– Did Osama bin Laden sit up in his watery grave as the drama of the Boston bombing unfolded? Was that noise a rattling of bones or a self-congratulatory chuckle as he watched Americans proclaim their resilience – at the same time as one of the biggest cities in the country was ordered into an extraordinary lockdown?
And for all the efforts to have greater cooperation among US security agencies in the wake of the September 11 attacks, information emerging in the aftermath of the April 15th attack on the crowded finish line of the Boston Marathon reveals they still have difficulty connecting the dots.
Despite a Russian tip-off, first to the FBI and later to the CIA, the American agencies could not keep the ringleader Tamerlan Tsarnaev off the streets and away from explosives, much less on their collective radar.
Although the 26-year-old’s six-month stay in the restive Russian provinces of Dagestan and Chechnya last year appears central in his radicalisation, the agencies were aware only of his departure from the US – and not of his arrival back in the country. After he arrived back, he set about devising a plot which, by the time of his death in a police shootout and the arrest of his accomplice, younger brother Dzhokhar, had killed four people and injured more than 250.
The information-sharing breakdown was due, in part, to the misspelling of the older Tsarnaev’s name on an airline manifest. In all of this there is a sense that although the agencies could not see where to go, they sensed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a problem.
In response to the Russian tip-off, the FBI interviewed him and others in his family – but did not find any terrorist activity – domestic or foreign, the agency said in a statement. That OK by the FBI made Tsarnaev the fifth person since 9/11 to be part of a big terror plot after questioning by the FBI.
And although the CIA’s checks produced the same result as those by the FBI, the CIA did request that the National Counterterrorism Centre take the precaution of adding his name to its watch list.
The State Department and Homeland Security were notified – and Homeland Security were sufficiently alarmed that it baulked at authorising a citizenship application by the older brother.
Even though there was no Russian response to a specific request for more information, the FBI also acted to have Tsarnaev’s name added to another watch list – the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, which sends an electronic signal to customs officials when anyone whose names are on the list leave the country.
Despite the hugely greater success in dealing with terrorist cases in US criminal courts, President Barack Obama has had to stare down Republican calls to go the Guantanamo route, for the surviving younger brother to be declared an enemy combatant.
That push provoked contempt from Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz: “It shows a complete And total ignorance of the US constitution. This is an American citizen being charged with committing a crime on American soil against Americans.”
Government prosecutors have earned almost 500 terror-related convictions in US criminal courts since 9/11 – compared with just seven that have been achieved in the controversial and slow-moving military commissions at Guantanamo, where about 800 inmates have been processed.
Then came the knee-jerk calls for increased surveillance of Muslims and mosque communities and a tightening of immigration laws that likely would derail what, till the day of the Boston marathon, had been a package of reforms to address the legal status of millions of undocumented migrants – for which there had been broad bipartisan support.
When census data is factored into the debate, lashing out at immigrants and/or Muslims doesn’t make sense – more than 12% of US residents are foreign-born; and there are almost three million Muslims in the country.
As far as radio loud mouth Rush Limbaugh was concerned, Boston deserved what it got from the Tsarnaevs because, “It’s a hubbub of liberal elite intellectual thought, all the universities there.”
Using President Obama’s declaration that Americans refuse to be terrorised as his starting point, University of Michigan anthropologist Scott Atran wrote: “Never in history have so few, armed with so few means, caused so much fear in so many…the response [in Boston] is precisely the outsized reaction that sponsors of terrorism have always counted on in order to terrorise.
“What we already know about the April 15th bombing does not justify the disproportionate and overwrought response, including the global security alert US authorities issued through Interpol for 190 countries,” Atran said.
The liberal columnist Michael Tomasky argued that a common thread to the conservative reaction is a need to instil and maintain a level of fear. “They need to make gun owners fear…SWAT teams are going to come knocking on their doors…or that they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when the government declares a police state,” he wrote at the ‘Daily Beast’.
But if the authorities and the media were being judged to have gone overboard, polling indicated that while most Americans believed future attacks were quite likely, they did not feel threatened personally and they were inclined to be sceptical about curbing personal freedoms for the sake of security.
There is, after all, a practical element to what can be done. Phillip Mudd, a former FBI and CIA counter-terror analyst, cautioned that the consequence of a broad misunderstanding of what would be required for detailed action on all tip-offs to the authorities would require turning the US into a surveillance state.
Atran said overreaction to sporadic terrorist acts has turned the somewhat marginal phenomenon of terrorism into a primary preoccupation of the US government and American people.
“In this sense, Osama bin Laden has been victorious beyond his wildest dreams – not because of anything he had done, but because of how we have reacted to the episodic success he inspires.” -Paul McGeough


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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