Attacks Like the Boston Bombing Are Nearly Unpreventable

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Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

The Boston Fire Department hazardous-materials team clean the blast site near the Boston Marathon finish line one week after the FBI handed over Boylston Street back to the city in Boston, on April 22, 2013.

When Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev decided to build the bombs that ultimately killed three and injured hundreds at the Boston Marathon, they had to do little more than a quick Google search and a shopping run, highlighting the near impossibility of preventing improvised explosive devices from being used in the U.S.

The brothers used a step-by-step guide printed in Inspire, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s magazine targeted at English-language speakers, according to law-enforcement officials. Issue 1, with the ominously titled section “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom,” is widely available on the Internet, hosted on dozens of servers in the U.S. and abroad — including the sites Cryptome.org and PublicIntelligence.net, the popular document-sharing service Scribd and the encyclopedic Archive.org.

The design itself is nothing new, published in the 1971 book The Anarchist Cookbook and the Army’s Improvised Munitions Handbook — the former has been available in most libraries for decades and the latter is freely available online. And the materials used — a pressure cooker, nails available in any hardware store, black powder from fireworks — are so ubiquitous that law enforcement can’t track them.

“You can buy pipes or pressure cookers anywhere,” said one federal law-enforcement official. “If you buy less than 50 lb. of black powder or fireworks, you don’t have to fill out paperwork. There are a lot of legitimate uses for these items and it’s impossible to monitor all of them.”

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people that are going to check that out or buy it are going to do it just because they are curious,” said Martin Reardon, vice president of the Soufan Group and a former chief of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Operations Center. “They would never even consider making a weapon.”

(PHOTOS: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest)

The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies maintain a system of “trip wires” with businesses around the country designed to identify would-be bombers as they gather materials. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, they identified fertilizer and diesel fuel for monitoring, adding chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, model-rocket engines and remote-controlled vehicles to the voluntary program. The effort is seen both as an enforcement tool and as a deterrent. Attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who received more-formal bombmaking training in Pakistan, built a larger and more complex explosive around a pressure-cooker bomb. But Shahzad told investigators after he was arrested that he used less powerful ingredients to avoid attracting law-enforcement attention. Tamerlan’s purchase of two “mortar” fireworks packages — which contain a relatively modest July 4 display of 48 shells — didn’t arouse suspicion. Law-enforcement officials found disassembled fireworks in a backpack allegedly belonging to Dzhokhar that was disposed of by his college friends.

Indeed as lawmakers in Washington have called for accountability after the Tsarnaevs slipped through the cracks, law enforcement and counterterrorism experts caution that IEDs of such simplicity may now be a fact of life in the U.S.

“You can’t shutdown the Internet, [and] no one wants to ban fireworks,” Reardon said. “It’s out there. The cat is out of the bag, and you can’t put it back in.”

Last week President Barack Obama issued a strong statement of support for the intelligence community, despite it having Tamerlan on their radar years before the attack.

“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing,” he said. Left unsaid was the growing belief that small-scale acts of terrorism are impossible to completely eliminate. “This is hard stuff,” Obama said. “One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States — in some cases, may not be part of any kind of network … And those are in some ways more difficult to prevent.”

The American people appear to be internalizing that threat according to a TIME/CNN/ORC poll released last week. More than 60% of Americans believe terrorists will always find a way to carry out attacks, while just 32% — down from 40% two years ago — believe government can provide absolute security.

FBI officials wouldn’t comment on whether trip wires were in place at fireworks retailers in New Hampshire where Tamerlan purchased the fireworks because of the sensitivity of the matter.

(PHOTOS: Marathon Carnage: Explosions in Boston)

“With the advent of the Internet — and with all these materials being legal to purchase — someone who wants to do harm can buy one thing at one store, another ingredient at another, and there’d be no way of knowing what happened until after the attack unless someone raised concerns to law enforcement or there being some other intelligence,” the law-enforcement official said.

“They’re crude, they’re simple, and they’re effective,” Reardon said. “You can’t stop them all the time — the question is how you respond to the threat. Do you crack down like Big Brother, or do you try to allow people to live their lives as normally as possible?”

46 comments
ThomasMartinko
ThomasMartinko

FBI/CIA are to blame. They either ignored or missed obvious information and indicators of terrorist activity in this case. These guys were well known by the Russians and us yet we let them live off of our system, educate them and then let them kill us.

