A Few Thoughts About Boston

Some observations about the terrorist acts on Boston—the second, not the first, successful attacks in the U.S. since 9/11.

People in this country react in bizarre ways. For example: gathering in a park and cheering after the second suspect was taken into custody, as if the US had won some type of international sporting event. I used the conclusion of this event as a somber moment to reflect upon the fact that two relative simpletons managed to terrorize an entire city, kill innocent civilians, and law enforcement officers.

As far as the lock down, call it 20/20 hindsight, but the tactic itself may have actually helped the suspect elude capture, as thousands of eyes remained inside. Ironically, once the “stay sheltered” ban was lifted, a set of eyes observed something suspicious. Plus, this tactic sends a message to other wannabe Jihadists that they can shutter an entire metro area with a few pressure cookers.

Certainly, the boots to the ground teams on the street did an outstanding job. However, I think this case merits a thorough, top-to-bottom policy review. Once again, all the high-tech fusion centers, NSA electronic listening, etc. failed to provide the intelligence needed to prevent the attack. The shoe bomber hopped aboard an airliner undetected; the underwear bomber successfully took a commercial flight, even though he was on the no-fly list (due to his name being misspelled by one letter); while a bombing in Time Square was prevented by a faulty detonation device and a vender who had spotted a suspicious SUV. In each of these instances, surveillance—as a means to prevent terror attacks—failed miserably.

So much for sacrificing liberty for security—a doctrine Benjamin Franklin warned against.

Sure, after the fact, video surveillance has proved valuable; although it appears private video footage broke the Boston case open. Moreover, during this investigation Americans learned that suspect #1 traveled overseas for six months, posted strange things on social media, and was red flagged by a foreign government (probably Russia), which asked the FBI to check into his activities. One would have thought suspect #1 would have been one of a hundred individuals fusion center operatives would have kept close tabs on.

So, the question needs to be asked: was the $500 billion our nation has spent since 9/11 to employ over 800,000 people and create a vast electronic intelligence apparatus worth the expense?

In the past, I have argued that surveillance does little to protect Americans.  It is like saying surveillance can prevent a homicide.  No doubt, if the police are proactive, officers can stop suspicious persons or investigate information that comes to their attention, but, at the end of the day, law enforcement generally locates the deceased, chalks out the body, erects crime scene tape, and attempts to find the perpetrator—all, of course, after the fact. If a person is intent on dying as a part of a terror attack, surveillance will do little besides enable investigators and the media to replay the blast.

What can the government do to prevent terrorism? Discontinue the surveillance of large swaths of the American populace, 99.999 percent of whom will never commit an act of terror, and, instead, focus our resources on those with a motive.  Think about it: how do the surveillance cameras mounted atop traffic control signals on 124th and Burleigh prevent acts of terrorism? Wasting taxpayer dollars to conduct surveillance of Americans diverts resources from the real problem: extremist groups and foreign nationals overstaying student visas that pose a real threat to this nation’s security.

As far as the media, they continue to report that this was the first terror attack since 9/11, which is simply regurgitating the government line.  Ft. Hood was a terrorist attack. As was the case in Boston, the assailant, Army Major Nidal Hasan, was radicalized from within and took his orders from a far. Classifying Ft. Hood as “work place violence” is akin to claiming that Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy is an immaculate conception.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest print edition only book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at Amazon.com.


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© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

6 Responses

  1. Glenn D. Frankovis

    I agree with most everything you wrote here, Steve and really have no dispute with the rest other than to say that drones and street cameras can be of value in identifying suspects who have committed crimes. That, however, means the crime has already occurred. I’m much more in favor of using these surveillance techniques to identify potential problems and assist in developing patrol strategies to preempt crime much like crime data is used to redeploy resources and identify crime trends. Drones can also be useful in tactical situations and pursuits.

    All that said, nothing beats being one step ahead of the bad guy – and that means you have to think like the bad guy thinks. It’s not rocket science in most cases, and if our fusion centers, and those others whose function is to keep track of these assholes, had been doing their job, this is just one more terrorist attack that would have been preventable and lives would not have been lost. It’s primarily political correctness thrust upon us by lefties that prevents us from getting out ahead of these terrorists and other criminals. Ft. Hood is a major example of that, as well as the failure of our people to heed the warnings of the Russians about the older brother in this Boston massacre and his FB posts which were like billboards screaming “I’m a terrorist”.

    April 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

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  3. Eric Donaldson

    This is nothing new. Throwing money, resources and manpower by the ton at issues without thoughtful direction and intelligent leadership is a response we often see at all levels of government. On the issue of counter-terrorism efforts, there are several worthy criticisms including many you’ve already raised.

    The denial that Ft Hood was a terror attack is sickening because it shows Obama’s willingness to sacrifice our national security in favor of political considerations (as also demonstrated in the Benghazi scandal, but that’s another topic). There was substantial evidence, much of which was either ignored or reported-by-whisper by the media, that the Ft. Hood shooter met, corresponded and sympathized ideologically with radical imams. Meanwhile, it fit NONE of the hallmarks of the “workplace violence” motive pushed by the Obama Administration.

    In our “war on terror,” we don’t have a lack of resources, we have a failure of leadership.

    “Prevention” is paramount in counterterrorism efforts. Authorities could have prevented the Boston bombings. After Ft. Hood, federal authorities admitted internally that the emerging recruiting trend would focus on those with citizenship or other legal immigration status in the US; the rationale being that said persons would be able to blend in and move about the US more easily than a foreigner. The Tsarnaevs are textbook examples.

    Early reports indicate Russia truly gave us a heads up by flagging the elder Tsarnaev brother about 2-3 years ago. It would appear the FBI checked into him, did the bare minimum and moved on. Yet, here is where the counterterrorism agencies should focus their efforts. Like you say Steve, why surveil 99.999% of the publc when you can concentrate on those likeliest to be involved?

    The recruitment and indoctrination of terrorist operators is an evolution over a period of time. Knowing that, they should have made the surveillance of Tamerlan Tsarnaev an ongoing, continuing effort not a snapshot in time. As we all now know, that snapshot didn’t give us an accurate picture of what was really going on.

    Following the FBI’s brief peek into Tamerlan’s activities, he went on to post ideological declarations on YouTube and other social media websites that, like Glenn said, were obvious indicators. But, because no one was looking, significant opportunities were missed.

    I wonder how many others across our country could be on the same path. We better smarten up and find out.

    The post-blast investigation and ensuing manhunt proved that what we actually do, we do well, and while I commend those efforts, such successes are small consolation when the evil deed has already been perpetrated against us. For his own political gain, the messaging from Obama literally has been that “Al-Qaida is on the run”; as if Bin Laden was the end-all, be-all of radical Islam and I believe that led to an undercurrent of complacency at the highest levels. From the top, our leadership failed us. This week long drama in Boston, just as in Benghazi, has proven that.

    April 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm

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  6. Steve Spingola

    Eric, outstanding comment. The only thing one can surmise is that there is so much money floating around that those involved do not care if it is wasted placing cameras atop traffic control signals in Brookfield, as if Jidhadist will congregate and plot at the Applebee’s on Bluemound Rd.

    April 24, 2013 at 10:51 pm

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