Friday, April 19, 2013

Eyes Wide Shut

--Terror in DNA, Pavel Constantin (Romania)
RAW thinks this may the most accurate rendering
of terror by a political cartoonist 

The world has moved on 
--The Dark Tower, Stephen King 

How comforting to know we're
the "right sort of people" 
--The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Nothing's wrong as far as I can see
We make it harder than it has to be
and I can't tell you why
no, baby, I can't tell you why 
--I Can't Tell You Why, The Eagles

Some are hung up on the correct nomenclature to describe the recent bombing in Boston, as if not calling it "terrorism" makes it something it is not, which is a crime, and a crime of indiscriminate violence. It is something the world and the United States has seen before, yet the response is more shock, albeit a bit benumbed (save for those directly affected.)  Why should this be?

The main question to arise from the event is, "Why did it occur at all?" The biggest failure was that the Boston Marathon was not identified as a threat environment, and as a result security was deficient. What are the people in the Department of Homeland Security doing if not identifying and training relevant personnel for JUST SUCH AN EVENT? They are not organizing ice cream socials, after all.

Ranger had just written "Commando Cop" the day before the event, questioning the combat posture of regular law enforcement to effectively confront stateside terrorism. The bombing in Boston proves that all the neato paramilitary gear and vehicles in the country will not do what simple vigilance can accomplish: Identify two unattended black backpacks in clear sight, soon to maim and kill.

Such potential threats would not sit long on a parade route in Londonderry, or on a Japanese or Madrid train or an Israeli bus. Those cultures have accepted that acts of terror can occur in any public space, and their police and citizens carry on with due diligence. This loss of naivete is not exactly paranoia, but it is pragmatic.

They are not less free, and we are foolishly naive if we think we can roll back the clock by watching enough episodes of Mad Men; that is no longer our world.  We are also fools if we think the vaunted Seal Team Six will kill the bad guys in their jammies.

Nor will our guns protect us from such crimes. Terrorists do not get into counter productive gun fights; they do not fight fair.  It would be a doomed effort with no attendant benefit to their group (or their person.) All terrorist operations have the goal to increase their funding, to gain new members and to create spectacular terrorist events; this is their raison d'etre.

Even archetypal terrorist Osama bin Laden did not elect to utilize his weapons in such a scenario.  Terrorists engage only soft targets not in a defensive posture. If it is a lone terrorist, getting killed does not allow you the toothsome pleasure of reading about or seeing your maimed victims. Just ask the Unabomber or the BTK killer.

The bombings in Boston show that the U.S. has lost the counter-terrorism knowledge won after the era of 1970's and '80's Euroterrorism. Distracted by our high-tech tools and focusing on far threats, we fail to identify clear and present threat situations in CONUS.

When U.S. military installations were the targets of terror bombings there were standard operating procedure both on post and throughout most NATO nations. Israeli intelligence developed the concept that any unguarded package or case was a possible explosive device. Simple countermeasures like removing trash canisters from crowded areas were adopted. The Boston bombing could have been prevented had one person noted the unguarded backpacks hiding in plain sight.

This is not armchair quarterbacking -- this is a lament for the loss of institutional knowledge from the not-too distant past. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on counter-terrorism experts, firearms training, SWAT tactics and all the attendant tools, but the simple and obvious was overlooked.

The police failed in crowd control and security, and this is a slam on their training and not their individual capabilities. Photos showing the Boston police drawing their guns after the explosion were both instinctual and tragic, for a gun can't kill a bomb. They were bunched up -- bad if there were a secondary bombing -- when they should have been setting up a cordon and keeping the uninjured away while treating the wounded.

The one apparent success was the Boston trauma team which had been trained by Israeli trauma personnel.  Alasdair Conn, Chief of Emergency Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, credited that training with their success in treating the victim expeditiously.  This fact is not getting the press, but it should, as the Israeli's have gained a hard-won effective protocol against terror attacks. Our police need the commensurate training that those medical personnel received.

To properly counter a terror threat, the government must utilize layers of security and concentric circles around any potential target.  Though anything can be a target, this does not mean counter-terrorism measures are doomed to failure. Effective response requires real coordination between agencies that transcends 9-5 business hours with classified OPLANS hidden insecurity vaults, written by retired soldiers.  This is our world today, and it demands a real-world engagement of all relevant personnel.

