February 27, 2020

Complacency the ally of terrorism

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Complacency the ally of terrorism

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – FBI agents were at Logan Airport in Boston this week reminding people who had traveled to the city for the Marathon, and were now returning home, to empty their cell phones and video cameras of any pictures, and turn them over to the FBI. The message from the agents: What happened at the finish line of the storied Marathon is everybody’s problem, and now it is everybody’s duty to step up and do their part to help find out who was responsible.

A terrorist’s ally is complacency, and in the dozen years since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, we’ve let down our guard. The Boston Marathon, the oldest U.S. race of its kind, commenced without incident 118 times until this year. The security around the race must be examined for us to understand why it ended in such tragedy. Our main defense as a people is our collective alertness, summed up in the phrase that is posted in many public places: “If you see something, say something.”

We are veterans of 9/11, having lived through that horrific event and the nervous aftermath when people feared more attacks would follow just as surely as night follows day. There were more police on the streets, more bomb-sniffing dogs, and more inconvenience because of beefed-up security that as time went on, we grumbled and it was gradually eased.

For example, much of the focus in Boston has been on the black nylon backpack or duffel bag that the bomber used to transport the IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) to the scene of the race.  These weren’t detected as unusual because backpacks are such a common feature of any race. It’s how runners store their change of clothes and their car keys, or hotel keys, or whatever bare essentials they bring.

After what happened in Boston, backpacks won’t be seen at road races for a good long while, maybe never. In Washington, D.C., where July 4th attracts tens of thousands of people to the Mall, if you arrive with a backpack, someone working security will be there to search it.  For people who remember life before 9/11, before long security lines at airports and metal detectors in virtually every public building, these are major inconveniences. For those who grew up in the shadow of 9/11, this is their new normal.

We don’t know yet who the perpetrator was in Boston, but we do know that several major attacks have been averted in recent years. The underwear bomber who tried to blow up a jet airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day comes to mind along with the Times Square bomber who packed a car full of explosives and was deterred by an alert street vendor. Presumably more of these kinds of threats were stopped before they could reach their destination.

One reason Baghdad, for example, is so much more violent than anything we experience in the U.S. is a population that is at odds with each other, where someone with grievances, jihadist or otherwise, can find ready allies.  When someone in America boards a Metro car, or a subway, they can be confident that 99.9 percent of their fellow riders are solid citizens who will come to their aid if necessary, and if they see something suspicious will report it.

“Someone knows who did this,” the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office said as he appealed to the public for their help. “The person who did this is someone’s friend, neighbor, coworker or relative. We are asking anyone who may have heard someone speak about the marathon, or the date of April 15, in any way that indicated that he or she may have targeted this event to call us.”

Even as we determine what went wrong in Boston, we should commend our police and all our law enforcement personnel for the vigilance they have exhibited, and the threats they have deterred. The Boston bombing was the first major use of IEDs on the home front since 9/11, and we should acknowledge that other societies, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, live with these kinds of explosions on a daily basis. Collectively, we can ensure that it does not become routine here.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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