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The Domodedovo terrorist attack as an indicator
Written by   
, 29 2011
The Domodedovo terrorist attack as an indicator of the effectiveness of the Russian security services
In spite of regularly occurring acts of terrorism around the world, a normal person cannot get used to these cruel acts of violence against entirely innocent persons, people whose only ‘guilt’ is that they are have a different nationality, religion, or political view. Eachterrorist attack that results in human casualties is therefore perceived by the vast majority of people around the world as a personal tragedy, regardless of the country where the crime takes place, especially since the victims of such attacks are increasingly citizens of different countries. Thebombing at Domodedovo airport on January 24th, and the resulting dozens of casualties, was no exception.
One must agree with the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, when he said: “The nature of terrorism is such that no one in any country of the world is free from this threat. Noone can provide 100-percent security.” The main issue, however, is something else entirely: how serious and responsible is the government’s approach to the safety of its citizens in public places, which for terrorists of all stripes is a favorite target of attack? Peskov’s point of view, that “the government takes all necessary measures” is in serious doubt.
The first reaction of Russia’s top leadership was expressed in the words of President Dmitry Medvedev: “What happened shows that there was clearly a breach of security. Aquantity of explosives had to be smuggled or transported to make this attempt. Theresponsibility for this lies with everyone at the facility making decisions there, including the management of the airport itself.” This means that the president, firstly, does not understand what he is talking about, since the amount of explosives, the equivalent of five kilograms of TNT, when correctly placed on the human body is impossible to visually detect under winter clothing, and even less so if placed in a bag. Secondly, the President in his statement obviously, even before any investigation, “designates accessories to the crime” and it follows that one cannot count on an objective investigation of the circumstances of the tragedy.
This is evidenced by the fact that, without waiting for any commission’s findings, the Investigation Committee, which since January 15th of this year is under the direct authority the President of Russia, has opened a criminal investigation into the “failure of security at Domodedovo airport” and concluded that “no adequate system of control over the entrances to the premises actually existed.” They failed to clarify, however, what, strictly speaking, would actually constitute “an adequate system of control over the entrances” and what regulations govern this.
In this case, according to L.Lyubezniy, deputy director of airport security, the relevant regulations state, “an airport has a right but not an obligation to take additional security measures, including installation of access control at entrances.” According to G.Gudkov, deputy chairman of the parliamentary Security Committee, “Domodedovo airport fully complies with all safety requirements.” According to him, “it would be insulting to scapegoat the best airport in Russia.”
On January 25th, during the current expanded FSB assembly, Medvedev gave the correct assessment of the situation as a whole, stating that the attack “demonstrates an unacceptable level of work on the part of the services and organizations responsible for security.” He ordered the FSB “to deal with issues of accountability on the part of officials within its own service.” Nevertheless, once again he stressed that Moscow’s Domodedovo was “just one big mess and so (the terrorists) chose the airport of all places! Control of movement there, at best, is partial and almost did not apply to people meeting passengers.” For all the need for stringent safety regulations, especially during the current high level of terrorism, one must still understand that an airport is not a government facility with a pass system at the entrance and mandatory inspections of personal belongings, but a public area into which at least one-third of the people show up with bags or suitcases, and separating people meeting arrivals from people departing the airport would be very problematic. Itis simply impossible to stop tens of thousands of people and check them for tickets.
N.Sintsov, official spokesman of the National Counter-terrorist Committee (NAC) of Russia, also made accusations against the leadership of the airport on the day of the attack. Hestated that “security measures at Domodedovo airport were insufficient, otherwise the terrorist attack could never have happened.” It is not worth mentioning the obvious absurdity of such a declaration by this responsible NAC officer, and, after his incoherent and totally pointless justification of his profound thesis on certain “frames” (metal detectors) and other nonsense, which he did not dare utter in the Russian media (see http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=422943&cid=8), it once again is clear why Peter the Great forbade his boyars from speaking on the Scriptures.
One should also note that Sintsov, as an official of the NAC, does not even seem to be familiar with NAC regulations, which quite clearly state that among its main objectives are “the development of measures to counter terrorism, and the elimination of causes and conditions contributing to it, including measures ensuring the protection of potential targets of terrorist attack.” In order to put these into practice, the Committee has the right “to make decisions regarding the organization, coordination, improvement, and evaluation of the effectiveness of federal law enforcement authorities in countering terrorism, as well as monitoring their implementation.”
