Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Vigilance on the Metro

I left a comment on another blog today, which got me thinking about the way we handle threats of terrorism in this country. I'm going to post my comment below this paragraph, because I think it's worth mentioning to anyone who may ride the Washington Metro (or any other major metropolitan mass transit system in America), because it may be you who is faced with the choice to save us from the next terror attack (like these guys did in Britain).

I ride the Washington Metro every day to work, and each time I step on the train, I think to myself, "Is today the day we get hit?" I ask myself this question because I believe it's only a matter of time before the DC subway system is hit by terrorists.

With thoughts like these running through my head, I'm naturally vigilant. I didn't think I was alone in being watchful and aware of my surroundings, but apparently I was wrong. Here's a story:

About 6 weeks ago, I was on the Orange line train headed to the Capitol. There were two men of obvious Arab descent wearing rucksacks (the big, camper style backpacks) standing in the center of the train by the door. They seemed extremely disconnected from the environment around them (as if in a trance) - which was enough to perk my attention. I put down my book, and watched them.

A few minutes into the ride, we came to a stop at the Smithsonian station. One of the men left his backpack on the ground, and literally ran off the train. My heart stopped beating at that point (before firing up to 100 bpm) and I got extremely nervous.

I decided to approach the remaining man (I was wearing a suit, and probably looked like some kind of an authority) and asked him point blank: "Sir, is that your bag?" pointing to the abandoned bag at his feet. I couldn't have been talking to anyone else, yet the guy refused to acknowledge me at all. I asked him again, and he looked straight ahead. He was also sweating.

At this point, passengers began to subtly move away from the man. I was about to grab the bag myself when he finally looked at me and said, "Yes. That's my bag." Then he picked it up and held onto it.

I didn't know quite what to do at that point, so I just said, "Make sure you keep you bag in your possession, Sir." I got off at the next stop and notified the Metro station manager who looked at me like I was a racist idiot. He didn't write anything down or even act like the information was worth his time. In fact, he made me feel like a jerk for even approaching the guy.

However, his reaction was not what bothered me the most. It was the utter indifference of the passengers on the train that really rattled me. No one even looked inquisitively at the guy after his buddy ran off the train without a word, leaving his overstuffed backpack behind.

We've been so conditioned to avoid suspecting anyone who might be a legitimate threat to our safety out of fear of being seen as a profiler, or labeled a racist (or worse). It's a sad state of affairs, and it invites people who do not share our values to exploit and take advantage of our weaknesses in security. Am I suggesting we set up checkpoints? Of course not. I'm only suggesting that we all become a little more vigilant in guarding against terrorism. Use common sense. Had these men been white, I still would have questioned one if his buddy ran off the train leaving his bag behind. It would be silly to suggest that I had any other motive other than the safety of myself and the other passengers.

I'm convinced I witnessed a dry run that day. And, I'm sorry to say that even in the Nation's capital, where residents walk with targets on their backs, the likelihood of an attack happening under our noses is as high as it ever was.


kob said...

Wow. Thanks for reporting this. Metro should have investigated.

Daniel said...

Everyone is always in a zone in a commute. Until Israel type events happen in this country people will continue to be non-aware (or afraid of our crazy political correct world to report something coming from a "stereotypical terrorist", since that would be racist...). Its like we are in denial that a lot of terrorists come from one part in the world (its almost funny how they desperately point to very rare cases of domestic terrorism like McVeigh as a reason to vigilant of all sources...).

Miles said...

Did you call the police? Metro station managers can barely handle ... uh ... OK, I can't think of any situation I would trust a Metro station manager to successfully handle. Other than maybe if you were in desperate need of someone to be surly and unhelpful.

In any case, blogging about this may make you feel better, but if you're really convinced you saw something, it doesn't make us any safer.

Dan said...

Yes. I work in the homeland security arena, so you can rest assured someone with real authority was notified.

I would argue against your assertion that blogging about such events do not make us safer. If I can inspire one person to be a little more vigilant based on my story, I would consider us safer. We need as many people on the lookout as possible.

Daniel said...

Vigilance and a belief that you won't be prosecuted/persecuted for providing information.. I swear at this point people are more scared of the repercussions of falsely (even though you had good reason at the time) accusing someone that its going to keep people from providing that key bit of intel/warning that might save lives.
Awareness is key, anything that raises that awareness is useful.

