Boston Tragedy – is this a pinprick?

Unfortunately, terror has struck the U.S. again and again it hits the Boston area – remember, two of the flights on 9/11 departed from the Boston/Logan Airport.

This was not an aviation attack this time, but it serves as notice that the threats have not gone away and they can strike anywhere, anytime, anyplace. We need to always be vigilant and watchful, but not paranoid.

It is too early to say what this is – international or domestic terrorism? Lone wolf with a right or left wing extremist agenda? Nut job? There are signs though that are already starting to come out. Apparently the devices were relatively low-tech, meaning that plastic explosives may not have been involved. This may indicate a domestic threat or lone wolf, but again, we don’t know enough yet to say whether this was a home grown Jihadi or an extremist from either the left or the right. I suspect that the FBI will have their “man” soon though, considering that the devices that did not detonate will provide valuable forensic intelligence for  our law enforcement personnel.

What’s the buzz on this one? Well, again, we don’t know enough so let me share with you what’s been on the minds of the counterterrorism community.

  • Home grown Jihadi – these are individuals who are U.S. citizens, live in the U.S. but may have trained at an overseas location, that have been inspired by something on the Internet to commit terrorism or crimes against the U.S.
  • Sovereign Citizen – according to author Jonathan R. White in his book Terrorism and Homeland Security, there is a resurgence of this movement of people who believe they are not subject to the laws of the U.S., its taxes or its regulations (White 309)
  • Right-Wing Extremism – with the election and re-election of President Obama, there has been a huge growth in the number of right-wing extremists groups in the U.S. The gun legislation debates have continued to fuel this movement more recently
  • Single Issue Criminal Extremist – I’m using White’s definition here again (White 325), everything from animal and environmental rights activists to anti-abortion violence, such as the case of Eric Rudolph, the Olympic city bomber in Atlanta (White 329)

Why have I not included international terrorism here? I don’t have enough information yet, so I cannot make a solid determination, but typically an international terrorist act would include more sophisticated tactics and explosives. Terrorists will sell their lives for their cause, but they don’t want to sell them cheaply and this type of attack, with a blessedly low casualty count (any life lost is a tragedy however) would likely unnecessarily expose more members of the group. Its high risk with low reward.

What may also be a consideration is that al Qaeda did call for a “death by a 1,000 pinpricks” strategy a few years ago in its publication, Inspire. The strategy calls for a series of low level attacks (imagine 1,000 bee stings), like the Yemen air cargo plot, that acts like a cancer on the American public – it slowly erodes our confidence in our government to protect us, while causing us to spend billions trying to protect ourselves. Its an unsustainable model and eventually, the bad guys win.

Victims of the Boston Marathon attack, our prayers and thoughts are with you.

White, Jonathan Randall. Terrorism and Homeland Security. Australia: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

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