Anti-terror drill revealed soft targets in London
Mark Townsend and Gaby Hinsliff
Sunday July 10, 2005
A massive anti-terror exercise carried out last April to find out how safe London's transport systems were from attack raised concern over the vulnerability of passengers, The Observer can reveal.
Washington sources have revealed that the biggest transatlantic counter-terrorism exercise since 9/11 – which included 'bombs' being placed on buses and explosives left on the London underground – raised fears over the vulnerability of 'soft targets' in the capital.
The anti-terror drill, codenamed Exercise Atlantic Blue, involved 10,000 personnel in the UK and 2,500 in the UK. It was billed as the biggest test of the anti-terror defences of both the UK and the US and was designed to improve security. The exercise featured simulated explosive, biological and chemical attacks and, in the case of London, concentrated on testing security weaknesses in the transport system.
However, a source for Homeland Security, the leading US security department, said that, following the London exercise, the capital's 'defences were broadly positive but there was concern over soft targets'.
It has also emerged that the Japanese interior minister warned last month that the G8 nations should clamp down further on security around underground trains. A dozen commuters died and more than 5,000 were injured in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo underground in which members of the cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, confirmed that the need to improve underground security had been discussed at a G8 summit of interior ministers in Sheffield in mid-June, at which MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller delivered an assessment of the threat to G8 nations. 'The Japanese particularly raised it because of the sarin issue. It was a very moving discussion – the Russians were talking about Beslan, the Japanese about the underground. We got more of a common sense of determination,' he said.
Whitehall sources said the tube had long been the focus of concern, both because of the difficulty of rescuing people and because of the way that, in some cases, tunnels amplify the blast. A full-scale mock attack was staged in September 2003 to give emergency services the chance to rehearse: lessons learnt from it, including the need for specially adapted trolleys to use in rescuing passengers from narrow tunnels, were put into place last week. Firefighters have also been trained to drive tube trains, so that if a driver were killed they would be able to move a train to the safety of a platform; the trains hit last week were too badly disabled to be moved.
A subway attack formed a prominent element of Exercise Atlantic Blue. During the exercise, led in the UK by the Metropolitan Police, the role of the intelligence services in intercepting 'chatter' is understood to have been praised.
A source at Homeland Security said that post-exercise debriefings were still ongoing and that a final report into the UK and US exercises would be published later in the year.
Although the rescue effort itself went smoothly last week, Whitehall sources said transport had presented the most problems, with privatised rail and bus companies struggling to co-ordinate decisions to suspend services.