in terms of a football analogy, if I can. We've decided we don't want to play goal- line defense. We will win this war on terror by playing offense, and by going after terrorists where they train, where they organize and preventing them from getting here in the first place.

The country is simply too big. There are too much soft targets for us to sit back in a defensive posture. That's why we've gone on offense, and to a large extent, that's why we have not had a second attack since 9-11.

WILSON: Acknowledged, we have taken the fight to the terrorists rather than allowing the terrorists to bring the fight here. But we do have these railways. We do have these subways. People have to use them. How safe are they?

TURZANSKI: They're much safer than they were prior to 9-11, and I would suggest that homeland security is the sort of thing that keeps on reinventing itself and adapting best practices. With each attack -- and we've got people over there in Spain right now, seeing not only what happened, but what could have been done to prevent that.

We will keep on remaking the state of the art. The most important thing for everyone to keep in mind is that we are very attentive to detail. We are looking at attacks around the world. And we are trying to incorporate best practices to protect as many of our people as possible.

WILSON: It's been pointed out that we need a different kind of approach when you are talking about rails. I mean when you are going to protect an airplane, you really are concerned about the -- not only the people aboard, but the fact that the aircraft can be flown into targets. That's not the case with trains. You are really trying to protect the people on board from, I would imagine, explosives.

TURZANSKI: Well, also keep in mind it depends on who is responsible for these attacks. And in terms of al Qaeda, they are interested not only in inflicting casualties, but more important in massive disruption. What they want to do is not just blow up a train full of people. They want to shut down train travel in the entire country. Pretty much what has happened in Madrid.

So what we're looking at are critical infrastructure issues. Not just transportation nodes, but also communications, power, light, anything that can affect large numbers of people and cause widespread dislocation and panic. Those are the things that we pay attention to most.

WILSON: I always like to ask this question when I get a national security expert on. Have we been lucky, or have we been good?

TURZANSKI: Luck is the residue of design, so we have had both. We've had some good fortune. But a lot of it is the product of very hard work and a better coordination between our intelligence, our law enforcement, our military, and our diplomatic people.

We're on the same page pulling in the same direction, and that was not the case prior to 9-11.

WILSON: Do you have any opinion about who was responsible for the attack in Spain?

TURZANSKI: Brian, it's interesting, because as I look at this, it doesn't make sense politically for it to be just an ETA operation. What may have happened -- and this is something that I think people should look at very seriously, is the possibility that if not al Qaeda, certainly some Islamist fundamentalist group is working with some element of ETA.

And we've had this zero-sum game. It's either ETA, or it's either al Qaeda. It may be some combination of the two. And that's where I would look very carefully.

WILSON: Some have suggested that we have al Qaeda so much on the run that it's the other extremist organization that is we should now watch. Do you agree?

TURZANSKI: I think we've got al Qaeda on the run, and that's why they haven't been able to strike us here. But keep in mind, they have worked through surrogates in Turkey, in Bali, in Saudi Arabia, and very likely in Madrid. So they strike at soft targets outside of this country. They would love to get here, but they're not getting in because we have done a very good job at preempting them at the source.

WILSON: You think about this all the time. We think about it occasionally. When you go to bed at night, what causes you to wake up in a cold sweat?

TURZANSKI: Bombings. Conventional bombings because I think it is so easy to get your hands on the explosives, so easy to plant them, and so very difficult to detect them. I look at what the Israelis live with, and that's the greatest concern.

That you will get some sort of cadre that is very committed, doesn't care about their own lives, and will plant explosives. That's a hard thing to deal with. It's much worse than any of the nightmare scenarios, because they're remote. But these conventional explosives can be easily secured and very easily placed.

WILSON: Thank you so much, professor. We appreciate it.

TURZANSKI: Thank you.

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