Isioma
Isioma

What is self-radicalization? Sitting at home, having no influence from others? Having no radical parents or aquaintences, no imams, no religion? Having no background, no history, no experiences? Self-radicalization is an oxymoron.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

Sorry, but FBI had warnings galore in Boston Bombing case...therefore had they actually done something it could have been prevented.  May not always get that many red flags but hopefully FBI has stopped sleep-walking.  Notice all the hangers-on and slackers they are arresting right and left lately...the FBI can really work a case and develop information and make arrests or they can check some boxes and go home for the weekend like 911 and Boston Bombing.

smjhunt
smjhunt

I don't profess to know the efforts needed to uncover people like this in advance but it is worth noting that in Tsarnaev you have someone who the FBI was aware had spent time in areas known for islamic jihad activity and had in fact been alerted that he might be involved as well by the Russians and finally posted jihad videos on YouTube and purchased large pyrotechnics.  Seems in hindsight some computer could have recognized this pattern (assuming the fireworks company had to report purchases) .

Robinson.W.Marte.R
Robinson.W.Marte.R

Es que es equivocado completamente pretender atacar los actos terroristas mediante el control de los objetos que pueden hacer daño, daño masivo, eso es un total disparate: ¿acaso en las tiendas no venden botes de pintura así como gas butano en envases que caben en una mochila?, ¡y millones de artículos más que podrían ser en extremo perjudiciales si se les dejan en un baño público de algún restaurant por ejemplo! Ya lo escribí en mi Facebook y en Google+, que los EUA no iban a poder hacer nada con la información suministrada por los rusos sobre los Tsarnaev. ¿qué van a hacer: ponerles un Comité de Vigilancia Antiterrorista a cada emigrante que llegó del Cáucaso o de los países árabes al territorio norteamericano?, ¿estar acompañando a cada uno que va a su iglesia o al cine, o a cualquier lugar público? ¿Qué iba ha hacer en FBI con saber que Tamerlán fue a Chechenia y allí visitó su iglesia, o a personas supuestamente terroristas? ¿Acaso Rusia no tiene un gravísimo problema con esa república separatista? ¿Les van a violar los derechos humanos a un checheno que enarbola la independencia de su nación solo porque los rusos lo tienen en la lista de terroristas?, ¿qué van a hacer?, ¿enviarlo a Guantánamo a que lo torturen los marines y les saquen las confesiones con "El Submarino", como hacía la Santa Inquisición en su "esplendorosa" época?, ¡los judíos torturados por la Iglesia Católica a través de su Santa Inquisición para robarles sus riquezas y propiedades terminaban aceptando las acusaciones de sus verdugos torturadores diciendo a viva voz: "sí, amo a Satán, adoro a Satán, viva Satán"!, para que los torturadores ya por fin los quemaran vivos en la hoguera y terminar así sus sufrimientos: ¿esto es lo que se quiere hacer con cada acusado de terrorismo por algún líder de clan de Afganistán o acusado por Rusia en su interna guerra separatista?  

No, este enfoque de esta idea que divulga este artículo está completamente equivocado. No se trata de que para comprar una olla de presión haya que llenar cuarenta y ocho formularios y obtener un certificado de no-terrorismo más otro de "adecuado balance psicológico que lo determina no peligroso socialmente", porque objetos que sirvan para matar masivamente se compran por millones en cualquier lugar; de lo que se trata es:
¡PORQUÉ LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS DE NORTEAMÉRICA SE HAN GANADO TANTO Y TANTO ODIO EN EL MUNDO! ¡ESA ES LA CLAVE!

¡Y HABLÉ DE GUANTÁNAMO!
¡LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS DE NORTEAMÉRICA QUIEREN GANARSE EL APRECIO DE TODOS LOS PUEBLOS DEL MUNDO! 
¡COMIENCEN POR GUANTÁNAMO! ¡COMIENCEN POR CERRAR EL CAMPO DE CONCENTRACIÓN NAZI NORTEAMERICANO DE GUANTÁNAMO, EN CUBA! ¡NO SIRVIÓ PARA NADA TODO EL ESFUERZO BÉLICO NORTEAMERICANO EN LA SEGUNDA GUERRA MUNDIAL, LAS DECENAS DE MILLONES DE SUS JÓVENES SOLDADOS MUERTOS EN EUROPA: EL PENTÁGONO Y EL DEPARTAMENTO DE ESTADO TIENEN ENARBOLADA LA BANDERA NAZI Y HAN HECHO QUE ELLOS HAYAN REALMENTE GANADO LA GUERRA: GUANTÁNAMO TIRÓ AL ZAFACÓN DE LA HISTORIA EL HEROICO ESFUERZO NORTEAMERICANO POR DERROTAR LA NAZISMO!
  

