Should you be ready to go against AK-47-wielding attackers?

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Carol Hills: You could say that the incident in France was a case of the right people being at the right place at the right time, but things couldve gone very differently if the gunmans weapon hadnt jammed and if those men hadnt acted, as actually one of them pointed out, during a chat with the press.


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Hills: Anthony Sadler there, one of the Americans who overpowered the attacker on the train. So what about the idea of getting the average joe involved in a situation like that? Should we, the public, be more involved in our own security, say, on trains or buses? I talked with Juliette Kayyem about this. Shes a former counterterrorism official with the Obama Administration.


Juliette Kayyem: Well, there was a lot of heroism, of course, and a lot of luck. I mean, the fact that there are three men, two of them trained by the military--I just dont think thats going to happen again. I mean, it was very fortuitous that that combination of circumstances occurred, I think, and there are lessons to learn from it. But I have to just admit there was a lot of luck going on, as well.


Hills: A lot of luck, but doesnt it also suggest that if more of us were trained in that way or had certain kinds of skills that, we, the public might be able to subdue other situations like that. Is there any argument for that?


Kayyem: There is, but I just want to be clear to people that its not true that in every instance heroism is going after the terrorist. So, look, we have a lot of danger and violence in this country, the United States for example, including what weve seen in the past with what we call “active shooter” incidents on colleges and universities. Most of the training today is for the public to run. In other words, get out of where you are and run. Thats not going to be true on a train, of course, but I just dont want everyone to think “Well, if only I just go after the guy, everything is going to be safe.” Each circumstance is different and what we can learn from this is that train personnel, the personnel on the trains, seem to be very slow in stopping the train. You want to stop the train because then people can get out and therefore minimize the risk for everyone on the train. So, there are things to learn but it just is not true that in every instance going after the guy is the best result.


Hills: Julia, you know when on airplanes they have an air marshal on every flight, or every couple rows or whatever. Is there any argument to use that system on certain kinds of public transit?


Kayyem: I think we could utilize more security personnel on trains and transit systems, but we should not delude ourselves to think that were going to have anything like airport or airplane security on mass transit systems. In Europe alone, 40 million people get on trains every single day. It is part of their lifeblood, it is what we call “flow” in the security apparatus. The more security you put on it, the less capable these cities and economies are going to be able to function. Theres not going to be a single solution that solves it all. You could have more armed personnel, but chances are that they probably wont be on the train the moment something happens. So, thats why we have surveillance; thats why you want to engage citizens in seeing something, saying something.


Hills: How do you engage citizens, then?


Kayyem: I think the “see something, say something” campaign has been effective in just having people be alert about their surroundings. I think train personnel--not security apparatus--but conductors and others on the train can probably be better trained, both in the US and in Europe, to be able to respond a lot faster so that you minimize the risk. And people being aware of bags that are placed in the wrong place. Thats how you engage people in their own security. Empowering people to take their own security into their own hands is a good thing to minimize the risk for them but also to engage them in something that can seem quite scary, like terrorism or threats. And so you see it across the board, whether its “see something, say something” regarding terrorism or its, you know, the preparedness planning for hurricanes and other risks that people face every day. So, I think there has to be a way that we talk about both an acceptable level of risk, which were always going to have in mass transit systems, as well as engaging people.


Hills: Is there an example of a country where a government has successfully engaged the public in terms of thinking about security?


Kayyem: Well, I think Israel is a both good and bad example for all Western democracies. I mean, its a small population that has a persistent threat; it has universal conscriptions, so people are engaged with the security apparatus from an early age, and so they are just much more keenly aware. But no country does this perfectly and theres no universal solution. I mean, you know, it really is circumstance-based.


Hills: Juliette Kayyem now teaches counterterrorism at Harvard and shes a security analyst here at WGBH.