N.Sintsov, the official representative of the NAC and also, according to a presidential decree dated February 15th, 2006, the ex officio director of the FSB, says that in order to prevent terrorist acts one only need take “reasonable security measures.” But why, during the five years of the NAC’s existence, have they never found time for the “development of measures to counter terrorism” and “monitoring their implementation?” It is likely that so long as the Russian security services are, so to speak, ‘the competent experts’ in the ‘fight’ against terrorism, terrorism’s existence is in absolutely no danger.
Certainly, despite a categorical statement by Domodedovo airport spokesman E.Galanova that the (airport) administration should not “bear responsibility for the bombing, as all the requirements of our security services have been met,” the commission created by presidential decree will likely find some quite serious violations. Itis not likely, however, that it will determine any factor that permitted the terrorist attack, the elimination of which could prevent such an attack at this or any other airport in the future.
Especially since, in the opinion of G.Gudkov, the causes of terrorism are “problems that the Government has failed to correct, or is unwilling to correct. (The problems are) massive corruption, the lack of justice, very serious social contradictions, and many other factors that make various manifestations of extremism and terrorist attacks almost inevitable, and make the fight against these phenomena extremely difficult.” A similar view is shared by a rather large number of Russians. Onthe ‘Novye Izvestii’ website, for example, 61% thought that the political leadership should be held responsible for the bombing of Domodedovo.
With regard to the Investigative Committee’s work, it must first determine whether or not there was a joint action plan for the FSB, Interior Ministry, and airport security to ensure the safety of passengers and persons meeting them at the airport, and how each agency was to carry out its functions under such a plan. Inaddition, the FSB and Interior Ministry should have their own plans with a list of engaged, so-called operatives, i.e.: secret sources and prospects. Itwould also be interesting to find out when, for example, they held even the most basic exercise in identifying terrorists, or whether any exercises took place at Domodedovo at all.
Unfortunately, the facts show that even after what happened, one can easily carry into most Russian airports two to three kilograms of explosives with all the ensuing consequences. After the terrorist attack, when Moscow airport security was working in emergency mode, journalists from the ‘Life News’ web portal performed an experiment, and were quite freely able to smuggle a fake bomb into Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports. AtSheremetyevo-2, however, security was vigilant and quickly found the fake terrorists’ dummy bomb.
It would also be nice to find out: was there an action plan at Domodedovo in case of a terrorist attack? Media analysis of eyewitness accounts and online videos of the first minutes after the bombing raise serious doubts that there was a plan, and if there was something on paper, those who were to act on it knew nothing of it. Whenwas the last time Domodedovo airport carried out at least some sort of exercise in providing emergency medical care and casualty evacuation? Wasit ever done at all? Didthe airport have necessary medical supplies for emergency casualty care?
These are not idle questions. OnOctober 26th, 2002, during the ‘Nord-Ost’ hostage rescue operation in the theatrical center on Dubrovka, according to official figures 129hostages died, many of them as a result of delays in medical care. Howmany like these were among the 35who died at Domodedovo airport? Thefirst ambulance did not arrive at Domodedovo until a half hour after the explosion, so who provided first aid to the wounded before its arrival?
In any case, whether or not they find violations and it is quite possible that every agency developed and fully implemented its tasks, which, however, were no obstacle to the terrorists the Investigative Committee’s report should be honest and wide-ranging, since on its conclusions will depend the fates of the tens of thousands who use various modes of transport, or participate in public events. Itwould be naive to assume that the situation at other airports, not to mention at bus and railway stations, is any better than at Domodedovo.
One should recall that in March of 2010, after the terrorist attacks in the Moscow metro, Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree creating an integrated system of public safety on transportation systems, which provided for “completion by March 31st, 2011, of equipping the most vulnerable transportation infrastructure facilities and vehicles with specialized equipment and devices to allow the elimination of vulnerability to acts of unlawful interference.” Can we assume that either Domodedovo was not on the list of “the most vulnerable transportation infrastructure facilities,” or its vehicles or its “specialized equipment and devices to allow the elimination of vulnerability to acts of unlawful interference” still did not prevent the terrorist attack? Either that, or, more likely, this was yet another failed presidential decree that this time led to very tragic consequences.
