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Expert: Next strike may be by sea

Tankers could be weapons, he says By Michael Fabey Daily Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001

The next terrorist attack probably will come by water, a local counter-terrorism expert says.

"They've already played their aviation card. The next time likely will be in the maritime arena," said Steven C. Bronson, director and founder of Tactical Watreborne Operations of Virginia Beach.

Bronson's resume indicates he has some experience in dealing with maritime terrorism -- retired Navy chief, decorated combat veteran, Naval Special Warfare instructor and combat craft patrol officer. He was one of eight handpicked special warfare personnel assigned to develop the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Combatant Craft training program. He also is director of waterborne operations for the International Association of Counter-Terrorism for Security Professionals.

With so much focus on air security now, he said, terrorists probably would take aim in another area.

"They'll have to attack in a different mode -- they'll almost have to," Bronson said.

And Hampton Roads -- with its leading commercial port and its fleet of crucial Navy ships -- could make an inviting target for any maritime attack, he said.

Navy ships are already on alert, making them more difficult for terrorists to strike. The military has established special perimeters and patrols to keep away anyone or anything that should not be in the vicinity.

But an attack on Newport News Shipbuilding probably would not give a terrorist the kind of bang for media buck that they would want, Bronson said.

As for the local commercial marine terminals, port police have been more vigilant since the attack, checking identifications and vehicles with extra care. The port has one of the best-trained police forces and one of the best security records, compared with other terminals, in the country.

Recently, the U.S. Maritime Administration, the Coast Guard and the Maritime Security Council released a book, International Perspectives on Maritime Security, which describes scenarios in which terrorists seize tankers and use them as weapons.

That possibility is more like a probability now, Bronson said. "This is like a multi-tiered chess game, a game of war and strategies."

The terrorists have planned this like a military campaign, he added. Reports in the Wall Street Journal and other papers have compared the terrorists' actions with those of the KGB, which has used "sleeper" operatives, people that weave themselves into the fabric of the target society before striking.

Keeping that military mindset in mind, Bronson said, Americans should be prepared for more attacks on U.S. soil. In any military campaign, the strategist will have more than just one plan of attack.

"They're going to have a secondary plan and a tertiary plan," Bronson said. Those plans may already be in motion. "The question is, how many people do they still have here?"

The FBI has reported that Tuesday's attacks may have been years in the planning -- as far back as the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

"You have to understand the terrorist mentality," Bronson said.

"The people who did these attacks saw themselves as being exulted by everyone back in the homeland. And for every one who died, there are 100 more putting on the mantle, saying, 'I'm ready to die.' "

Michael Fabey can be reached at 247-4965 or by e-mail at***

-- Martin Thompson (, September 18, 2001

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