With vengeance-seeking global jihadists on the loose here and around the world, now is a good time to ask (again):
Are we ready for a nefarious terrorist attack on our train and transit lines?
Smoke and fire plagued two of the nation's major metro rail stations this week, raising justified questions about safety and preparedness. On Monday, one person died and 84 fell ill after heavy smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza Metro in Washington, D.C. Officials believe an "electrical arcing event" caused the lethal Beltway incident. A probe into the cause of the arcing — as well as an investigation into evacuation delays that trapped hundreds of passengers — is underway.
On Tuesday, an estimated 150 New York Fire Department personnel responded to a three-alarm fire at Penn Station that started before 2:30 a.m. Two firefighters suffered injuries battling the Big Apple blaze, which was initially deemed "suspicious" and then "accidental." Worth noting: A militant ISIS sympathizer published multiple threats on Twitter a few hours before the fire, warning that "tomorrow New York will burn" and predicting a "3:00 a.m. bomb."
Whatever the causes of these two incidents, Americans need to know whether homeland security bureaucrats are doing their jobs — or hitting their over-worn government snooze buttons.
Jihadi rail attacks have been a domestic and worldwide threat for more than 15 years, from the 1997 NYC subway-bombing plot to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chechnya, Madrid and London. Since 9/11, there have been 1,800 worldwide terrorist attacks on surface transport systems, which have claimed 4,000 innocent lives. Jihadi mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose Gitmo classmates have been released in droves by the Obama administration, told interrogators in 2003 of al-Qaida's plot to target the D.C. metro rail system.
In 2010, Afghan-born jihadist Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty to terrorism charges after plotting to bomb New York subways with devices similar to the ones used in the 2005 London rail attacks. And last year, two al-Qaida-supported terrorists were arrested after plotting to bomb and derail Canada's national train service between Toronto and New York City's Penn Station.
The U.S. General Accounting Office has issued copious rail security recommendations since at least 2004-2005. What has the Transportation Security Administration done with all those reports? Not much, as far as I can tell.
It's been nearly three years since the GAO last concluded that TSA was failing to collect and analyze rail security threat data. The audit found that oversight and enforcement of transit security measures were "inconsistent" and inspections so spotty that "three of 19 rail agencies GAO contacted were not inspected from January 2011 through June 2012, including a large (unnamed) metropolitan rail agency."
The Department of Homeland Security "accepted" the recommendations, but issued no timeframe to address the deficiencies. Capitol Hill and the White House have been far too preoccupied with legalizing millions of illegal aliens in the name of homeland security to follow up.
Meanwhile, Amtrak remains bogged down in union politics and crony business as usual. As I first reported in 2009, the Obama administration quietly gutted the nation's most highly trained post-9/11 counterterrorism rail security team, Amtrak's Office of Security Strategy and Special Operations (OSSSO).
The elite unit — whose members came from U.S. Special Forces, counter-terrorism and other military service — was disbanded in a power play with powerful labor leaders angered over its non-union status. Team Obama also pushed out former Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, who played an instrumental role in creating OSSSO's predecessor at Amtrak, the Counter-Terrorism Unit. Weiderhold had blown the whistle on financial improprieties and called out the administration's interference with his watchdog probes.
Eleanor Acheson, Amtrak's general counsel and longtime crony pal of Vice President Joe Biden, remains in her post despite a congressional probe and the Transportation Department inspector general's conclusion that she "unlawfully interfered" with Weiderhold's investigative work. Sources tell me that Acheson's law department continues to be rife with contract favoritism, shady billing practices and partisan pocket-lining.
Rest assured: America's top rail officials are hard at work — protecting themselves, their jobs and their bottom lines. All aboard!