BOSTON: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

In the past month much as transpired from the release of the FY 14 budget, to Secretary of Defense Hagel’s first policy speech (with no mention of ISR!), and a rhetorical but nuclear confrontation with North Korea,  all while destabilizing civil strife continues in Syria, Iran remains bent on having nuclear weapons, and terrorist bombings continues in Afghanistan and Iraq. Any one of these topics by themselves could easily take up the 1,000 words or so this forum affords me, but I am going to skip past them all to the events of the week of April 14th which saw the “pressure cooker” bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line, ricin-laced letters addressed to the President and Senator Wicker, a horrific fertilizer plant explosion near El Paso Texas, and a successful massive manhunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers guided by ISR.

Between April 15th and 19th we saw domestically what appears to be lone wolf terrorism aimed at an iconic event, a deranged person threatening national leadership, the killing effects of a disastrous industrial accident, the Intelligence Community’s (IC) ability to quickly provide actionable intelligence from a myriad of uncoordinated data streams, and the law enforcement lockdown of a metropolitan area to facilitate the capture of the “Marathon Bombers.”  As uplifting as the outcome in Boston was with the quick identification and death/capture of the Tsarnaev brothers, it does strike me as asymmetric that the ricin letters did not shut down the mail system or that the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion did not cause similar facilities to be closed or protected until the cause was known.  Presumably all could have been harbingers of greater danger if not actually connected, but fortunately they were not.

Reviewing the Boston Marathon Bombing my initial thoughts bin themselves into the good, the bad, and the ugly.


  • Law enforcement and Intelligence at the Federal, State and Local levels quickly meshed to produce and act on intelligence to end the threat.
  • Our adversaries around the global saw the powerful capabilities of America’s IC to both immediately decipher massive amounts of unconnected information into actionable intelligence and confidently attribute responsibility for actions taken against US security.
  • When threatened, the American people will bond together for their common good and will be relentless in tracking down those who would actively threaten our “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”


  • The reality that four people died and over 150 are seriously injured from an attack that is hard to prevent given soft nature of the target and the low profile of the brothers Tsarnaev.
  • The inevitability that other iconic events (Super Bowl, Academy Awards, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, etc.) will be targets for similar attacks.
  • The perpetrators were in essence “homegrown” and showed others from the politically motivated, to the criminally craven, to the mentally insecure how to achieve way more than “15 minutes of fame” for their cause and/or themselves.


  • The potential backlash from the American people to the massive amount of surveillance they now know they are subjected to without their knowledge or consent.
  • The likely expectation of the American people for government,  given the resources involved,  to be more effective in protecting them.
  •  That two people with relatively unsophisticated and inexpensive weapons can tie up an area the size of Boston for almost five days.

In a broader context while events were playing out in Boston between 15 and 19 April the Senate was defeating extended background checks for gun control and introducing a plan for immigration reform.  The Bothers Tsarnaev as immigrants with lots of weapons will undoubtedly effect the legislative vector of these Obama Administration Second Term signature issues in ways that are hard at least for me to predict.  Regarding the IC (specifically, FBI, DHS, and NGA), the almost near real-time identification and take down of the Brothers Tsarnaev should result increase awareness of and investment in Affects Based Intelligence (ABI), video analytics, link analysis skills and tools, all source analysis, and Law Enforcement Fusion Centers.

Finally, and I hope most significantly, the Boston Marathon bombing will cause the American people to realize that this type of kinetic threat is now constantly with us in our homeland at industrial plants, shopping centers, post offices, schools, rail stations, movie theaters, sports events, etc.  To deal with this “new normal” the American people and their representatives are going to need to have an open debate (delayed since 9/11) regarding  what the balance should be between the government protecting their civil liberties and protecting their security.  The mantra that we are Americans and can have both in equal measures is empty bumper sticker bravado to me meant to deflect tough policy choices.

That’s what I think; what do you think?