There is almost no chance that the Boston Marathon next month will be the target of terrorist attacks again. Still, Boston officials are adding more surveillance cameras, telling spectators not to bring backpacks and planning to deploy 3,500 police officers — twice as many as last year.
Law enforcement is overdoing the security restrictions only because they can no longer trust U.S. intelligence capabilities.
The bombing at the finish line during last year’s marathon was both tragic and shocking. The Tsarnaev brothers used pressure cookers in backpacks to kill three people and injure 264, some severely.
The likelihood of a terrorist attack on April 21 is extremely low because terrorists do not usually strike in the same manner or location. They use the element of surprise.
What Boston is doing now is often referred to as “planning for the last attack.” We did this after Sept. 11, 2001, as well.
The number of police on the streets last year would not have made a difference. The failure was in intelligence, and only better collection, analysis and dissemination can decrease the odds of another terrorist attack.
National security agencies ignored the warning signs that the Tsarnaev brothers were broadcasting. These signs included the notification by Russian intelligence agencies that one of the brothers had visited Chechnya, which is a hotbed of terrorist training camps; jihadist websites they were visiting to spew jihadist rhetoric; and their credit card purchases of bomb-making materials.
Even worse, federal agencies responsible for preventing terror attacks didn’t share any of this information with local police because they apparently didn’t believe it rose to the level of suspicion.
That was a fatal error. It should have been shared and then left for the Boston Police Department to determine credibility and likelihood.
These same types of intelligence failures contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks, and the reaction was the same. Instead of focusing on stopping the next jihadist before he hits, officials react to prevent what already happened. Millions of Americans are now inconvenienced at airports.
Constitutional freedoms and personal privacy has been trampled on by the federal government as it suspects every citizen of being involved in a terrorist plot.
In addition, Congress increased intelligence spending and created the Department of Homeland Security, one of the largest federal agencies, with a growing budget that has reached more than $60 billion per year.
Even after this overreaction, two known terrorism suspects were able to board separate commercial airliners — one with a bomb in his underwear, and the other with a bomb in his shoe.
Nidal Malik Hasan was able to exchange emails with known terrorist and bomb maker Anwar al-Awlaki before he massacred 13 U.S. soldiers and wounded 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas. U.S. intelligence agencies had all this information long before these attacks and did little with it.
Meanwhile, the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI have no problem collecting and indefinitely storing the metadata of every law-abiding American’s cellphone calls, text messages, emails, credit card purchases and Web searches — all in the name of supposedly preventing terrorist attacks.
These agencies were spying on Americans when the Tsarnaev brothers were openly planning and executing their terrorist attack, but their actions didn’t draw the attention of the FBI or NSA. The warning light was blinking red, but the watchmen were asleep at the switch.
The Boston police should insist that the FBI and NSA do a better job of data collection, analysis and information-sharing instead of putting more cops on the street and make honest citizens give up backpacks. And, yes, they should profile terrorism suspects instead of spying on or suspecting every American of terrorism involvement.
God forbid that a terrorism suspect straps explosives to his body and detonates them in a public space. The overreaction might be that the government makes every American citizen walk naked in public spaces to prevent the next attack.
Our only hope against terrorism is to stop punishing the American people after an attack, improve our national intelligence process and hold officials accountable when an obvious failure occurs. (Notice that no one was ever called on the carpet for the Sept. 11 attack.)
Quality warning intelligence is a better model to more successfully detect, deter, disrupt and mitigate terrorist attacks. It is a less costly approach, not just in budgetary terms, but in safeguarding constitutional freedoms as well. We deserve both privacy and security.
David A. Clarke Jr. is the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis. He has a masters in Security Studies from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
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