As Mumbai continues to reel from the terrorist assault it weathered last week, and tensions between India and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, The Washington Post's David Ignatius asks today, "Could it happen here?"
The answer is an uncomfortable yes, according to U.S. officials he spoke with.
The Department of Homeland Security has been worried for more than a year about the danger of seaborne attacks. With an estimated 17 million small vessels plying the thousands of miles of U.S. coastline, the vulnerability is obvious. The DHS announced a "small-vessel security strategy" in April to focus on ports and coastal waterways, and it has held four regional small-vessel "security summits" this year, in Buzzards Bay, Mass., Long Beach, Calif., Orlando and Cleveland. A fifth such gathering is planned for Houston next month.
Nevertheless, Ignatius says there is virtually no defense against an amphibious assault like the one launched on Mumbai. It would be a repeat of an "active shooter" situation reminiscient of Virginia Tech only worse if Mumbai is a harbinger of things to come.
"Mumbai is a worst-case 'active shooter' problem," a former CIA officer told Ignatius. "It had multiple shooters, multiple locations, mobile threats, willingness to fight the first responders and follow-on SWAT/commando units, well-equipped and well-trained operatives, and a willingness to die. Police department commanders in America should be scratching their heads and praying."
The point, naturally, of bringing up the potential for a Mumbai-style attack on U.S. soil is not to "feed [into] anti-terrorism hysteria," writes Ignatius, but "to understand the adversary so that if an attack comes, the authorities will respond with cool heads and steady aim."