Is the US Government losing it again?

April 20th, 2013 at 08:51 UTC by Ross Anderson

Those of us who love America and have many friends there were delighted at President Obama’s initial reaction to the Boston bombings. He said if whoever attacked the city sought to intimidate victims or shake American values, “it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it.” It seemed that sanity had at last returned, after all the scaremongering of the “War on terror”, and the ghost of 9/11 was finally being laid to rest.

One day later, a million people were under virtual house arrest; the 19-year-old fugitive from justice happened to be a Muslim. Whatever happened to the doctrine that infringements of one liberty to protect another should be necessary and proportionate?

In the London bombings, four idiots killed themselves in the first incident with a few dozen bystanders, but the second four failed and ran for it when their bombs didn’t go off. It didn’t occur to anyone to lock down London. They were eventually tracked down and arrested, together with their support team. Digital forensics played a big role; the last bomber to be caught left the country and changed his SIM, but not his IMEI. It’s next to impossible for anyone to escape nowadays if the authorities try hard.

Entry filed under: News coverage, Politics, Security psychology

12 comments Add your own

  • 1. Clive Robinson  |  April 20th, 2013 at 14:09 UTC

    Ross,

    What to blaim?

    Fear of terrorism… or Fear of Health and Safety…

    Whilst lock down of a US city is comparitivly rare, you need to remember that when GWB visited Europe vast tracts of continental Europe were locked down with people being told that if even seen at their windows when the presedential cavalcade went by they risked being shot…

  • 2. jonathan  |  April 21st, 2013 at 06:32 UTC

    “a million people were under virtual house arrest;”

    I live in Boston and you demonstrate a very poor understanding of both what happened and people’s attitudes.

  • 3. Clive Page  |  April 21st, 2013 at 08:49 UTC

    There might not have been a “lock down” in London after the bombings, but after a slow initial reaction the authorities pretty much closed down the entire public transport system in London for the rest of that day – all tubes and bus lines – so that millions had to walk home from work. Whether this decreased the risk to them is open to question. The mainline rail network was also affected – I was on an inter-city train to London later that day and was forced to leave several miles short of my destination (fortunately I had my folding bike with me so could cycle the rest of the way).

  • 4. Ross Anderson  |  April 21st, 2013 at 11:47 UTC

    The real discussion of this event is happening on Bruce Schneier’s blog. It seems that people who were in Boston mostly supported the lockdown while the rest mostly didn’t.

  • 5. Roger  |  April 21st, 2013 at 13:01 UTC

    “One day later, a million people were under virtual house arrest; ”

    Prof. Anderson, I’d like to suggest that this is a strong exaggeration.

    “Shelter in place” is now the standard response, in many countries, to an “active shooter scenario”. And that is certainly what they had in Watertown on Thursday night. It can certainly be argued that it was an over-reaction to extend SIP for the whole city for the rest of the day, and I might be inclined to agree. In fact nearly everyone agrees, including some city officials in Boston.

    But this “lockdown” had no lock. Residents of the affected areas were merely requested to stay indoors — strongly worded, but just a request. The only “official” parts of the lockdown were closing schools, and public transport. A few people simply ignored it, and a lot of others who did “obey” it blogged that they did so in order to get a free long weekend.

  • 6. Patchy  |  April 21st, 2013 at 16:36 UTC

    Jonathan, people’s reactions are just that. They are not justification for the geographical overreach of the order or, as it turns out, its ineffectiveness given the ultimate method of locating Filth #2.

  • 7. Harry Johnston  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 01:53 UTC

    Is there *any* indication that the lockdown was because the fugitive “happened to be a Muslim”? The situation was … unusual, to say the least; a vehicle chase with thrown bombs doesn’t exactly happen every day.

  • 8. Duncan Jones  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 11:47 UTC

    I agree with Harry – I’ve heard nothing that suggests the response from Boston was in any way affected by the religion of the suspects.

    Much like the John Lewis rant, I fear this post’s contents fail to live up to the headline.

  • 9. Roger  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 21:40 UTC

    And to just update my own remarks:
    1. It turns out that the shelter-in-place request wasn’t the whole greater Boston area — as many have falsely reported — but only the suburbs adjacent to the shootout.
    2. It has now bene revelaed that a number of other bombs were planted throughout this area, so it is quite likely that lives were saved by sheltering-in-place in these areas, until all bombs had been rendered safe.
    3. Reports of school closures are also false: schools were already on vacation for Spring Recess.
    4. So it turns out that the only city-wide official action was shutting down of public transport. Nearly everything else has simply been grossly exaggertaed by the echo chamber of the blogosphere.

