Diary

Fist-sized Impact Found on Train: Was Amtrak a Terror Attack?

amtrak-crash

 

Investigators found a “fist-sized circular area of impact” in the windshield of the derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia.  This new twist has us all thinking the same thing:  terrorists may have again struck America’s soft underbelly.

Robert L. Sumwalt, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Friday an assistant conductor reported that she heard a radio transmission between an engineer on a regional line and Brandon Bostian, the engineer on the derailed train, The New York Times reported.

Investigators asked the engineer, Brandon Bostian, whether he recalled any projectiles, and he said he did not.

“He was specifically asked that question, and he did not recall anything of that sort,” Mr. Sumwalt said. “But then again, he reported that he does not have any recollection of anything past North Philadelphia.”

The assistant conductor, however, who was working in the cafe car, heard Mr. Bostian talking to an engineer on the Septa regional rail line who said his train had been “hit by a rock or shot at,” according to Mr. Sumwalt. She said she thought she heard Mr. Bostian reply that his train had also been struck.

“Right after she recalled hearing this conversation between her engineer and the Septa engineer, she said she felt a rumbling, and her train leaned over and her car went over on its side,” Mr. Sumwalt said.

Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman at Septa, confirmed that the windshield of one of its trains had been shattered by a projectile near the North Philadelphia station about 9:10 p.m. on Tuesday, about 12 minutes before the Amtrak train derailed.

This ominous report hearkens back to TWA Flight 800, which exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island on July 17, 1996.  Conspiracy theories about a terrorist attack, a ground-to-air missile, and a coverup have hung over that crash for 19 years.

The four-year NTSB investigation concluded with the approval of the Aircraft Accident Report on August 23rd, 2000, ending the most extensive, complex, and costly air disaster investigation in U.S. history.[8][9] The report’s conclusion was that the probable cause of the accident was an explosion of flammable fuel/air vapors in a fuel tank, and, although it could not be determined with certainty, the most likely cause of the explosion was a short circuit.[10] As a result of the investigation, new requirements were developed for aircraft to prevent future fuel tank explosions.

Author Nelson DeMille even wrote a novel in 2004—a bestseller—titled “Night Fall” centered around the TWA crash and the subsequent investigation.

These very real and tragic incidents lead us to a sobering conclusion:  despite billions of dollars, a near-police state at airports with the TSA, and an entirely new cabinet-level para-military super-agency in the Department of Homeland Security, our soft underbelly is extremely vulnerable, and a single terrorist bent on destruction can cause immense harm.

We have precious few resources to determine if this horrible train wreck was a dress rehearsal for a more complex operation, or if it was a “lone wolf” acting on Twitter fatwas issued by ISIS supporters, or if it was simply a horrific accident.  But now that the “projectile” angle has come up, we will never be free of the pall of terror.

As one who has participated in some “simulation games” of terrorist activity, I can tell you my experience was one of supreme frustration.  The NTSB has one job:  to determine the cause of the accident, and recommend safety improvements to prevent its recurrence.

Law enforcement has the job of determining if a crime was committed, and the FBI has the dual role of investigating the crime for prosecution, which means preserving evidence, while simultaneously gathering intelligence to prevent a possible crime or terrorist act.

Intelligence agencies, foreign and domestic, have no interest in preserving evidence or prosecuting crimes, and the para-military and military organizations around those intelligence assets are more interested in protecting sources and methods than stopping lone-wolf attacks.

On the whole, there’s likely a lot less intelligence-sharing than TV shows like NCIS and 24 portray; and there’s a whole lot more turf battles.  In one simulation in which I participated, the terrorist was attempting to destroy the Atchafalaya Control Structure, which keeps the Mississippi River flowing to New Orleans versus taking the “Old River” path it followed before engineers corralled it.

Destroying that one Army Corps of Engineers facility would create havoc on America’s busiest commercial waterway, and disrupt commerce in a very material way.  Fortunately, I had just watched a History Channel show about the very structure the terrorists were attacking, and in a flash of déjà vu, I came up with the answer (despite the fact that nobody would share intelligence with me).  I was role playing the FBI agent in charge following up some very tenuous evidence.

Once we established the terrorists’ target, the pieces fell into place and we were able to stop the attack.  Being a simulation, we were able to do something that likely would never happen in real life:  the Army decided to defend the facility by moving Delta Force commandos there for “training”, and all that was left of the terrorists were smoking boots.

Other real-life attack locations include the Eisenhower Tunnel west of Denver under the Rocky Mountains, various seaports, major shipping channels, and even cruise terminals.  Don’t worry, I’m not exposing secrets here.  These are well-known and meticulously war-gamed scenarios. but it only takes one “completed” mission for a terrorist to cause widespread destruction.  We haven’t really forgotten 9/11.

In real life, the pieces don’t fall into place so easily.  We depend on police officers like the ones in Garland, Texas, who killed two jihadists bent on mass murder.  Or we suffer belly wounds like the Boston Marathon bombing just two years ago, for which one terrorist now faces a death sentence, and the other was killed in a shootout with police.

We know that there are “hundreds, maybe thousands” of radical Islamists inside the U.S., according to FBI director James Comey’s comments made in the shadow of the Garland attempted terror attack.

Comey said the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, is leveraging social media in unprecedented ways through Twitter and other platforms, directing messages to the smartphones of “disturbed people” who could be pushed to launch assaults on U.S. targets.

“It’s like the devil sitting on their shoulders, saying ‘kill, kill, kill,”’ Comey said in a meeting with reporters.

Last month, it was widely reported that the Islamic State has training camps in Mexico, almost within sight of the U.S. border—which the Department of Homeland Security disputes.

The report suggested that one of the two bases discovered is as close as eight miles from Texas, in a town west of Juarez. Mexican authorities found possible evidence — plans written in Arabic and Urdu — last week in the town of “Anapra,” the sources said. These sources told the watchdog that “coyotes” who work for drug cartels assist in smuggling terrorists between Fort Hancock, Texas, and other undisclosed locations.

“We are concerned about the spread of ISIL (Islamic State) outside of Iraq and Syria, and take any threat to the United States seriously.  ISIL has clearly stated its intent to spread its violence into other parts of the globe.  This is something our intelligence community is watching diligently,” the spokesperson said.

It’s easy to see how every deadly incident which occurs these days has the potential to raise suspicions of terrorism, regardless of whether or not the terrorist organizations claim responsibility for it.

Whether the Amtrak disaster was caused by an inattentive engineer, by faulty train controls or by an act of terror, this development exposes the potential for large-scale terror, not in high-profile places like Times Square, but in the soft underbelly of our railroad tracks, shopping malls, and highways.

(crossposted from sgberman.com)