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Who, me? [userpic]

Bag inspections on the train

October 13th, 2006 (02:04 pm)
current mood: grim

When I got to the train station this morning, there were about half a dozen cops, with a dog and some sort of inspection machine. Turns out that Mitt Romney has instituted a permanent roving random bag search. Every day, they'll be at a different station (stations?), and check every eleventh passenger. They have some sort of swab that they can run over the seams and zippers of your bag; then they put it in the machine to check for traces of explosive material. If they find anything, then they do a search.

The courts have held that random bag searches can be Constitutional, under certain circumstances; but I don't agree. This one, though, comes a lot closer. The outside of my bag is, arguably, more public than the inside; so running the swab over it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. If they find something, then they arguably do have probable cause for a search. Under the Fourth Amendment, though, only a judge can make that call, and that's where this breaks down.

But, legal or not, it's useless! First: someone who wanted to mount an attack on Boston wouldn't mess around with the commuter rail; he'd get onto I93 and set off a bomb inside the Big Dig tunnel. Lots of people killed, probably damage to the sewers and things that run over it, maybe damage to the foundations of the buildings above, and traffic patterns ruined for the next ten years. Second: someone who did want to attack the train would send one team member through first, to find out whether or not their target station was being searched, and, if it was, drive to the next one. These are people who are willing to kill themselves to set off their bombs; the inconvenience of having to drive from Lowell to North Billerica won't even slow them down.

The fact that it was Romney that ordered this, almost exactly a month before the election, makes the real reason clear: to make the voters think about terrorists, because voters who are worrying about terrorists are more likely to vote Republican.


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 13th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
The target

Or send in two bombers close together.... One will make it through.

That's a good point: since they're guaranteeing that the inspection will be targeted at every 11th passenger, all you have to do is send in two, and have them leave fewer than 10 other passengers between them.

you could easily find nexuses where several transit systems converge near the T, or where there are significant underground assets like telephony or Internet co-location points

On the T, maybe. But the commuter rail is above ground the whole time; I'm not sure there's anything you could target from the train that you couldn't target from a car...especially since the only time you could target anything reliably would be when the train is stopped at a station.

Posted by: Pat Siobhan (patsmor)
Posted at: October 13th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)

All your reasoning makes sense, except that folks who want to cause terror wouldn't be wanting to attack Boston, they'd be wanting to create confusion and fright among the people.

So hitting a commuter rail station is exactly the right target. And, as you say, driving to another station is what a sensible terrorist would do. But blowing up a bunch of policemen in the process of keeping us safe would cause a great deal of fear and confusion.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 13th, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure hitting a commuter rail station would cause fear among enough people. The commuter rail doesn't actually carry that many people. Let's see, the train I'm on is crowded when it's 6 cars, comfortable when it's 7; and each car holds something like 100 people, so that's about 600-700 people per train. There are maybe 5 rush hour trains per day, so that's about 3500 people that take this line regularly. Spread across all the lines, call it maybe 40,000 people, out of about 4.4 million in the Boston area—1% of the population. Of the other 99%, most are barely aware that it exists. On the other hand, taking out the Big Dig would scare pretty much everybody in the area. I can't find figures for how many vehicles use the tunnel today; but, 10 years ago, the central artery expressway which it replaced carried 190,000 vehicles per day. So maybe 200,000 commuters; still only 5% of the population...but the tunnel gets a lot more occasional users, people who, say, want to drive out to Logan. If it were bombed, those people would, fairly regularly, think to themselves, "Oh, bleep, I can't go there, because the tunnel is gone!". That would result in more long-term fear than any attack on the commuter rail.

Posted by: Pat Siobhan (patsmor)
Posted at: October 13th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Targeting

Well, I think that perhaps the people who do the planning for these things aren't thinking as logically as all that; they'll plan for several targets, widely spread, so that people are uncertain as to what and where to go to avoid getting hit by an attack.

Posted by: Justin du Coeur (jducoeur)
Posted at: October 17th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Targeting

I'm not sure hitting a commuter rail station would cause fear among enough people.

While you're probably correct that the Big Dig would be worse, history says that a *large* fraction of the terror attacks with the most historical impact have been rail-based. The London bombings, the Aum Shinrikyo gassing, the Spanish train bombs -- it's a bog-standard attack vector, and has tended to have plenty enough effect...

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 17th, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Targeting

True. I suspect such attacks would be less successful in the US, because our rail systems are so anemic; but that doesn't mean nobody will try to find out.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 13th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)

"Well, Sgt. Smith did all the motions correctly, but his heart just didn't seem in it. He didn't make me *feel* the role of inspector."

"Yes, Mark, I agree. Perhaps he needs more time at acting school."

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 17th, 2006 02:39 am (UTC)
Hot sauce, mouse traps and nitrates

Get a bag, filled it with mousetraps.
Top the bag with nitrates and some hot sauce or pepper.
Now act suspicious. Hilarity will ensue. Guaranteed.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 17th, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Hot sauce, mouse traps and nitrates

There have probably been some worse ideas. For example, crossing the Pacific on a tricycle, to show that Asia could have been settled by three-year-olds from Los Angeles.

It's probably time for me to start blocking anonymous comments; of the handful I've gotten on my LJ, nearly all of them have been worthless or worse.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Ailish (oakleaf_mirror)
Posted at: October 14th, 2006 07:14 am (UTC)

I agree that this is security theatre, and does nothing to actually make anyone safer.

As for the timing, it's not entirely as sinister as it might seem. The court ruling on the New York subway bag inspections was either the morning of, or the day before, Mitt ordered the inspections on the T. Since the programs are similar, and the NY program was cleared, he claimed that settled the questions over the constitutionality of the program, and ordered the T to start up again. The fact that that let him do it just before the election was a happy coincidence. Maybe.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 14th, 2006 10:18 am (UTC)
Court ruling

Ah, I didn't know that. Thanks.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 17th, 2006 02:35 am (UTC)
Why use a bomber at all?

There are MANY places you can walk along the commuter rail lines (for MILES in some cases). Why put someone on the train at all?

Romney IS CLEARLY putting on this show for the election. Just not for 2006... he's doing it for 2008.

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 18th, 2006 07:19 pm (UTC)

Just remember that an anonymous comment may be a friend who forgot to log in. Best to check first.

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