A new report from a prominent bipartisan think tank questions the resiliency of the U.S. transportation system and the global supply chain if a major terrorist attack occurred.
“[T]he U.S. government and the other major trade nations still have no plan to respond and recover from a major security incident involving the global intermodal transportation system," Dr. Stephen Flynn and Sean P. Burke, warn in their report, Building a More Resilient America: The Case of Transportation, published by the Center for National Policy. "As a result, there could be a weeks-long period where the international system of trade and logistics grind to a halt with devastating consequences for the global economy."
Resiliency, or the ability to recover quickly after serious disruption, matters more than ever, they argue, as terrorists shift from sophisticated and time-intensive spectacular attacks to crude and quick smaller attacks. This realization, however, means U.S. policymakers’ security mindset must evolve from primarily being focused on prevention and protection to resilience. Otherwise, a perverse incentive is created for terrorists to dream up new ways of attacking these targets, especially those critical to the flow of goods and services within the global supply chain.
"If every terrorist act or near-miss leads to new government measures that make transportation systems more inefficient, then an adversary gets a much bigger dividend than the actual attack could deliver," Flynn and Burke, both executives at the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University, write in their report.
There’s evidence that terrorists understand this very well. In the November 2010 edition of Inspire, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gloated that it had spent $4,200 dollars on constructing two printer cartridge bombs that were eventually found on cargo planes destined for the United States.
"In such an environment of security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch and thus we may circumvent the security barriers America worked so hard to erect," the letter from the editor explained. "This strategy of attacking the enemy with smaller, but more frequent operations is what some may refer to as a strategy of a thousand cuts. The aim is to bleed the enemy to death."
In response, the U.S. and other Western nations issued cargo alerts and restrictions, particularly with Yemen, where the bombs entered the air cargo system. AQAP determined the plot, dubbed Operation Hemorrhage and which failed to bring down a plane, was a success.
"During the initial discussions of the team it was determined that the success of the operation was to be based on two factors: The first is that the packages pass through the latest security equipment. The second, the spread of fear that would cause the West to invest billions of dollars in new security procedures," AQAP boasted. "We have succeeded in the former and we are now witnessing the inception of the latter."