In David Rubens twelfth exclusive article for Infologue.com, he discusses the security lessons that can be learnt from the Boston Bombing. David writes: “The events at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon have reminded us once again – if, indeed, we could have ever forgotten – that the next terrorist attack is only tomorrow’s headlines away. The fact that the perpetrators were identified, discovered and either killed or captured so quickly does not get away from the fact that from a national security perspective the greatest failure was not the failure to prevent them planting their bombs, but the failure to identify them much earlier in the attack planning cycle.”
“The fact that it was only a few days later that the existence of another plot was revealed, after two men were arrested and charged with planning to plant a bomb on the Toronto-New York train, was much more typical in that it was revealed that they had been under surveillance for over half a year.”
“The simple truth is that once an organised plot becomes more than a conversation in a pub or around a table, then the mere fact of communicating, planning, moving money around, buying supplies, doing the research, meeting with experienced practitioners (planners, bomb makers, financiers, etc), mean that it is almost impossible for this level of activity to take place without being picked up at an early stage by the relevant intelligence agencies. The great fear is no longer the centrally-directed mega-attack, which was the calling card of the initial wave of Al Qaeda operations – USS Cole, Beirut Marine barracks, 9/11 – or the well organised and highly managed attacks that were planned by subsidiary regional groups, such as the Bali bombings or the Madrid train bombings, but rather the ‘Lone Wolf’ attack or ‘clean skin’ attack of people who are either completely unknown to the intelligence agencies, or who are operating completely alone, and therefore cannot be picked up through identification of their interactions with other known terrorists.”
“There are a number of lessons that can be learned – or rather, re-learned – from this incident. The first is that it is never possible to have a completely effective security system. As the IRA put it so many years ago, ‘You have to be lucky every time – we only have to be lucky once’. The important thing is that if a low-level, under-the-radar attack such as this does succeed, it is seen for what it is – the act of as small self-radicalised team rather than an indication of a new wave of a ‘Global Terror threat’ that can been used to justify increasingly harsh and oppressive government counter-moves. Although the rhetoric of counter-terrorism has changed radically since the Global War on Terror days of Bush and Blair, there is always the temptation to allow such attacks to be used to justify disproportionate responses, which will only hasted the achievement of the terrorists’ objectives, which is to create a self-generating feed-back loop of government policies that lead to increased polarisation within the terrorists’ home community, leading to harsher policing, greater radicalisation, and then the development of a new generation of radicalised activists.”
“The second lesson is that the greatest defence against terrorist attack is the awareness of the people on the street, and their ability to spot the basic human behaviour that are connected to terrorist activity. It would only have taken someone to shout out ‘You have forgotten your bag’, and the attack would have either been thwarted or at least the damage and injuries may well have been minimised.”
“The attempts by David Copeland, the ‘London Nail Bomber’, to plant IED’s in a sports bag in Brixton Market in 1999 were twice thwarted by someone passing by simply telling him that he had forgotten his bag, forcing him to pick it up and move on.”
“And the third lesson, and one that in the long term may well be the most significant change in how we perceive terrorism, is how the pictures, tweets, youtube videos and 24 hour rolling news bulletins brought home once more just how much the world is interconnected, and how much the growth of social media has affected both the way that we perceive the world, and the ways in which information from across the globe is fed to us.”
“It is likely that when we think of the 9/11 disaster, which only happened less than twelve years ago, we have a shared global memory of the images of the burning first tower, the slow flight of the second plane, and then the slow-motion collapse of the towers in a seemingly unbelievable nightmare from which we would soon awake. It was, in a very really sense, a television production. The fact that our interaction with global events is now much more likely to be through self-posted media based on mobile phones and internet connections is something that both increases the impact of events that otherwise might be considered as something isolated and separate from ourselves, but also maximises the ability for information to be shared in a way that increase the resilience of the community and its ability to respond to and recover from disasters, whether they are terrorist attacks, natural disasters, technology breakdowns, or any of the other myriad ways in which our communities and society in general are challenged on a daily basis.”
“The Boston Marathon is unlikely to be the last such attack, but is once more a reminder that, as it always has been, the price of safety is constant vigilance, and that the responsibility in the modern world is that we all take responsibility for the vigilance and maintenance of safety within our own small circles.”
David Rubens has been involved in UK security consultancy for twenty years. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management (Leicester University), and is a Visiting Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor on their Security, Terrorism and Policing MSc programme. He was a Visiting Lecturer on the Strategic Leadership Programme at the Security and Resilience Department, Cranfield University, UK Defence Academy (2009-’10), focusing on terrorism & public policy and the management of large-scale, multi-agency operations. He has written specialist reports for government agencies in Japan, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, Liberia and the Caribbean, and is highly-regarded as a speaker on the international security circuit. He is currently on the Professional Doctorate programme at Portsmouth University Department of Criminology & Justice, where his research is concerned with the strategic management of security operations at the extremes of organisational complexity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org/www.davidrubens-associates.com.
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