Hardening transportation against terror threats

Few in attendance at the annual meeting of the Truckload Carriers Association walked away from the final session on domestic security feeling much comfort.

Ken Allard, a retired army officer and security and information intelligence analyst for the MSNBC cable network, opened the presentation with a blunt assessment: “We have lost control of our borders. We are most concerned about nukes. Nukes mean trucks, and that means you. The nightmare scenario for any response planner is a truck with a nuclear or chemical device detonated in a congested area anywhere in the Northeastern corridor.”

Allard was joined in the presentations by James E Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and by Jeffrey Beatty, president of Total Security Services International. The Truckload Carriers meeting was held in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 3 to 6, 2002.

The war in Afghanistan, much less the war on terror, is not over, Allard said. When found and confronted, the terrorists will shoot back and fight just as hard as they can. The public must be prepared for some serious fights. The deadliest single mistake a military commander can make is underestimating the adversary, he said.

The Al-qaida are intent on their objectives, more than capable of learning lessons from recent action, and determined not to lose, Allard said. Unlike a conventional military organization, today's terrorists are a global network and must be confronted as a series of hierarchies. These groups are good at exchanging information very quickly. Just because one part of the network is neutralized does not mean that the whole network has been eliminated. Guerilla networks retreat when confronted and wait to regroup and attack when their opponent seems to look the other way, he said.

Although the war on terror is first and foremost an intelligence war, there is no substitute for muddy boots on the ground, Allard said. Satellites cannot take pictures of intentions. Sometimes it is necessary to fight for intelligence. That's what all the cave searches have been about, he said.

The product of those searches has been a treasure trove. Many of the documents and computer disks found in Al-qaida caves have made reference to weapons of mass destruction, Allard said. Western countries try to control the technology behind such weapons, but technology has a life of its own. No matter how tightly controlled, technology eventually leaks.

Following the bombing in Oklahoma City, the government began hardening federal facilities. After a couple of years, most in government thought that federal sites were fairly safe, Allard said. An assessment of site security showed that federal buildings and installations were not secure at all. All this was documented in a report by the Government Accounting Office. The US military has found a copy of that GAO report on the hard drive of a computer in a cave in Afghanistan, he said.

The terrorists pay a great deal of attention to the US, particularly its infrastructure, Allard said. On September 11, the terrorists went about their business in an extremely disciplined way, fully understanding what the vulnerabilities of the system were. Nine of the hijackers got extra attention from security personnel and were able to accomplish their tasks anyway.

Some of the reasons terrorists can succeed are that security agencies tend to be insular, Allard said. Military, security, and police agencies all have their own turf, which they go to great lengths to protect. They don't like to share information, because bureaucratic thinking equates information to power. As a result, officers in one agency have a lot of trouble checking their leads against data held by other agencies. “This is why we have lost control of our borders,” he said. “If we can't stop illegal immigration or drugs at the border, we also have a problem with terrorism. Talk about a porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan notwithstanding, we also have porous borders around our own country. We've only begun to think about how to secure them.”

Need to integrate databases

People tend to think that the government is watching, Allard said, “but let me tell you, Big Brother is not there. We need now to do the hard work to integrate government databases so that we can do the elementary things such as identifying friends and foes. That is why we see the delays at border crossings used by trucks, because we don't have enough agents to inspect loads to verify what is real and what may be a problem.”

Terrorists want bigger weapons. In some cases, they have received help in this from people in governments that ostensibly are friendly to the US, Allard said. The three big worries are that they might assemble or purchase a functioning nuclear weapon, that they might detonate a dirty bomb to spread nuclear contamination, and that they could penetrate the shielding of a nuclear power plant. Using information from the web sites maintained by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, analysts have been able to assemble a target list of nuclear power plants that could be vulnerable to simple attack plans, he said.

Planning an attack requires detailed knowledge. In many cases, that requires physical inspection, a situation that an alert security force should notice, Allard said. In these instances, terrorists would have been able to build plans simply by gathering information from government web sites. Finally, one month after September 11, critical information about nuclear plants was deleted from all government web sites, he said. “The bad news is that terrorists had plenty of time beforehand to gather the information they might want to use,” Allard said.

Sensing technology is not good enough to find nuclear devices at border checkpoints. The best assumption is that any one who can make nuclear or dirty bomb also knows to shield it, Allard said. The problem is that technology has spread far enough to preclude many defenses against nuclear attacks in the US. Such an attack, most likely, would involve trucking or marine transportation. The ideas for preventing such an attack using trucks need to come from the trucking industry. “The solutions are not in Washington DC unless someone from outside brings them there,” he said. “Some of the funding may have to come from the government, but the ideas, the answers to potential problems will come from the people, not Washington.”

Give security more attention

Now the ATA has declared its goal that no truck be used as a weapon of mass destruction, James Hall said. The challenge for trucking is to build security into operations in the same way that safety has been promoted. With narrow profit margins and increasing insurance premiums, many executives will question how to pay for increases in security. For instance, federal, state, and local officials have called for new and redundant background checks and identification procedures for transportation employees. If enacted, some of these proposals could bankrupt many trucking companies, he said.

Trucking is vulnerable to terrorists. Added expense along with increased paperwork will do little to relieve that vulnerability, Hall said. The first step toward defeating terrorists is to understand the nature of the threat. “The goal of terrorists is not to destroy our buildings and kill our citizens,” he said. “They want to destroy our economy and with it our way of life. Terrorism is a threat to everything we do and to everything we stand for.”

