Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn “says he is not worried about a trend in terror threats against the transit system,” WTOP reports. And so WMATA will begin random bag searches at Metro stations soon.
If that doesn’t make any sense, remember: this is counterterrorism we’re talking about. It never makes any sense.
In December 2001, Richard Reid tried to blow up an airplane with a bomb in his shoe. Nine years and no more shoe bombers later, we’re still taking off our shoes at the airport. In August 2006, terrorists plotted to blow up about 10 airplanes using liquid explosives. Four years later, women still get hassled about breast milk at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Last Christmas, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to set off a bomb in his underwear aboard a flight to Detroit. And so now, we all go through “naked scanners” or get groped by TSA personnel.
U.S. efforts to deal with terrorism are akin to 8-year-olds playing soccer. Just as the kids all chase after the ball, without strategy or design, our security apparatus chases after the latest threat, real or perceived.
And so, two months after Farooque Ahmed was taken into custody in a Metro bomb plot sting, and a week after terrorist mastermind Awais Younis stealthily revealed dubious plans to blow up pipe bombs on Metro via Facebook, security theater is coming to the D.C. subway system.
WMATA said Thursday that transit police “will conduct random inspections of carry-on items, as part of the continuously changing law enforcement programs designed to keep the system safe.” WMATA says the searches “are expected to take only minutes and are designed to be non-intrusive, as police will randomly select bags or packages to check for hazardous materials.”
While Metro says the process should take no longer than a minute, that’s assuming that no one else is in the process of being scanned. And, as we all know from being stuck behind tourists who refuse to stand to the right, a minute is more than enough time to miss your train.
And what if an actual would-be bomber is trying to enter the system? Two years ago, the last time Metro announced a random search scheme, Stephen Block of the ACLU of the National Capital Area told the Washington Post, “He could just go up the escalator and go to a different station where bag searches are not taking place. … Assume they’re doing searches at Farragut West. The bad guy simply goes to Farragut North.”
As Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert put it, WMATA has decided to “ramp up useless security theater…while having enormous amounts of time and police energy wasted on not catching actual potential terrorists.”
Should Metro do nothing? No. There are risks, and WMATA and the transit police should be vigilant. But it would be best to start by improving the quality of security that already exists.
“If you see something, please say something,” says Taborn, echoing the notices posted throughout the system. But two Metro employees recently responded indifferently to a report of an abandoned bag. Around the same time, a caller to the transit police hotline found there was no one there to pick up the phone.
Metro should fix the security protocols it already has before bothering riders with pointless new ones.