I’ve heard that you should give bad news first so here it comes. The Boston Marathon attack is not the last attack. Here’s even worse news, there are only so many security procedures that we can do to prevent the next attack.
Was the Boston bombing a success? Certainly. Some common outcomes in terrorism include:
– Cause fear
– Cause the citizens to lose faith in their government’s ability to protect them
– Damage the economy
– Get media attention and inspire more to the cause
Were these outcomes achieved? Sure thing. It shut down the city of Boston for a day, including the airport at times, and yesterday CNN released a poll saying that 40% of those surveyed believe they or someone they know will be a victim of terrorism.
The media covered the event from start to finish and continue to do so, and the May 3rd cover of USAToday called into question whether sports stadium security can protect us from the next attack. Private security and an inability to be on Israel’s wartime footing are blamed – more government regulations was presented as the solution (we’ll save this topic for later). Finally, in subsequent events in the past few weeks, our government and event organizers have continued to spend money on additional security.
Reference the above list and we’ve checked every box – I’d say mission accomplished.
By the way, did you notice that one of the outcomes not listed was “not get caught.” That’s because most terrorists don’t care about getting caught after the attack – but it is their #1 fear before the attack.
It’s natural, when there is tragedy, for us to look for the cause and someone to blame. It’s part of our survival instinct. We figure that if we can identify the cause and who was at fault then we can prevent further harm from coming to us – back when we were still chasing Wildebeests across the Serengeti with a club, identifying threats and their indicators were often the difference between coming home with dinner and being dinner.
Key ingredients of a successful terrorist attack are:
– Keep it simple, stupid – as the complexity increases so does the chances that something will screw up
– Keep the number of people involved to a minimum – the more people you involve, the greater the chances someone is going to say something
– Keep the planning cycle short – the longer you take to plan, the more likely the good guys will get wind of it
– Select a soft target – although DHS has issued repeated warnings about sports and entertainment venues being potential targets, it’s hard to take it seriously until it happens. Why is that? Well, cry wolf enough times and see what happens – unfortunately in this case, the wolf is real.
– Blend in with your environment – don’t attract attention to yourself
There has been much talk over the past decade about the connection between terrorism and the world of drug trafficking. Mostly this talk relates to financing, but reflecting on my time as an intelligence analyst and former Coast Guard Officer, I’ve noticed that both terrorists and drug traffickers operate in much the same manner. Review the elements above of a successful terrorist attack and you have the ingredients of a successful drug shipment.
Okay, so what’s the good news?
First, one of the most insightful things I heard from one of the talking heads on TV after the attack, is that there aren’t really “cells,” out there. There are groups. Groups of people upset over one thing or another and at some point, a few of the members finally decide to take action instead of just
talking about it.
The good news is that there are plenty of people in these groups who are happy to just gripe without actually seeing people get killed and may likely blow the whistle on the bad actors. For the really serious groups, law enforcement may have already infiltrated, or they begin to communicate using a means and a method that can be tracked, or confidential informants are on the inside.
“But how did these guys slip through, Jeff?”
Well, it’s not a perfect net. Even a few fish slip out of the best netting and from time to time, the bad guys are going to score. But that’s not a reason to join the 40-percenters who are afraid they will be hurt by terrorism.
I recall one time I was giving a TV interview and while waiting for my turn to speak, the reporter was interviewing a personal trainer who had driven from Ohio to Colorado because she is so afraid an airplane she may fly on will be hijacked. I should also mention, this was about six years after 9/11.
Recalling how many times my I would ride with me parents on the Ohio Turnpike on various vacations, I wondered how she would have felt knowing that her chances of getting killed in a car accident are far greater than being killed in a plane crash, much less being on one that’s hijacked.
We can’t go through our lives fearing everything, especially things that are far beyond our control. I know we think that behind the wheel of a car we have more control over our lives, but the statistics blow this theory out of the water. Tell me, what’s the difference in dying in a terrorist attack at 35, versus dying of a heart attack at 35 because you’ve been shoving crap into your body your entire life? But, since we know what happens when you try to regulate the size of someones Slurrpie cup, we’ll let that sleeping dog lay.
I recently was engaged in a heated debate with a former LAPD officer but one thing he said made a lot of sense – to paraphrase, he said that he’d rather see a family of four live happily and carefree, completely enjoying their lives for 35 years, then have them all get killed suddenly in a shooting or tragedy of some sort, than see that same family live in fear, always stressed out and wondering when tragedy will strike and after a pathetic and unfulfilled life, die a ripe old age.
We don’t have to go through life with our heads in the sand, but let’s not lose to the bad guys by forfeit either.