¿PORQUÉ TAMERLÁN SE CONVIRTIÓ EN ENEMIGO MORTÍFERO DEL PUEBLO NORTEAMERICANO? ¡ESE ES EL MOTIVO QUE ESE MISMO PUEBLO HOY DEBE DE ESTAR EN LA CALLE RECLAMANDO QUE SE ACLARE!

¿Dónde están las armas de destrucción masiva que tenía Saddam Hussein? ¿Porqué hoy la justicia norteamericana no está procesando a los genocidas que han creado el horrendo río de sangre que hoy fluye en Irak? ¿Es que el Pueblo Norteamericano no se da cuentas del horror tan siniestro y espeluznante que su gopbierno a hacreado en Irak y Afganistán? ¿Por qué no se cumple con la Resolución de la ONU que crea el Estado Palestino? 
¡El problema no está en prohibir a las ollas de presión! ¡El problema está en resolver porqué Tamerlán se convirtió en enemigo mortífero del Pueblo Norteamericano!
¡Quieren soluciones, comiencen por procesar, por Actividades Nazis, a quienes abrieron, ssotienen y mantienen el Campo de Concentración Nazi Norteamericano de Guantánamo!
Por ejemplo: ¿porqué la Embajada Norteamericana aquí en mi país República Dominicana parece un búnker, o como si se tratara de la base operativa de una presencia extraterrestre?, ¡y ninguna otra embajada de ningún otro país del mundo nos desprecia tanto y tanto!

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

Then why are billions of dollars spent on security and trying to prevent these attacks. What is the NSA doing in all of this? And how many people are employed by the NSA and how many billions - trillions dollars are being spent for nothing!

traderjim7
traderjim7

The politically correct author of this article lumps all bombings together, mixing the muslim terrorists with a few Americans who are disillusioned with our government.  The great majority of these terrorist acts are comitted by muslims, who have a hatred of this country and want to destroy it.  The solution is to keep the muslims out of our country, and send the muslims that are here to a muslim country.  Doing that would provide us with the same level of safety we had back in the 1950's.  Religious intolerance?  Islam is not a religion and never has been.

Hawkeye249
Hawkeye249

"Nearly Unpreventable" should read Nearly Unpreventable by law enforcement.

Ultimately, personal protection is best effected when we look out for ourselves!

When people (and there had to be some) noticed individuals "forgetting" their backpacks, the first thing that should have been done was to say "Sir, you are forgetting your backpack."

Depending on the reaction, it is either a simple mistake, OR IT *IS* A RED FLAG.

WE have to Stop not getting involved - because that CAN kill us.



PANATAG
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SIR UEGENE LOPEZ

SIR BERNABE

LAURA CHURCH 

BALAGTAS BULACAN


RESULTS

*MATATAG

*PANATAG

*EC TAG

*INGAT PO

*PLASTIC & STYROFOR

PANATAG
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UNDERGROUND RIVER

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KahnKeller
KahnKeller

sigh... the ugly truth is... that most crimes can not be prevented....what may prevent them is the knowledge they are going to be caught  and receive certain punishment... for that we need cities equipped with video cameras so that any location has multiple views of it... and when these criminals are caught....fast trials and certain sentences and harsh punishment... creative punishment... when you have a religious nut job extremist...he expects to be  martyred ... dead or alive  ....ridicule and humor are something they can not handle.... the thing they fear most... for a muslim....it might involve pork or lack of clothing or male rapist... for christian nut jobs...much the same... but I can not think of a food that is abhorrent to Christians...etc... if we focus on punishment and not redemption.... getting caught  will have more power to prevent terrorist behavior...

