Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Boston Marathon Whitewash

A good deal has been written and said about the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15th, 2013 and the aftermath of the pursuit and capture of the accused bombers, Tamerian Tsamaev (26) and Dzhokhar Tsamaev (19), two Chechen-born legal residents of the United States. 

Since the successful capture, and the subsequent general sense of relief in Boston and around the country, there's been a surprising amount of self-congratulatory back-slapping and high-fiving and general smug boasting about how efficient and courageous our law enforcement community was in the "solving" of the crime, and their successful apprehension of the bombers. Bostonians cheered in the streets when Dzhokhar was discovered huddled in a residential backyard under a tarp inside a boat. 

Since 9/11, there have been a number of fairly amateurish attempts at terrorism in this country. Most have been thwarted. What the Boston Marathon event proves, in my estimation, is that for all the homeland security measures, all the protective systems put into place to reduce our exposure to unwanted foreign or domestic terrorist incursions, we're still not really very safe. 

The signal characteristic of all of the known (or at least publicly acknowledged) cases is their amateurish incompetence. What we know now is that it takes very little effort to acquire the means to construct and deliver an explosive device. In addition, it's become clear that very little indoctrination or "training" is required to animate individuals to perpetrate an act of sabotage or anarchistic destruction. It's relatively easy to "radicalize" a sympathetic mind, and even easier for that converted radical to carry out a simple act of terrorism. A teenager could do it. 

In the case of Boston, the bombers were able simply to walk into the crowd and deposit their devices in full daylight, with many police in the immediate area. Apparently, our Homeland Security people had already been alerted, by the Russian government no less, about the older brother's extreme Muslim sympathies, and yet a brief investigation of him had been concluded without further ado, despite the fact that he had been posting radical Islamic messages and videos on the internet--activity which we've been told is routinely monitored by our Homeland Security people. 

What seemed perfectly obvious to anyone who watched the unfolding drama in the days following the bombing, is that the two brothers could very easily have escaped the Boston area, either in a stolen car, or by some other form of transportation. Their behavior following the bombing was plainly irrational, killing a security guard, then attempting a hold-up of a convenience store, you could almost believe that they wanted to be caught, or wanted an open confrontation with authorities. Those with a death-wish may feel that a perfect escape is somehow less direct a message; we've known in detail that many of the Muslim "suicide" bombers regard an honorable death as the highest form of religious sacrifice, which may explain the reckless actions of the Tsamaev brothers. 

But the really simple conclusion to draw is that the authorities--at all levels, local, state and Federal--would never have caught them, if they hadn't given themselves away in the immediate aftermath. Their capture had nothing to do with good investigative technique or rapid response or great bravery by the police. The suspects, in effect, gave themselves up. What's even more troubling, in this respect, is that the second of the two bombers actually escaped, after having been cornered on a suburban residential street. After reportedly exchanging stolen vehicles, he continued on foot. It remains unclear why he didn't--as he should have been able to--leave the area at once, realizing that a dragnet would shortly be underway and the area encircled. The area where he was believed to be hiding was so large, that authorities were unable to close off all roads leading out of the neighborhood. 

In short, there is nothing in what we have been told of the events of the bombing, or the pursuit of the bombers, that would inspire confidence either in our ability to identify and intercede, before the fact, or to "solve" the crime and apprehend the perpetrators. I see nothing particularly "heroic" or impressive about the abilities of the authorities to pursue the criminals. These two brothers were rank amateurs, who made every mistake in the book, and might still have gotten away with not only the terrorist act, but the subsequent deadly incidents, if they had managed to make any kind of intelligent escape plan, or had been just a bit more clever. 

It may be helpful to the American public, or to Boston's residents, to feel pride and relief, but there is nothing about the whole affair to make a sensible person feel secure, or proud of the performance of the local law enforcement. There was nothing but blundering incompetence shown here, from the failure to accurately identify a known terrorist suspect, to the lack of adeequate security at a public event, to the pursuit and capture of the equally incompetent suspect(s). If this is evidence that we're "winning" the war on terror, I think the victory has a hollow ring. 

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