The Second Wave of London Attacks
Details on the recent second wave of London attacks are sketchy. However, initial reports suggest the delivery of these attacks were less adept, that the bombs themselves were smaller than the first; and that consequently the British authorities were able to separate the crowd from the explosive devices and largely neutralize them. This time the bombers were not suiciders as this account from the BBC reports:
I was on the train at Oval. There was an automatic announcement between Stockwell and Oval that one of the passenger alarms had been activated. After a while standing at the platform at Oval, we were ordered off the train and out of the station. As we passed the second carriage, we could see an intact-looking medium sized dark rucksack that had been left on a seat. Emergency vehicles starting arriving quickly, then in huge numbers and variety. The roads outside were promptly closed to traffic, then a pedestrian exclusion area was extended increasingly far away and sniffer dogs deployed at street level. Kevin Beurle, London
The Economist compares the latest attacks with the ones two weeks previous. It notes that the bombs were smaller, that they inflicted few casualties and that, as the BBC report above details, the attackers were not prepared to take their own lives.
On Thursday July 21st the city’s transport system was reported to have been hit by explosions at four points around midday—three almost simultaneous blasts on the London Underground and a fourth on a bus, the same as last time. However, police are also talking of devices having failed to explode at the scenes of some of the attacks. What is clear is that the explosions were smaller this time and the results were far less devastating. The sight of bloodied commuters being brought out of Underground stations was mercifully absent. ... Armed police in body armour had entered the nearby University College Hospital, in pursuit of a man said to be carrying a bomb. Eye witnesses told of another suspected bomber seen running away from the blast at Oval. ...
if initial reports prove correct, the most important factor contributing to the lack of heavy casualties was that the explosions were very small—perhaps because only the detonators went off, not the devices’ main explosive charge. If so, only sheer good fortune prevented great loss of life.
Well, maybe sheer good fortune coupled with the absence of a competent bomb-maker and the absence of a second determined cell of suicide bombers. If the Economist is correct about the failure of the detonators to produce a high-order explosion two things can be inferred. First, the close-in defenses of London's public transportation system failed; after all the bombs were delivered to the trains and detonated, except that the detonations themselves were faulty. Second, the outer-ring of defenses, the anti-terrorist component that attacks the terrorist infrastructure, denies it havens, reduces its funding and makes it difficult to place competent bomb-makers in London has succeeded -- at least in this case. More details will clarify the situation as further news becomes available.
(Speculation alert) When faced with the suicide attack problem (Kamikazes) during the Second World War, US fleets adopted the concept of the layered defense around battlegroups, consisting of attacking enemy airfields, providing a radar picket on enemy lines of approach, creating a combat air patrol to intercept incoming Kamikazes and then presenting a succession of long, medium and short-range antiaircraft fire, before finally falling back on warship evasion, armor and damage control. Each component in the defense contributed its statistical share of the defense. The debate surrounding the prosecution of the war on terror can be conceptually split, though not very neatly, between those who advocate a layered defense with a forward-deployed component (coordination with 'friendly' Muslim countries, involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, etc), plus everything in between, and those who would rely primarily on terminal or close-in defenses (national IDs, CCTV cameras, border control, etc) in the homeland. A small percentage of policy advocates believe that a complete reliance on nearly passive close-in defenses ("support the troops, bring the boys home", build bridges to Muslim communities, etc) would be adequate to protect the public against terrorism. Over the coming years, the value of every aspect of the defense will be highlighted by different incidents. Some attacks will be stopped by an alert security guard, others will be pre-empted in a land so distant the public will never even know that the attacks were mounted. But they are all needed. If any lives were saved in London today, it probably means that a deep defense makes a difference.