- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

Law-enforcement agencies are designing a security plan for the Democratic and Republican national conventions intended to avoid the kind of bombings that killed 199 persons at Madrid rail stations Thursday.

Both the political conventions this summer will be held in buildings on top of rail stations.

“We will take that into consideration because we continue to adjust our security measures to take into account any change in circumstances,” said Ann Roman, spokeswoman for the Secret Service, the lead law-enforcement agency for security plans for the conventions.

She refused to give details other than to say train security has been considered.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin yesterday advising state officials, police, transit and rail agencies to be more vigilant against terrorism.

Locally, Amtrak and Metro are increasing their surveillance and watching for unattended bags.

In Madrid, 10 bombs detonated within minutes of each other on trains in downtown stations the trains were approaching. The death toll continues to rise among the roughly 1,400 people injured.

Although investigators still are trying to determine who planted the bombs, the “coordination” of the attack points to al Qaeda terrorists, the same group that orchestrated the September 11 attacks, according to Homeland Security Department officials.

The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July 26-29 in Boston’s Fleet Center, which is served by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trains at the transit agency’s North Station.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 2 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. About 600,000 passengers daily ride trains from Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and the local subway system at Pennsylvania Station, under Madison Square Garden.

The Homeland Security Department has declared the conventions “national special security events,” the department’s highest security category.

As a result, the Secret Service is in charge of coordinating security and the FBI is supposed to collect intelligence and provide crisis management.

Local police in New York and Boston are responsible for controlling the streets. They also are monitoring the Internet and various protest groups, trying to identify potential terrorists.

About 48,000 people are expected at the Republican National Convention and 35,000 at the Democratic National Convention.

Some local officials in both New York and Boston want to keep the rail stations open for public use during the conventions. Although they won their case to keep Pennsylvania Station open, a decision on Boston’s North Station is pending.

Other potential security measures include posting National Guard troops in stations or subjecting passengers to searches.

However, Asa Hutchison, the Homeland Security Department’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, said searches of rail passengers seem an unlikely solution to security concerns throughout the nation’s public transit systems.

“That’s not a solution that we’re looking at at this time in terms of 100 percent inspection of passengers and bags,” Mr. Hutchison said yesterday.

More likely solutions include use of law-enforcement officers patrolling transit stations, bomb-detection squads and public announcements intended to warn passengers to say alert for suspicious items and situations.

In addition, Mr. Hutchison said, “There’s a lot the public can’t see.”

Although he refused to disclose details, he said the Homeland Security Department has spent $115 million on rail-security projects since May. They included “pilot programs” such as biological weapons detectors hidden in rail stations.

Mr. Hutchison also said current U.S. security systems probably could stop the type of attack that occurred on the Spanish trains.

Other specialists in public transit and terrorism are less certain.

“In this day and age, terrorists can strike anywhere and anytime,” said Bill Millar, spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association, the trade group for transit agencies. “You can never be 100 percent sure that you are prepared for every eventuality.”

In addition, trains have been a lower priority than airline security, said Bert Mizusawa, president of anti-terrorism defense contractor ITA Inc. The Springfield company designs software to identify vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks and equipment to protect against them.

“We don’t have the same safety procedures for trains.” Mr. Mizusawa said. “You would have to have everybody go through metal detectors.”

Public transit worldwide has been a preferred target of terrorists because of the opportunity for mass casualties and widespread disruption within a community.

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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