Help plan security measures

Understanding the threat shows that vulnerability is not limited to the security of company facilities, employees, or loads. Attacks on customers or suppliers can harm truck lines just as badly as an attack on the company, Hall said. An attack on infrastructure such as power supplies or water sources can severely damage a local economy. To help thwart such attacks, trucking executives need to help the Transportation Security Administration determine which security measures have the best chance of practical application and which are unlikely to work, he said.

Government officials need the help of trucking executives to gauge the potential effectiveness and economic impact of proposed security measures, Hall said. This input is necessary before new regulations are written. No one can afford to adopt security measures that don't work or that ruin the transportation economy in the process of implementation.

Contact emergency officials

Make plans for alternate communication systems in case primary telephone or radio networks are damaged. Test the plans to ensure that the backup systems work, Hall said. Use the company safety program to build security awareness throughout the entire company, not just the drivers. Identify key emergency management officials in the areas where the company operates. “They are in the blue pages of almost every phone book,” he said. “Contact these officials and set up a procedure for getting in touch with them at any time. Find out about the local community plan for responding to threats or attacks. Become a part of those plans.”

Plan to go beyond the ATA goal to deny terrorists the use of trucks as a weapon. Plan to make trucking the nation's first line of defense, Hall said. Drivers, with their sophisticated satellite tracking and communications systems, can become the eyes and ears of America. For instance, trucks with environmental sampling devices tracked with existing communications networks could help determine the extent of chemical or biological attacks. In the past, the country has relied on its people to help protect it against sabotage, and it must rely on them for that again, he said.

Citizens cannot shoulder the entire burden; government must develop an integrated system to make use of information collected by drivers and others. “A fund and tax incentives should be instituted to offset any increased training, maintenance, and equipment costs borne by trucking companies in an anti-terrorist effort,” Hall said. “The key element here is to use against the terrorists those same freedoms that they want to steal from us.”

Trucks offer precision weapon guidance

As early as 1986, the Algerian branch of Al-qaida announced that they were targeting American cities and that sites such as the Statue of Liberty were on their list, Jeffrey Beatty said. The US can deliver smart weapons weighing up to 2,000 pounds to within 10 meters at almost any point on the globe. Terrorists may not have B-52s or B-2s, but they do have patience and they do have frightening capabilities. Given enough time, terrorists can deliver 40,000 pounds of high explosives with terrific accuracy. They just park a truck or several trucks next to the intended target. Five highway trailers filled with explosives and parked in a city center would have almost the same effect as the bomb detonated over Hiroshima, he said.

Had the terrorists on September 11 used trucks instead of airplanes, the results would have been much the same. Two bombs in New York City, one in Washington DC, and one in rural Pennsylvania could conceivably have killed more than 1,500 people and wounded more than 6,000, Beatty said. When the hijackers used aircraft, the government grounded all air traffic. The same thing would have happened to trucks if trucks had been the weapon of choice.

Some analysts suggest that food riots could break out in less than eight hours after an attack if all trucking were stopped, Beatty said. This would happen, not because the shelves were bare, but because the public would be insecure about what was to happen next. The cost of a single large truck bomb incident could reach $5 billion, and the government response could drive the cost up by 10 times. For instance, closing certain bridges or tunnels to truck traffic could drive transportation costs up sharply. Remember, the government closed all access to lower Manhattan, including two tunnels, after the attack. Many trucking companies got stuck in the area or had to drive miles out of route as a result, he said.

Security cuts theft losses

The same steps taken against terrorism will help truck lines solve their existing problems of cargo theft and equipment theft, Beatty said. Working to prevent terrorism will cost money, but some of it should be recovered from the government. Right now, the federal government is spending billions to upgrade airport and marine terminal security. It is only correct that government help absorb security measures taken by trucking, he said.

In formulating goals, ATA based its plan on Presidential Decision Document 39. It asks planners to reduce vulnerability to terrorism and to take steps to deter terrorists, Beatty says. The document goes on to develop response plans and to ask for ways to manage the consequences of an attack. “The two most important parts of the plan are to reduce vulnerability and to deter attacks, because if we get to the response section of any plan, we've already lost to a certain extent,” he said.

The most important part of trucking security is to put the correct person behind the wheel. Background checks of prospective employees should play a big role in any vulnerability reduction and deterrence program, Beatty said. Drivers will need identification, but it has to be rational identification. In Florida today, 14 different facilities require 14 different forms of identification. That's ridiculous, he said. Identification for transportation workers must be uniform throughout the country.

Vehicle tracking aids security

Other important factors in any security plan are vehicle and load tracking, cargo security, and employee training. Most fleets already use some sort of tracking and communication system. Cargo security starts with something as simple as trailer seals and a consistent procedure for tracking seal use, Beatty said. Finally, personnel need training to do their jobs correctly while staying alert to terrorist threats.

The training necessary to look for terrorists doesn't take long and is not expensive, Beatty said. In 30 minutes to an hour, most truck drivers can be trained to watch for suspicious activity. They can be taught to protect themselves and their equipment. This can be things as simple as learning to stop for meals with a buddy or making sure that someone in a parking area knows who they are and how long they anticipate staying, he said.

Hide comments

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish