Terror Expert Henry Nocella Shares Thoughts on London Attacks

July 21, 2005
Nocella examines the 'unsophisticated' attacks, role of CCTV and possible effect on political resolve

SecurityInfoWatch.com caught up with Henry Nocella, CPP, this morning for a brief discussion on today's terror attacks in London and transit security. Nocella is the former director of corporate security for multi-national food distributor Bestfoods for 15 years, and a veteran of the Marines, the DEA and the board of directors of the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association. He is also a former counterintelligence agent with the U.S. Army and the USMC, and is a former vice president of the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).

Having secured 48,000 employees and operations in 62 countries while with Bestfoods, Nocella faced the kind of terrorism potential and global challenges that gives him a unique perspective on today's terror attacks. He currently serves as the chairman of ASIS's Global Terrorism & Political Instability Council and is a private security consultant to the industry. In the Q&A below, Nocella shares his thoughts with the rest of the industry:

SIW: As a former intelligence officer, what kind of intelligence can you give our readers on what today's attacks mean?

Nocella: The initial reports sounds like this is amateurish stuff, and my guess, and it's only a guess, is that this is a copy-cat group that probably didn't have the same resources as the previous attackers. Anyone who can have their backpack explode and then walk away from it is not a serious bomber. [Editor's note: early reports indicate that this indeed did happen.]

Would you consider today's attacks more of a terrorist action or a political action?

It's a terrorist action as long as it creates fear and gets media attention. I don't believe this group had the sophistication that the original attackers did. That said, it's not easy to plan, create and carry out parallel attacks that follow the same events of two weeks ago.

Looking at how the consumer media is covering this story is interesting. Al Jazeera is calling this a "failed" attack. Do you agree with that assessment?

I don't think it's a failed attack. It's as good as an attack as these people could put on at this time. What differentiates it from previous attack is that it didn't have the same level of destruction or carnage that these groups normally aim at. I'd call it unsophisticated, not failed.

In your opinion, with 30 years of security behind you, do you think that transit facilities can ever be fully secured against these kind of events?

Let me just say that the only way that any kind of facility is ever going to be secured is by applying technology, applying physical barriers, apply guards, applying policies, and creating public awareness. People have to know to alert authorities when they see something that doesn't fit. And at the same time, authorities have to know how to respond to these alerts. To secure these facilities, everything has to be applied at the same time. Can it be done? It's got to be done. Is it going to be easy? Probably not. Is it going to be cheap? No.

Public awareness obviously is key to this equation, and we saw news earlier this week of metro police hopping on trains to advise passengers on what to be suspicious of. Can you share some insights into what guards, security managers and the public should be looking out for?

One of the signs is if the individual is acting nervous -- fidgeting a lot, and looking around a lot and generally not comfortable with what he is doing. We also look at situations such as if the weather is cool but a person is sweating. He could just be sick, but he also could be focused on a mission. These are the things that consistently come up. We also pay attention if someone is wearing a coat and their top makes them look like they have a 200-pound body, but there legs look like they're from a 100-pound body, then we are on alert that there might be something under that coat.

Part of the shake-out of the bomb attacks on London's transit system two weeks ago is that there have been a number of calls for implementing additional surveillance systems in U.S. transit facilities. As someone who's worked with a variety of security equipment, including cameras, access control, gates, etc., do you think surveillance systems can have a deterrent effect on these kind of attacks?

In the short term, I think the answer is "Maybe," and I say that because what you're seeing more and more frequently is that CCTV footage is of great help when piecing together how an attack was accomplished and who or what was involved. But with cameras, the more aware that the bad guys are that they can be recorded and traced, the harder it will be for them to plan these attacks. So, is it a short-term deterrent? No, probably not. But in the long term it is a great tool for investigation and may deter some attacks.

What's the fallout from today's attacks?

It is my sincere hope that the psychological effect of these attacks will not be what these groups are hoping for; that the citizens won't lose their political resolve to support the U.S. in fighting terrorism.