    Shutting down public transit made a lot of sense considering:
    a) the suspects had just attempted a car-jacking, and then been forced out of that car (after killing and wounding numerous people.) It must have seemed highly likely that they would either attempt another car-jacking, or get on public transport (either covertly, or by taking hostages); and
    b) When it was discovered that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been wearing a suicide vest, it had to be assumed that Dzhokhar may have had one as well, although with 20:20 hindsight, we now know that he did not. Terrorists don’t just casually walk around wearing suicide vests — not unless they want to risk an “own goal” everytime they sneeze. It would therefore seem a high probability that the car-jacking shootout interrupted an attack in progress. The typical targets of suicide vests are public gatherings — which the police immediately warned people to avoid — and public transport.

  • 10. Ryan  |  April 23rd, 2013 at 02:19 UTC

    Ross Anderson should take a trip to Watertown and take a look at the front of a guys house that took some major damage for a 20lb pressure cooker bomb. Or the other IED’s laying around.

    I’d also point out the claims of a million people under lockdown are overblown, and not true. Most residential areas of Boston, away from Watertown/Allston/Brighton, were business as usual.

    The MBTA being shut meant most had a 3 day work week, and there wasn’t much traffic in the 90% commercial areas of the city, but the neighborhoods weren’t very different. The shelter in place was very localized, and yes, thats were the media was focused.

  • 11. Clive Robinson  |  April 23rd, 2013 at 03:31 UTC

    @ Jonathan, Roger,

    Ross was quoting what had been written in a newspaper article, and had also been widely reported by other news outlets.

    I had my suspicions about it hence my comment terrorist FUD or H&S above.

    The reason I was suspicious is two fold, firstly the primary US news sources were clearly reporting nonsense they were making up as they were going along as though it were fact (perhaps the earliest was within minutes of the bombing that it was by tax protestors, started as a comment about the date and went round robin style from media outlet to media outlet, a problem with CNN/Fox 24hour talking head reporting we have seen often in the past). Secondly as I mentioned above we have seen this “volantary” nonsense befor when GWB visited Germany, I had at the time friends living on the route of the GWB convoy route and they had been told that they were in danger of being shot by US Personel if they were visable to the convoy and were left in now doubt that the “advice” was in effect an official edict to stay off of the streets and away from windows etc.

    However the fact remains that even if Boston was volantary as was reported later what Ross quoted was beleived due to the reporting of primary US news outlets to be the case.

    This “instant on the spot reporting” style adopted by 24hour media from the likes of (amongst others) News International outlets is becoming a real problem and is in part causing the death of more traditional and reliable journalism news reporting where facts used to be checked directly with primary named sources with few if any “off the record” comments so beloved by political and other “spinmisters”. Whilst the “blogsphere” is in part to blaim it’s difficult to point the finger at them when they are simply repeating what many official or primary news outlets are reporting.

    As for the London bombing “transport shutdown” I was actually on a bus and heard the radio message ordering the bus driver to terminate his route and put all passengers off the bus and then search his bus before returning to the depot for engineers to search for hidden devices.

    Sometimes officials have to take action for what is in effect Health and Safety no matter how unjustified it appears later simply because they don’t have any let alone sufficient information to take any other action at the time.

    The fact that this “fail safe” response is later seen as “terrorist FUD” or “over reaction by authorities” by the press does not help, when you know that if the “fail safe” action had not been taken by the authorities and a further incident had occured then the same press would have been calling for heads to roll and senior officials to fall on their swords.

    The real “terrorist FUD” is where senior officials and others later use this information uncertainty gap to deliberatly build empires and over extend emergancy responses into normal everyday operations with the complicit behaviour of politicos who also stand to gain significantly both in terms of empire and personal status / wealth.

    Differentiating the two issues is sometimes difficult because it’s in the personal interests of the main players to muddy the waters.

  • 12. Herb Goldschmidt  |  May 17th, 2013 at 14:25 UTC

    I have to say as a Londoner that I find your phrase “few dozen bystanders” offensive, rather as if I were to describe the number of 9/11 deaths as “a few thousand”. Fifty-two people were killed in London on 7th July 2005, and there’s no reason on earth why you shouldn’t quote that number.

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