5 Things Terrorists Learned From the Boston Marathon Bombing

1. With a little common sense — hell, even without it — you can evade the FBI

We all know by now that the older of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was questioned in 2011 by the FBI at the request of Russian intelligence on suspicion of being a Muslim radical. The Feds claim to have done all the necessary paperwork, background checks, etc. to conclude that Tsarnaev was not a threat.

Apparently, the FBI doesn’t bother to check in on such individuals from time to time. Had they done so, they would have found that he had a sketchy vacation history and been booted from a mosque in Cambridge for his tirade against an Imam for bringing up MLK (a Christian) as a civil rights hero. I guess our federal law enforcement officials have their hands full making sure bloodthirsty, diaper-bomb toting terrorist children get put on no-fly lists and just don’t have resources to keep the occasional tab on a suspected radical.  A former FBI counterterrorism official recently stated,

“Countries will submit names to us and will say, you know, this guy's a bad guy, a terrorist, or a drug trafficker, or whatever. And what you have to be careful about is, you may be being used as a proxy by a foreign government or a foreign intelligence agency to keep track of or to report back on their expatriate community in the United States .…"

Really? Has this happened before? Hmmm …. Oh yeah! Remember all the times that foreign intelligence officials warned the U.S. that Osama Bin Laden was a problem, that Al-Qaeda was growing in strength, and that they were actively seeking out Western targets?

2. With homemade bombs that kids can make, you can terrorize an entire city

I applaud the Boston Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, and other RELEVANT local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for their efforts during the week of madness. However, when the DEA and U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service — the guys who protect important diplomats — show up to such an event, I have to wonder if we might, just might have overreacted.

And what better way to prove overreaction that to shut down an entire U.S. city? Not only did they shut down Watertown, a tiny suburb outside of Boston, but also the entire city of Boston itself and other surrounding areas, at a cost of about $300 million. Safety is paramount, but given the time our law enforcement agencies have had to learn from their own mistakes, not to mention the limitless amount of data, best practice cases, and training opportunities abroad — Israel, hello? — you’d think we would have been a bit more measured in our response.

3. Introduce a little fear, and you become the puppet master

Let’s be reasonable: When you live in Boston, and there is one injured 19-year old on the loose seven miles from where you live, it’s probably OK to go outside. Maybe it was the despicable media with their deplorable news coverage that kept people’s arms stapled to their couches, maybe it’s the nonstop fear mongering that came along with the game show-like National Terrorism Advisory System that we got in response to 9/11, or maybe it’s leftover fear of 9/11 in general, but the fact of the matter is that terrorist attacks are one of the most unlikely events you can imagine. Don’t believe me? Just look at this list of things that you should worry about before you even consider being the victim of terrorism.

I know what you’re thinking: “Tell that to the people who were injured and killed that day.” And yes, you’re right, but that doesn’t change the fact that those poor people were victims of chances that are so remote that nobody else — if they’re playing the odds — should worry about it happening to them in 100 life times.

4. Just one, cheap attack can inspire others 

The media frenzy over the Boston Marathon bombing proved to be a terrorist’s dream come true: Non-stop coverage of the attack in a place that was easily accessible to the media to ensure wanton public fear. The Tsarnaev brothers, just like Osama Bin Laden, took advantage of the fact that the media will suck every last drop of viewership they can from a population that is understandably fearful of things they don’t fully understand. The U.S. media proved this tactic effective last week, and anyone wishing to do harm, whether they are a radical jihadist, would-be school shooter, or anyone else thirsty for attention can use it to their advantage. 

5. America’s freedom is its greatest weakness

Americans enjoy constitutional rights that are by and large more numerous than many developing and even developed nations. However, they are also incredibly fickle with these rights. Introduce fear, and they’ll give them up for a while; restore order, and they’ll endlessly bitch that, “big brother is everywhere, man!!”

It is this very weakness that keeps the United States in constant flux of security vs. liberty, and in a healthy democracy, this is what should happen; there should always be a debate about civil liberties, and when this debate and others about what’s best for the country end, democracy goes into cardiac arrest.

What happened to Boston last week — the unprecedented perfect storm of an overly tenacious police response, frothing media, and paralysis of ordinary citizens — turned Boston into a microcosm of that debate coming to an end.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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