Without deeply delving into the history and technical specifics of the question, it should be noted that the development of devices to allow long-range determination of the presence of explosives in a container or under clothing has been around for a long time. Since the 1950s, in the Soviet Union there was the development of devices to detect explosives on the principle of nuclear magnetic resonance, the essence of which is that the nuclei of atoms of any material, including explosives, are influenced by an alternating magnetic field and emit a weak signal at a particular radio frequency, and this can even be done inside a tightly sealed container. In1973, in preparation for the 1980Moscow Olympics and on orders of the Central Committee and the government of the Soviet Union, a special laboratory at the A.V.Nikolayev Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at the Siberian branch of USSR Academy of Sciences was established to develop special explosives detectors using chemical scents.
There are also devices to detect explosives using Terra-hertz waves, located in the electromagnetic range between microwaves, such as used in ovens, and the Infrared. InShanghai, on the eve of the EXPO-2010, major subway stations were equipped with explosives detectors designed and manufactured by Chinese experts that worked on a technology based on readouts of polymer fluorescence. According to experts at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, this equipment is reliable and efficient.
Even from this short list, is quite clear that there is a rather large selection of technologies. Theonly question is: why is it that in Russia, where, according to Medvedev, the “terrorist threat level is higher than in America” (not to mention China) and “terrorism remains a major threat to the security of our country, the main threat to Russia and all our citizens” implementation has been very slow, including promising developments by Russian scientists?
Last year the federal budget provided 46.7 billion rubles to finance the necessary measures specified in Medvedev’s decree on integrated public transportation security, and 7.8 billion rubles were spent in 2010. But, as Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov correctly points out, “it is not just a matter of financial resources, but organizing the work and responsibilities of officials.” Perhaps that is the reason why the creation of a unique photonuclear detector, able to instantly find explosives in passenger baggage, developed by Russian scientists at the P.N.Lebedev Physics Institute jointly with several other Russian nuclear research facilities, was financed by: the Americans! Thefirst device, by the way, was produced in February of last year, just before the bombings in the Moscow subway.
There are in Russia domestically produced body scanners, developed by scientists in Novosibirsk. These only require a few seconds to generate on-screen a three-dimensional holographic image of a person in order to see objects contained inside their clothing and even inside their body. According to experts, these are much better than the American body scanners, since they have higher resolution and use only half the dosage of X-rays.
But the crux of the matter is not just in the installation of modern explosives detection equipment in airports. Inthe fight against terrorism, all this is nothing more than an ancillary measure. Their installation will certainly help to some extent increase the safety of passengers in the subways, major airports, and railway stations, but what can one do about the numerous marketplaces, supermarkets, concert halls, and many thousands of outdoors public events?
The main emphasis should be placed on identifying terrorist threats in the very early stages of the preparation: during its planning, the gathering of like-minded people, the training of those who will carry it out, the acquisition of explosives and detonators, and the production of the bombs. Thatis, before a suicide bomber dons the ‘martyr belt’. After all of this is done, only then can one talk only about protecting a more or less crowded airport hall and its entrances, and, accordingly, the number of potential victims.
About a year ago Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office and its Investigative Committee to collect evidence and conduct a thorough investigation of the terrorist attacks in the metro, and just as he is doing now, back then he demanded more control over security across the State, since “preventing such attacks is a complex matter, just as complex as providing security on transportation systems. Itis necessary to significantly strengthen what is being done and examine the problem on a national scale. Whathas been done before is clearly insufficient.” Unfortunately, insufficient is also what was done after his oral decree, even after his written decree demanding very respectable levels of activity to protect the public from terrorist threats.
One can certainly understand the occurrence of certain difficulties with respect to technologies for protecting “the most vulnerable transportation infrastructure,” but how can one understand why, despite the special danger to the public, the Russian State parliament has still not considered the matter of increasing penalties for the illegal manufacture, possession, transportation, theft, and sale of explosives, as well as for assisting such acts, up to and including life imprisonment? Whyhas it still not provided for similar punishment to those who select and train suicide bombers, or plan and carry out terrorist attacks with the participation of suicide bombers?
There are even more questions for the security forces, which under current conditions are unable to combat terrorism not just in the Caucasus, but also under their very noses here in Moscow. Yes, the suicide bombers come from over there, but the ‘martyr belts’, no doubt, are made on site. Nobody drags explosives and detonators across the entire country they buy them in Moscow. Thebombers themselves, with their attendant overseers, are not sent straight to some station to perform a terrorist attack. Fora specific and rather long time they live either in the Moscow region, or within Moscow itself.
In tsarist times there were area inspectors. Inthe Soviet police force they became precinct inspectors. Theythoroughly knew the lay of the land in their district, and they knew virtually everyone living in their territory. Nostray minstrel could long hide from their watchful eyes back then. Butwhat about now? Whycannot the Interior Ministry and FSB do anything to stop the illegal trade in explosives, or timely detect the residence of a terrorist? Especially since, as practice shows, they do not even hide.