Forget analyzing the chaff on the radar, which apparently was not detected in this case. A simple-minded homeless person could have broken up this attack by asking an officer, "What is this back pack doing here?"

In disasters, "It did not happen" beats, "We'll never forget" any day.

--Jim and Lisa

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Blogger FDChief said...

I dunno about this. It's entirely possible that these guys dumped their rucks, walked across the street and set them off. We don't know. To expect someone to react instantly to someone stashing a backpack behind a trash can is expecting too much; if we operated on that level of paranoia we would BE Israel and we've seen what's happened to that society...

I think that you kinda have to chalk this up to "sometimes these things are gonna happen..."

Friday, April 19, 2013 at 9:33:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

Let me amend my final statement;

"Sometimes these things are gonna happen if you don't want to live in a fortress society."

So you're right - this could have been prevented if the Boston security organizations had made the entire finish area a secure zone and inspected everyone's bags. Or had every person there been in the "this-could-be-a-bomb-target-at-any-time" mode and had immediately reacted to these guys dumping their rucks. Or had the security cams been monitored in real time and...

But my question would be - would you want to live in that society? I know I wouldn't. I may be a fool for that, but I'm willing to take the chance that some asshole will blow me up not to live in that level of "security".

This goes back to the whole "cost-benefit" analysis and personal assessment of cost versus gain. We're going to disagree on this; in fact, we already have.

We both agree that the right to private firearms is worth the inevitable cost in dead innocents.

I believe that we would be better served if the type and capacity of those firearms are more tightly controlled; you disagree. I think it's the same here; I don't think that this was a "failure of security" so much as a mindset that says "some lower level of security is worth the risk". I get by your post that you disagree, and we will have to see which one of us the nation, and the security agencies agree with.

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 10:39:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

ISTM only reasonable now, after two sporting events have been targeted, to have backpacks checked in at the beginning of a race in a locker-type check in. We manage to do hat-and-coat checks in restaurants, so why not this?

In addition, what should be so hard about having police and citizens note when bags are left unattended among the viewing routes? TSA already requires us to be on the lookout in airports for such things, so why there, and not in other high-risk environment?

Not noticing unattended bags is not a "lower level of security", but rather a no-baggage-security posture. That seems foolhardy.

Vigilance is not vigilance is half-hearted. If the occasional terror incident is the new normal (and it is), we are foolish to look the other way.

(Of course, this is not about gun control, and the issues cannot be conflated, but we already do have a set of security measures in place as far vetting owners; perhaps we could go even further, but that is another topic.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 12:51:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

The difference here, Lisa, is that these were public streets and they were still open to the public at the time the race was going on. You can see from the surveillance camera pictures that people were just passing through along the sidewalks.

And let's not forget; hundreds of other public events took place on Monday; sporting events, races, outdoor concerts. Many of them had this level or even less security. None of them were blown up.

No question; if we made everyone dump their baggage outside every event (or made everyone undergo an open-bag search) we could stop some of these.

And, again; to get everyone to immediately notice every item stashed behind a trash can would require ramping public paranoia up to Israeli levels. It would work, too. But at a price.

Like I said; you obviously disagree with me on taking the risks that we take with the lower level of security. And I'm not saying that I'm right and you're wrong; just that my personal feeling is that to get to where you suggest we go would require a very different public and personal attitude towards security than we have now and I don't think the "safety" would be worth the increase in the fortress mentality and resulting political effects.

But I see how you and many other people would disagree with me, and simply note that we will have to see which way our nation goes...

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 8:49:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post guys, 1 small criticism though, it breaks this long-term readers heart to see his beautiful city misnamed as Londonderry.
Will give you guys benefit of the doubt this time, cos I love your output but please be careful of your wording around this sensitive issue.


Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:08:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I agree it would require a ramping up of awareness; but if (as) the pace of bombings accelerates, people may become animated enough to monitor their surroundings more carefully. I do not believe blissful naivete is any longer a choice, sadly.


Thanks, but you see, me mum is of British extraction. That said, I would never be so gauche as to wear an orange sweatshirt into an Irish pub on St. Paddy's Day, as yer other faithful correspondent did (ahem):)

Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:25:00 PM GMT-5  

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