Security Responses to the Brussels Attacks

The two suicide bombers and a third who ran away, caught on video footage shortly before blowing themselves up on Tuesday this week in Brussels airport.
The two suicide bombers (and a third who ran away), shortly before blowing themselves up in Brussels airport.

Most media are missing the point of the Brussels bombings on Tuesday 22 March.

Meanwhile, naive public pressure for simple fast solutions to a complex problem is encouraging inappropriate responses that attempt to pacify the public by offering greater inconvenience in the hope that will be seen as greater security.

First, let’s put the events in their proper perspective.  Two bombs were detonated by suicide bombers at the main Brussels (Zaventem) airport at 8am, while a third bomber chickened out and fled the airport with his bomb undetonated.

One additional bomb was detonated on the metro system, at Maelbeek station at 9am.

The Airport Bombing was Not as Severe as the Metro Bombing

Now here’s the interesting thing which the photo/video coverage and ‘expert’ commentaries obscure.  The airport bombing, while making for ‘great’ photo opportunities, resulted in ‘only’ ten dead (and about 100 wounded).  The harder to photograph metro bombing killed twice as many (and about 130 wounded).  This is unsurprising and normal for two reasons.  First, explosions in confined spaces cause greater effects than explosions in relatively open spaces, and second, the density of people in a rush hour metro train is much greater than at the airport, meaning there are more people within the lethal kill radius of the bomb.

We can easily translate an airport bombing, anywhere in the world, to something that might affect us, but a metro bombing seems more remote and less a part of our lives, at least for those of us who don’t use metro systems daily.

The other thing is that high volume commuter transport systems can’t withstand the extra pressures of passenger screening.  How can you hope to screen passengers that stream into the metro system every morning and afternoon?  The extra space to build screening stations, the waiting areas, and the personnel to man dozens of screening stations at each metro stop, would be prohibitive and impractical.

So the metro system is both the most vulnerable and also the most difficult to harden.  So what do the security ‘experts’ do?  They focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’ and get hyper-active about airport security, while hoping the elephant in the corner – the metro system – will be ignored by all.

Dysfunctional Added ‘Security’ Suggestions

Experts have reassured us that the ‘authorities’ will introduce additional ‘profiling’ measures to enable them to intercept and neutralize would-be bombers in airports before they get to blow themselves (and everyone around them) up.  Excuse me, but that is a nonsense claim.  Profiling has yet to find a single terrorist, in any airport, anywhere in the world, even though it seems the TSA alone has thousands of profilers mixing and mingling with people in airports and hovering around screening stations.  It is simple arithmetic – if current measures are bringing zero results, doubling them will bring 2 x 0 = 0 results, as any Grade III student can tell you.

Even if profiling does work (and most people seem to have resolved that – at least as being implemented at airports, it is in large part pseudo-science and wishful thinking rather than actually a valid and valuable process) there’s not enough time and opportunity to profile people when all they do is get out of a taxi, put suitcases full of explosives onto trolleys, and then walk through the check-in concourse to their chosen location and detonate themselves.  Total time from entering the airport to going ‘boom’ – perhaps only a couple of minutes.

Profilers need time to build a profile, to see how a person responds to stress and stimuli, and ideally to engage them in conversation and interact with them.  Just watching people pushing their trolleys through the check-in lobbies of an airport – by the time anyone has displayed sufficient indication of being ‘of interest’ it will be too late.

Then there’s the traditional knee-jerk response of doubling the police on patrol, and giving them even shinier newer fully-automatic weapons and snazzier jazzier paramilitary uniforms.  It seems the terrorists had detonators held in their left hands – by the time a police officer has said ‘Excuse me, sir, may I ……’ it is too late.  Plus, and after having watched at first hand the ‘added security patrols’ deployed in France around high-risk targets in the weeks immediately after France’s November attacks last year, the alertness level of such police rapidly dwindles down to almost zero – they are surrounded by tens of thousands of ordinary innocent people; how can they hope to alertly appraise each and every person they sight, and how can they remain motivated after every time, failing to find a terrorist.

I even watched French gendarmes search a person’s backpack – but they only searched one of the backpack’s many compartments.  The backpack was moderately heavy – it contained a bottle of water and books – but they found neither the water nor the books before handing it back again.  In what was was this valuable security?

The rocket scientists in charge of airport security are also talking about now having screening at the entrances to the passenger terminals.  Hello!  Anyone home?  Sadly, not.

What the terrorists need is a concentration of people – detonating their bomb harmlessly in an empty space does them no good at all.  A concentration of people inside the passenger terminal is better than at the doorway outside, but a concentration of people waiting to go through security to enter the building is the next best thing.  All our experts are doing is moving the vulnerability back a step.

Actually, it might be even worse.  With passengers bunched up around the entrance doors, they might be close to the approach roads.  Maybe now a terrorist could drive a car or van full of explosives close to the crowd of people waiting to be admitted to the terminal, and with that much larger bomb, create even more death and destruction than at present.