On December 31st of last year, a blast killed a young woman in a park in Kuzminki. Inthe ruins of a cottage at a private shooting club, which was used as a hotel, next to the dead girl’s body was another martyr belt constructed of plastique with the addition of metal fasteners and ball bearings. Theysoon arrested the companion of the dead girl, who was absent from the cottage at the time of the explosion. According to the testimony of a 24-year-old native of Chechnya, Z.Suyunova, she and her deceased associate were acting under pressure of threats from militants of the ‘Nogaisk Jamaat’ in the Stavropol region, the same organization that law enforcement agencies reportedly destroyed last year.
The attack on Domodedovo took place while every law enforcement agency in the region was very actively searching for a group of terrorists who came to Moscow to carry out an attack. Buthow hard were they searching? Allthe more so, since Suynova’s arrest on January 5th of this year, the law enforcement agencies had at least a description and composite sketch of the persons who threatened the girls, and under whose control they were supposed to commit the terrorist attack. Ifthe police failed to prevent an attack while knowing well in advance the plans for its commission and the approximate composition of the group, how can one even talk about preventing a terrorist attack in the absence of such information? Ifthe State law enforcement authorities are incapable of dealing with terrorists and their accomplices, why do they not offer monetary rewards in order to attract, in accordance with international practices, private detectives and other interested parties in the identification and capture of terrorists?
Unfortunately, just as before the attack on Domodedovo airport, after the attack the Russian leadership, instead of taking steps that would actually be of some use, only made edifying declarations and appeals. According to Putin, “we need to improve the performance of law enforcement bodies and the security services in all areas. Itis necessary to deal with the physical protection of transportation infrastructure and other places of mass assembly of citizens.” No one can argue about the need for these very important measures, but what was Putin himself doing while he was a professional officer in the KGB, and later the Head of State for over 10years? Where are the results, if every year the number of attacks and victims keeps growing? In2008 there were 4suicide bombings, while there were 19in 2010. Lastyear, in the Caucasus, more than 200law enforcement officials were killed.
Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov, also formerly in the KGB cadre, is offering to create “a unified authority on transportation security.” This is a legitimate issue, if we consider that, according to A.Kucherena, chairman of the lower chamber’s commission on public control of law enforcement agencies, there are now 10different agencies responsible for transportation security. Butwhat good will it do to create an eleventh agency, when the majority of existing agencies still cannot do anything due to their different specialties and subordinations? Itwould really only create more confusion.
The Parliament moved the first reading of draft amendments to the Law on combating terrorism from February to January 28th. Theamendments were prepared by the FSB. Anexplanatory note attached to the bill speaks of “the necessity of introducing terrorist threat levels due to the fact that information collected and developed in the event of terrorist threats, and used in these preventative measures, should be comprehensive and take into account all possible scenarios to enable counter-terrorism stakeholders to timely respond to threats of terrorist attacks.”
If you try to grasp the content of this justification, inevitably you end up with the quite logical conclusion that without “introducing terrorist threat levels” the FSB, NAC, and Interior Ministry, as “counter-terrorism stakeholders” cannot “respond to threats of terrorist acts” or “take into account all possible scenarios.” After all, it is clear that a timely response “to threats of terrorist attacks” on the part of law enforcement agencies should precede the introduction of “terrorist threat levels” and in no way be the result of them. Ifyou take into account the current situation, the population of Russia, especially in the Caucasus, lives under constant threat of terrorist attack, and neither the security services nor the population can ignore this obvious fact, even without threat levels. Inaddition, there is no threat level that can replace daily, painstaking work in identifying the plans of the terrorists. Inthis regard the special services, as practice shows, are as clueless as ever before.
So it is completely clear that one must raise the issue of a fundamental restructuring of the entire public security system, not just in word but in deed, since plans, decrees, investigations, and ‘up-ticks’ in reports on terrorist activities cannot prevent a damn thing. OnMarch 31st, Dmitry Medvedev intends to hold a meeting at the Kremlin on summing up the implementation of his latest decree on “establishing an integrated system of public transportation security.” Perhaps during the course of discussing the current, clearly unfavorable situation, the heads of the security agencies will finally find an adequate response to the “latest very brutal challenge” from the terrorists. Anyway, Iwould like to believe this.
By Fyodor Yakovlev, in ‘Regnum News’, January 29th, 2011

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