Terrorism: September 25, 2003


A Rand Corporation study, produced in cooperation with the European Commission, and released in London, warned that terrorists might use container ships to deliver hidden weapons of mass destruction. Rand notes that most counterinsurgency efforts have been focused on stopping an attack from the air and have ignored the continued threat from the sea.

The port authorities in the United States are doing what they can, with what they have, which has brought a stream of companies offering security solutions. In some cases, technology has been harnessed and progress has been made. Suspicious shipments in LA are scanned by the VACIS machine, a truck mounted X-ray device that scans cargo boxes by beaming cesium through them. 

The Los Angeles area Coast Guard has also teamed up with private merchant mariners to draft one of the nation's first port security plans and to form the Neptune Coalition. Volunteer boaters, fishermen and other mariners act as the Coast Guard's eyes and ears to report anything suspicious. Earlier this year, they spotted a suspicious Zodiac boat under the Bay Bridge (and while it turned out to be nothing, it was good practice). 

But what happens after a terrorist cargo gets through the port's customs search? A study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and the Rand Corporation released on September 11th found that a terrorist attack on US rail lines (such as southern California's Alameda Corridor) could disrupt the movement of military material and commercial goods. The cost of shutting down the Alameda Corridor East would cost $414 million a day (or $12.4 billion over 30 days).

Southern California's two ports are the third largest port complex in the world and over a third of the nation's waterborne container traffic moves through them. From there, about 40 percent of the containers are rail-shipped through the Alameda Corridor East to destinations throughout the United States. 

Are rail attacks practical? Islamic mujahadeen across the globe seem to think so. Since 1998, there have been 90 attacks on trains and rail networks overseas (as well as a handful in the United States, although none of these have been linked to terrorists). - Adam Geibel


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