First the vulnerability was on the plane.  After making planes more difficult to attack, people who truly knew about security said ‘you’re just shifting the target zone to inside the airport terminals’.  That has now been proven to be true, and so the ‘experts’ are simply wishing to move the vulnerability to the entrance to the terminal.

Okay, so this might reduce some of the damage to the fixtures and fittings inside the terminal when the next bomb goes off outside, but it does absolutely nothing to protect passengers.

The Grim Reality and the Difficulty of Effective Solutions

There is of course sadly little new about either airport or metro/subway bombings.  With ‘only’ 10 killed, the airport event was much more benign than, eg, the Moscow Domodedovo bombing in 2011 with 35 killed.  Here’s an interesting analysis of terrorist attacks against transportation type targets in the last 45 years.

The subway bombing also was comparatively moderate.  London suffered 56 dead in 2005, Moscow has had several attacks killing about 40 per attack, and when also considering above ground suburban railway systems, Madrid’s 191 dead as a result of ten explosions and Mumbai’s 209 dead from seven explosions dwarf the events in Brussels this week.

Expressions of shock and surprise show the people expressing such feelings to have little appreciation of the history and context of such attacks.  Perhaps it is because these attacks occurred in Brussels, a city steeped in the most dysfunctional expressions of EU bureaucracy – one of the inner refuges of all that defines the EU, that makes it seem ‘closer to home’ than further away places we find it harder to identify with such as Moscow and Mumbai.

Now, for the various suggestions to catch future terrorists ‘just in time’ such as profiling, additional police patrols, and moving security screening to the airport entrances.  The ‘just in time’ concepts works for efficient manufacturing processes, but has there ever been a case of a bomber intercepted within seconds/minutes of blowing himself up?  Not that we’re aware of.

And therein lies the clue to the best form of security, something we’ve been consistently calling for in all our previous analyses of such security issues.  By the time the bomber gets to his target, it is almost certainly too late to intercept him and neutralize his threat.

We need to go further back, and find these people when they are planning, training, and preparing for their acts of terrorism.  We need to find the breeding grounds of terrorism and annihilate them with the same steely resolve that our enemies display in their attacks on the soft under-bellies of western civilization and the freedoms that simultaneously define us and place us at risk.

And here’s the cold calculus that we’re trying to avoid confronting :  Our unwillingness to ruthlessly root out and destroy the enemies plotting against us, even when we know who they are and where they are, due to concerns about harming the ‘innocent’ people who are aiding and abetting and sheltering them – this directly transfers those ‘innocent’ casualties from their side of the ledger to ours.  31 innocent people died in outrageous acts of senseless violence on Tuesday.  How many more groups of innocent people in our society have to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness before we get the resolve to wage reciprocal war against our enemy?

Some apologists suggest that our problem is not so much an organized tangible enemy we can fight and fracture.  They talk about the ‘lone wolf’ concept – but that is largely a myth and an excuse advanced by people seeking to cover their failures.

Ordinary people like you, your friends, co-workers and neighbors, don’t just wake up one morning and decide ‘today I’m going to become a Muslim terrorist and blow myself up at the airport’.

These ‘lone wolves’ typically evolve through a process of increasing radicalization, most of which leaves ‘footprints’ that could be detected, and contact points that could be sanctioned.

  • Do they hang out with normal people like us, or do they interact with fellow extremists.  My guess, while to start with they might be normal people like the rest of us, they progressively shift their friendships to very different types of people – fellow extremists.
  • Do they learn how to make a bomb via Google, or are they taught by some shadowy terrorist figures – more likely than not, the latter – indeed, to make it really simple for us, many of these ‘lone wolves’ go and visit terrorist trainers in countries that are known sponsors/supporters of terrorism.  Who is more likely to be the terrorist – the person with passport stamps from Canada, Australia, and Brazil, or the person with passport stamps from Syria, Lebanon, and Iran?  (Okay, so I know people who have been to Syria, Lebanon and Iran who are merely well traveled,so  clearly simply going to those places doesn’t automatically label the person a terrorist, but in the context of their other travels and everything else, it may shift the odds significantly).
  • Do they hide their Muslimism or do they go to mosques regularly – almost certainly, the latter.
  • Do they go to moderate/liberal mosques or to aggressive/extremist ones – usually, the latter.
  • Do they perfunctorily offer minimalist lip service to the teachings of Muslimism or do they become strict adherents to all its requirements – usually, the latter.

And so on.  It is true that some of the enemy soldiers ‘wise up’ and happily embrace our customs as protective coloring to blend in prior to attacking us, but it is also true, when we do the lengthy post-mortem analysis of past attacks and the attackers who perpetrated them, that almost everyone has had warning flags galore which have been ignored and overlooked.

Politically correct people who insist we pretend it is nothing more than an amazing coincidence that all these people who attack us are also Muslims would have us ignore all these tell-tale signs of developing problems, and try and confuse and conflate the issue by misdirecting us to look at ‘white supremacists’ and grass roots land-rights protesters and suggest they are as much a threat as the Muslims, and demand we focus on these people as much as on the Muslims.  Of course no-one can deny the reality of the Oklahoma City bombing (although there are some interesting peripheral links to Muslim terrorism around its edges), but this is not a ‘one size fits all’ problem/solution.

There’s also the ultimate Catch-22 offered by the same politically correct people – they claim that if we are to acknowledge these truths, we would further radicalize the elements against us and make things worse.  But they fail to appreciate that our enemies are already hell-bent on destroying us, whether we profess to like them or not.  It is a clash between two cultures and incompatible value-systems.

This isn’t about whether we’re ‘doing enough’ for unemployed Muslim migrants or not, because surely the most miserable unemployed Muslim migrant enjoying our welfare benefits and social support programs is living a life of incomparable luxury compared to what they left behind in their Muslim homeland.  It is about whether we observe Sharia or western Judeo/Christian values and legal systems.  The only way to appease these people is to dress our women up in burqas and treat them as slaves, to stop eating pork, and to pray to Mecca regularly every day.

So we’re being told the solution is to surveil all of us, all the time.  To keep histories of our internet use, our phone calls, our driving history in our cars, and so on.  And to ‘harden’ risky targets with added ‘security’ provisions.  But shouldn’t our intelligence services work smarter, rather than work harder – shouldn’t they focus on the actual sources of the threats against us, rather than making our entire country an oppressive surveillance state?

Rather than try and protect ‘the last mile’ shouldn’t we be trying to catch terrorists at the start of their run, rather than at the end?

Who Said This?

Lastly, do you remember how the ‘chattering classes’ delighted in lambasting the person hoping to earn a nomination to be his party’s Presidential candidate when he said in January

There is something going on.  Go to Brussels. …  There is something going on and it’s not good, where they want Sharia law … There is something bad going on.

These mild, prescient, and most of all, factual statements were described as insulting Brussels.  Rudi Vervoot, President of the Brussels region said in smug response ‘We can reassure the Americans that Brussels is a multicultural city where it is good to live’.  I wonder when Rudi last strolled around the Molenbeek district of Brussels….

In reality, Brussels’ terrorist problems have been widely known, among intelligence circles, for a long time.  The Brussels authorities have been preferring to turn a blind eye to the situation in their city in return for an unspoken agreement that the terrorists would focus their attacks on targets outside Belgium.  It was only the Paris attacks last November that forced the authorities into a slightly less passive role, thus ending the ‘truce’ between them and the terrorists.  This article by noted former NSA analyst and Naval War College professor John Schindler explains Brussels’ role as Europe’s main terrorist refuge.

If we wish to be safe in our cities and in our travels, we can’t afford to let political correctness and ‘Muslim myopia’ blind us to the reality of who it is that is attacking us, why it is they are doing so, and the type of responses required to resolve this problem.

Our safety can only be secured by neutralizing the sources of terrorism, not by ineffective defensive strategies at their targets.

7 thoughts on “Security Responses to the Brussels Attacks”

  1. The best comment I have read on security issues to date. It is spot on and addresses root cause analysis when all others feel a band aid will cure the problem. Not so. I can only hope that this article has widespread readership and adherence.

  2. Right on the money! One of your better pieces. This stupid moronic political correctness is costing lives needlessly. Muslim extremists are rather easy to single out and track down in Western nations, because they normally live and behave as Muslim extremists! Its not rocket science or jungle guerilla warfare!

  3. Often , David, you inform us with such clarity. Thanks for your articulate insight. “Unfortunately, ‘security’ has become the refuge of fools and scoundrels who use it to excuse the inexcusable, and to deflect criticism or discussion about the actual issues that the ‘security’ strategy is ostensibly in place to protect. “

  4. David, agree fully. The main issue is that any reaction or solution is always a knee jerk reaction never tempered by common sense. Sadly even worse as time passes, no moderation is ever taken as time passes.

  5. This is well written but short on specifics on how to stop terrorism at the source. It sounds like you are advocating a suspension of civil liberties for one group. A clarification would be welcome.

  6. Trump was correct when he said there is something bad going on in Brussels. I am not a Trump fan but there’s something about him that makes sense. Barring Muslims from entering the US is not unconstitutional. There is nothing in the Constitution that says or implies that one has a Right to come into this country. If it takes a temporary hold until we find out who the Muslims are that want to come into this country, that makes perfect sense. The short and long of this, people are afraid of Muslims and Trump makes then feel like he will have policies that keep them safe. As to the rest of his rhetoric, well, that is another comment.
    BTW, your comments re security comments are spot on. We must, however, seek a permanent solution on how to keep the terrorist at bay besides temporary solutions.

  7. Trump was correct regarding his comment on Brussels. I am not a Trump fan but there’s something about him that makes sense. Barring Muslims from entering the US is not unconstitutional. There is nothing in the Constitution that says or implies that one has a Right to come into this country. If it takes a temporary hold until we find out who the Muslims are that want to come into this country, that makes perfect sense. The short and long of it, people are afraid of Muslims and Trump makes then feel as if he will have policies that keep them safe. As to the rest of his rhetoric, well, that’s another comment.
    BTW, your comments re security are spot on. We must, however, seek a permanent solution on how to keep the terrorist at bay besides the temporary solutions offered

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