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

One further thought - it's likely a good thing that tragedies like this cause angst here. Even though we have a long history of bombings, from Andrew Keohe's 1927 Bath, MI. school bombing through the Weather Underground to Timothy McVeigh, we just don't have an ingrained culture of terrorist bombings (and I hope we don't develop one for mass shootings) like certain other countries and regions do.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Yes, obviously unless we live in a Soviet or North Korea police state, stuff like this is unavoidable. (And no, Tea Party gun-toting crazies, we don't live in such a state, so get lost already.) And as any long-lived fan of MacGyver knows, you can make weapons out of anything if you're creative enough. Thus, I'd place this post in the "Breaking News: The Sun Has Just Risen In The East" category. Let's move on to meatier topics like focusing back on West, TX. plant blast issues of zoning, lack of regulation, and just how the hell many more plants like that are there in Texas? Or look at current Israeli attacks in Syria. Or recent Chinese rat meat mislabeling. Or when Lindsay Lohan will finally wind up in prison and do "Lockup" episodes for MSNBC.

persuter1
persuter1

@kellyjo5150 By "warnings galore" do you mean one warning about a person who at the time wasn't doing anything wrong? If they haven't done anything, there's nothing you can do. What is FBI supposed to do, put a tail on the guy forever in the hopes that he buys fireworks and then a pressure cooker? Even if he does that, that's still not illegal. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@ShawnArscott 

No you dolt... They stop a great many plots as we have seen since 9/11 BUT (and heres the effing point) there is NO WAY POSSIBLE to stop all attacks. You are never going to have absolute security no matter what.

Small attacks like Boston are Inevitable but large plots have a much greater chance of being caught - the question is where to draw the line.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@PaulDirks Shortly, Joe Klein will tell us that Pete Hoekstra says that our 4th Amendment rights are safe.

persuter1
persuter1

@traderjim7 Yeah, that would have stopped those dastardly Muslims Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski, etc.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@traderjim7 Yes lets just force people out of country based on their religion. The founding fathers would have been proud of you. And while you are sounding the horn of ignorance and hate you may want to note that most attempts at domestic terrorism aren't caused by Muslims, but good old right wing zealots, guys who sound and think not too much different than you.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@traderjim7 Perhaps you would define just what qualifies a set of beliefs as a "religion," and what would eliminate it from that category.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@traderjim7

The great majority of these terrorist acts are comitted by muslims, who have a hatred of this country and want to destroy it.  The solution is to keep the muslims out of our country, and send the muslims that are here to a muslim country.

Yes, let's tear up that pesky Constitution and become a religious totalitarian state.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@Hawkeye249 

He also might have had a detonator on him and upon you "catching" him he fires the switch.


Now your observation cost you your legs.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Hawkeye249 Would there have been enough time to get the bomb squad there before either bomb exploded?  

Let's be realistic here.  Anyone who wants to harm others can leave a backpack, a bag, any type of container, leave it where they wish and then blow it up as soon as they are out of range.  You're counting on a timetable that would allow people to be able to spot the problem, report to the authorities, have the area evacuated and get the bomb squad in to take care of the package before it does explode.  Your logistics simply cannot work.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@KahnKeller You seem not to understand that "Person of Interest" is fiction.  

If the fear of punishment with regards to any crime were real, there would be little or no crime.  It doesn't matter the crime or the reasons behind it, because neither the death penalty nor the prospect of life in prison with no possibility of parole are not deterrents.

Getting caught is meaningless to anyone with a personal or religious agenda.  Getting caught is meaningless, period, but not because of the possible punishment.  It's meaningless because it's rarely considered before the crime takes place.

The ugly truth, the only ugly truth here, is that in your world, no one accounts for reality.

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@deconstructiva : "Yes, obviously unless we live in a Soviet or North Korea police state, stuff like this is unavoidable."

So little information leaks out of North Korea that we have no way of knowing, but despite the security apparatus of the Russian state, attacks of this sort certainly do happen there. No qualification is required, stuff like this is unavoidable — the best one can hope for is to minimize the consequences and follow up quickly. Horrific as the Boston Marathon bombings were, the death and property toll from the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion was far greater.


flameworker2
flameworker2

@ViableOp   You have to consider what motivated Washington to pass the Patriot Act in the first place. As the article suggests, most security experts will tell you that the truly motivated will find a way to inflict damage when they really want to and Washington knows this.  However, after 9/11, a terrified constituency demanded that politicians protect them. I find it sadly ironic that while so many flag wavers were cheering on our soldiers to "fight for our freedom", back home they were cowards, blithely throwing freedom away by ignoring what the Patriot Act meant. 

vgupta123
vgupta123

@Piacevole @traderjim7  Any set of beliefs that are firmly entrenched among a large group of people, and are beyond debate, discussion, or amendment, could be labeled a "religion." Moreover, inclusion of a concept of "God" in these beliefs is helpful in fending off challenges from "disbelievers."

