Analysis: Five dangerous myths about the Boston Marathon bombings
April 17, 2013 10 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The endless opinion pieces about the Boston bombings that have flooded the media-sphere since Monday have one thing in common: they are highly speculative and, for the most part, unreliable. At this early stage, nobody outside the security or intelligence establishments has any idea about the identity or motives behind the attacks —and if they say they do, they are lying. Even those on the inside routinely refer to the ongoing investigation as one of the most complex in the country’s post-9/11 history. As the probe continues, and the nation deals with the meaning of the Boston bombings, it is critical that some of the dangerously misinformed and premature notions about the attacks are dispelled.
To begin with, the Boston Marathon bombings were not necessarily terrorism. They were clearly calculated and indiscriminate, but in order for them to qualify as terrorism, their planners must have a broad political or ideological objective. Terrorism is a tactic used to further a political goal. There is a reason why we don’t refer to school shootings, such as the one that took place on December 14, 2013, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, as terrorism. They are calculated and extremely violent, but they do not contain a political motive. Before we can attach a terrorist label to the Boston bombings, we have to uncover the motive of the perpetrator(s). Barring that, the incident must be treated simply as a criminal act.
Second, the bombings do not necessarily suggest an intelligence failure. This is especially the case if the bombings were conducted by a single perpetrator. In order to fulfill their preventive counterterrorist role, intelligence agencies attempt to neutralize militant organizations by penetrating the connections —either physical or electronic— between their members. If the Boston bombings were acts of ‘lone-wolf’ terrorism, then it would have been virtually impossible for intelligence agencies to penetrate this operation in its planning stages. In that case, the burden of protecting civilian lives would fall on the shoulders of law enforcement, whose job was to protect the contestants and spectators at the Boston Marathon.
Third, the indiscriminate attack on civilians was an atrocious act of indescribable cowardliness. But it was relatively minor in both size and human/material damage, and this is how it should be treated. It pales into insignificance in comparison to almost daily suicide bombings that take place today in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and it certainly cannot be compared to 9/11 in any meaningful sense. This is particularly significant in light of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ that America is supposed to be involved in presently. If this is really a war, then it is at least embarrassing to witness the frantic response of the media and the political class to the Boston bombings. The British, who fought bravely in World War II, suffered a 9/11 every week for nearly three years, as a result of routine bombings of large British cities by the German Luftwaffe. They won the war by keeping calm and carrying on.
Fourth, if the Boston attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, then most American counterterrorism officials will probably view this as a good thing. If, after all its post-9/11 rhetoric about “destroying the infidels”, the best al-Qaeda can do now is detonate a couple of improvised explosive devices in downtown Boston, then this supposedly high-profile organization is almost certainly nearing its end. No sane person expects the United States security and intelligence community to shield this country from deranged fanatics 100 percent of the time. Still, despite the horror they caused, the attacks in Boston were both crude and rudimentary. As terrorist strikes go, they were certainly amateurish and will prove inconsequential to America’s military prowess or strategy. American intelligence agencies will be a lot more worried if the attacks turn out to be the work of domestic far-right groups, because they will confirm the alarming ongoing ascent of far-right extremism in the United States.
Finally, it must not be taken for granted that religiously inspired foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda are necessarily eager to strike America on its own soil. The events of 9/11 were carefully planned to further the wider strategic goal of luring American troops into Muslim lands. At this point in time, it is much easier for al-Qaeda to kill Westerners in Central Asia or Africa, than in America or Europe. We are even beginning to see American-born Islamists relocate to these regions in order to fight the jihad there. The cases of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley and the Somali youths of Minnesota, who left America to fight for al-Shabaab in Somalia, are just two in a growing list of such examples.
The very extent of the investigation into the Boston bombings ensures that we will have much more information about the missing pieces of this puzzle before too long. But until that time comes, pundits of all political persuasions should display both restraint and decorum in opining about these attacks and their meaning.