Audrey said...

Dan, I'd like to thank you both for your actions that day and your post. I am fully in agreement with you that the incident was a dry run.
The problem is not race, it is religion. The stated goal of the religion of Islam is complete and uncompromising world domination, and any faithful Muslim spends their life fulfilling that goal. It is clearly stated in religious doctrines. Therefore, it is clear that any convert to Islam is a danger to us all (Richard Reid) and also that Arabs, being predominantly Muslim, are even more dangerous.
Personally I have nothing to fear from the police and would be happy to see a 'ring of steel' such as that implemented in the UK. The problem is that a) station managers are idiots b) even the incident-reporting telephone number isn't able to take the necessary immediate action. There needs to be some way to "flag" a train with suspicious activity.
Maybe what we really need is a cop with an submachine gun on every train. So what if we have to raise taxes... at least I'll spend less money on pepper spray.
Happy Birthday, America :)

Dan said...

Warning... diatribe alert! :)

You know, I grew up watching the sci-fi movies that showed a future world where everyone lived in a semi-fascist state. I used to always wonder, "how did the subject civilization get to this point?" as the movies always took place after such a system had been established for a long time.

The obvious reasons for such a state of affairs would likely be based on the conclusions one might draw now from the increased attention on security. "How can you let Bush ruin our freedom?" they say. And yes, the police that would be required to maintain security seems like a scary prospect, but it's the least likely to actually lead to a fascist superstate.

Everyone seems to be asking for some kind of fascism these days. The environmentalists want you to give up all of your technology and conveniences so that we can live in harmony with nature and stop the spread of evil global warming (they really mean capitalism). How do they propose to do this? By using legislation to limit what you do and how you do it. It would force an absolute lifestyle change, and those in power promoting it would be able to stay in power indefinitely based on the never-ending nature of the so-called threat (the very thing with which they use to persecute Bush regarding the War).

But even with their proclivity for a Stalinist "green" state, the environmentalists have nothing on Islamic fundamentalism when it comes to fascism. As Audrey said, the stated goal of Islam is world domination (I'm simplifying the language here, but ask any Muslim if Allah will tolerate a world with many faiths). The Islamo-fascists want to forcefully impose their will on you. The penalty for non-compliance is death. That's true fascism.

Yet the people who whine about profiling act as if it is the end of the world. "Do you want Big Brother" watching over your shoulder?" they say. Well, given our choices, I'd say that being secure is a little more palatable.

There are limits, of course. And luckily, no one at the Department of Homeland Security is advocating that you give up any of your personal freedoms to the degree in which Islamo-fascists and Environmental Fundamentalists demand. Yet, because of the political correctness that has been forced down our throats for generations, we are afraid to stand up against those who would do us harm because we are afraid of offending them!

If we are to face down the threat, it's time we elect leaders who take it seriously. Instead of accusing the President of being the enemy, these people ought to open their eyes and turn their attention to the actual enemies who want to kill us and remove the word "freedom" from our vocabularies.

cuff said...

Given the situation as you describe it, it certainly sounded like a practice run, and we have to be vigilant about that, but I think it's ridiculous to try to lump environmental legislation into Islamic jihadist extremism. It makes a mockery of the threat posed by terrorists (and I'm not talking about ELF burning down some homes or spiking trees).

On the other hand, maybe it wasn't a dry run, because the President is constantly telling everyone (even just yesterday) that we're fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here.

E :) said...

In that situation, I think I would have pulled the emergency alarm...

Conservative Futurist said...

E, you make a valid point. I have since wondered why I didn't pull the emergency alarm. I mean, never mind the fact that Metro cars only have call buttons at either end of the car (I was in the middle). And most people don't even know that. Metrorail also lacks an emergency brake system (i.e. "Break this glass, pull cord and train stops" or something similar).

Of course, I have been lobbying Metro for years to allow AT&T users emergency calls from the Metro... But I guess only Verizon users are allowed to report emergencies to the Metro hotline from underground...

OK, I'm off the rails a bit, I know.

Shafi said...

First off, only an idiot would deny there isn't a threat to our metro system, but dry Run? I dunno bro, you might have just sacred off some poor Arab guy off the train.