vgupta123
vgupta123

@SirDonQuixotic @traderjim7Islam is a political doctrine masquerading as a religion. Suppose we relabel Islam using a more realistic, political sounding, name like "Marxism." Now read the original comment again:

"The great majority of these terrorist acts are committed by "Marxists" who have a hatred of this country and want to destroy it.  The solution is to keep the "Marxists" out of our country, and send the "Marxists" that are here to a Marxist country."  Political intolerance? Yes, even the pesky US Constitution has allowed the persecution of Communists in US for nearly two centuries.  Just look at our relations with Cuba even today. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@vgupta123 @Piacevole @traderjim7 

If we put religions into "species" I would say Islam is a very aggressive religion... it did after all expand across the old world via the bloody sword. Violent as Hell.

That being said during the middle ages Islam tended to be more tolerant than the Christian Kingdoms ... It seems religions go through waves of peace and violence and since the Salafist groups infected the middle east with their poison garbage the world has had to pay.

vgupta123
vgupta123

@Piacevole @vgupta123 @traderjim7Islam fits my definition of a religion, but it is much more than a religion. For example, a religion may be very tolerant of other religions, or it may be very intolerant. Also, Islam has political/social/economic dimensions that are much more powerful than is the case for other religions. For example, Islam does not allow charging of interest even though our modern economic system is highly dependent on the fine-tuning of interest rates. Now what does charging of interest have to do with a layman's concept of religion? Thus the word "religion," as understood by a layman, is a highly misleading (or oversimplifying) label for something that controls people's lives in so many dimensions. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@Piacevole

Islam has a deep infection within its faith. Between forcing their children to memorize the Koran in Indoctrination schools they also have the Salafist movement turning their religion ever more aggressive and radical....... A few decades ago the Salafists were being laughed at for refusing modern conveniences and such but are now running the show.

So these children are raised into zombies without any critical thinking skills and depending upon their family they get sucked into Salafist think which insists they dedicate their lives to the faith. (Often times in very violent or scary ways)

I do not think Islam can be trusted so long as the Salafist (or Wahhabis as some know them) are allowed to survive... Religion is always best practices with moderation and not this modern insanity.

AmFem101
AmFem101

And...I bet that 100% of these human terrorist acts are committed by MEN!!! Maybe we should banish all men! I'm sorry, it's hard to be serious when dealing with people like traderjim7. The rise in the number of militia groups in the U.S., assault rifles being purchased in record numbers, Congress not passing a simple background check law for gun purchasers. I'm more afraid of being accidentally gunned down by one of my gun touting neighbors than I am of any terrorist act. Over 300,000 people killed by guns during the past 10 years vs. 3,300 in terrorists acts. I'll keep the Muslims, thank you very much.

rpearlston
rpearlston

vgupta123

 "Christianity has matured and evolved today to the point that it can (by and large) tolerate and peacefully co-exist with other doctrines"

Really?  Please try to tell that to ANYONE who has had an encounter with an Evangelical who wants to convert you, no matter what.  
Christianity has matured?  HAH!!!!!

Piacevole
Piacevole

@vgupta123 @SirDonQuixotic @traderjim7 There are various restrictions on Americans going to Cuba (which I think ought to be lifted) but how are we "persecuting" Cuba?  

Since Marxism is apparently not a religion - just ask a Marxist - how can it be considered in parallel with Islam, and, by extension, how could we refuse Muslims to come to America (bearing in mind that we get a lot of oil from Islamic countries.)  Islam has its Prophet, its concept of God, its book and its practices, pretty much none of which I agree with.  But they have a right to it, and it's a religion so far as I can see.  If we're going to consider Hinduism a religion, why not Islam?

Piacevole
Piacevole

@vgupta123 @SirDonQuixotic @traderjim7 Islam is about 600 years younger thaqn Christianity.  About 600 years ago, Christianity had just come off the Crusades, and was embroiled (sometimes fairly literally) in the Inquisitions.

So, perhaps Islam needs some time to mature.


vgupta123
vgupta123

@SirDonQuixotic @vgupta123 @traderjim7 Yes. But in practical terms, Christianity has matured and evolved today to the point that it can (by and large) tolerate and peacefully co-exist with other doctrines. Islam still has a very long way to go. 

Just look at Saudi Arabia which is the home of Islam. Even today, if you kill a Muslim in SA in a car accident, you have to (legally) pay his family much more in compensation than if you kill a non-Muslim.