Alex Massie

Bombay Lessons

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Bruce Schneier suspects we'll probably learn the wrong ones. After all, as he points out, there's very little you can do to stop 18 men with guns and grenades once they've begun their attack. I suspect John Robb would agree. Well-planned low-tech attacks that "leverage" a city's own infrastructure are one of the nightmare scenarios.

Yet since this kind of mission is more likely than not to end in the deaths of the terrorists themselves (cf the Chechen attack on a Moscow theatre) it remains, happily, an unpopular career choice. And for that one should be truly thankful. Imagine how easy it would be to cripple the railways, or, armed with just a bag or two of grenades to knock-out much of a city's electriciy system. Consider too how vulnerable Saturday morning markets in quiet country towns are. Once you start thinking about this sort of thing you realise there's no end to the potential targets and, consequently, no start to any sensible or realistic set of security measures that can be taken that don't require the public to be inconvenineced out of all proportion to the likely threat.

And of course in this instance, the Taj hotel and others will beef up their own security arrangements themselves (it being in their interests to do so) ensuring that there's less need for the city authorities to do so themselves.

As Schneier says:

If there's any lesson in these attacks, it's not to focus too much on the specifics of the attacks. Of course, that's not the way we're programmed to think. We respond to stories, not analysis. I don't mean to be unsympathetic; this tendency is human and these deaths are really tragic. But 18 armed people intent on killing lots of innocents will be able to do just that, and last-line-of-defense countermeasures won't be able to stop them. Intelligence, investigation, and emergency response. We have to find and stop the terrorists before they attack, and deal with the aftermath of the attacks we don't stop. There really is no other way, and I hope that we don't let the tragedy lead us into unwise decisions about how to deal with terrorism.

I'm afraid that's true. The initial threat may come from terrorism; the second danger comes from our response to terror.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationalterrorism