Terrorism has been a part of human existence for centuries. Historical records show that various groups have engaged in terrorist activities at different points in time and for varied reasons. However, the 21st century has witnessed a rise in terrorist activity. Various groups have shown an inclination to engage in terrorism acts with the aim of coercing or intimidating governments and societies. The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated to the world the devastating effects that terrorism can have. These attacks led to a declaration by the international community that terrorism is the greatest threat to global peace and security (Hoffman 21).
The US, which was the victim of the 9/11 attacks, took up rigorous countermeasures to tackle the problem of terrorism. However, the US became the victim of another terror attack during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. This attack reignited fears that the US is not safe from terrorists. This paper will seek to discuss how well the US has developed since 2001. The paper will analyze the intelligence information exchanged between Russia and the US before the Boston bombing and demonstrate that the Boston attacks were not preventable.
The 9/11 Attacks
The September 11, 2001 attacks are the most sophisticated and well-coordinated terrorist attacks to ever be carried out by terrorists on US soil. The terrorists hoped to accomplish a number of political and ideological objectives by engaging in this act of violence. To carry out the attacks, al-Qaeda linked terrorist hijacked four passenger airlines and attempted to crash the planes into significant buildings in the East Coast. The locations of the attacks were highly symbolic (Victoroff 5). By targeting the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the terrorists highlighted their desire to destroy the economy and the military of the United States. The most devastating damages were caused when two of the hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
The nation was caught unawares by these attacks and citizens expressed shock at the events. These attacks led to the realization that the US and its citizen’s were vulnerable to international terrorists. While the events of 9/11 were indeed horrific in nature, the mass media added to the impact. Continuous news coverage of the attacks in the following weeks and months led to the events being embedded in the public consciousness (Hammond 218). The government had to engage in quick and radical action to deal with the situation and reassure the American people. President Bush promptly made his famous declaration of war against terror. He then proceeded to invade Afghanistan, a country that had been a safe haven for the al-Qaeda terror network (Hammond 220). This marked the beginning of a new era in the implementation of US national security.
The US anti-Terrorism System
Since historical times, the US government has had provisions for dealing with crisis and political instabilities. There are special legislations in place for use when the public safety is deemed to be in danger. From the late 20th century, the US administration enacted some legislations aimed at protecting US citizens against international terrorists regardless of where these acts take place (Hoffman 51). However, the anti-terrorism systems of the past were inconclusive and they failed to address some issues. Even so, the system in place was sufficient for the security environment of the time.
The events of September 11, 2001 forever transformed the security structure of the US. On this fateful day, terrorists linked to the infamous Al-Qaeda terror network managed to carry out a major terrorist attack on US soil with great success. This attack led to the deaths of about three thousand people and the destruction of property valued at billions of dollars. These events confirmed the need for a new security structure in the US. Sidel states that as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the US government went on to articulate international and transnational terrorism as a key issue in US security policy (121).
The 9/11 attacks solidified the idea that America was facing a new environment of threat. This environment would need unprecedented kinds of action to counter the threats. A key priority for the Bush Administration after 9/11 was to provide measures to guard the country against future terrorist attacks (Sidel 119). The White House and the congressional legislation established the 9/11 Commission. This body was taxed with preparing a complete account of the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Vervaele 204). Mabee articulates that 9/11 securitized international terrorism and led to the establishment of a new environment of security (391). This environment has continued to characterize the US to date.
A monumental act taken by the US government following 9/11 was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS was created from the realization that America was fighting a new kind of war. The enemies in this war were bent on destroying the peace and freedom enjoyed by US citizens. The creation of this organization required an enormous restructuring of government bureaucracy and the consolidation of 22 government agencies.
The rationale for this move, as articulated by President George W. Bush, was to ensure that “our efforts to defend this country are comprehensive and united” (Mabee 386). The DHS has over the decade had a major impact on US security implementation. The US Government also passed the USA PATRIOT ACT legislation. This Act is a large and complex law granting great powers to enforcement agencies and intelligence services to assist in the task of fighting terrorism.
The Boston Bombing
The Boston attacks on April were the first major terrorist incident on American soil after 9/11. Following the Boston bombings, themes of security and terrorism that had dominated the US media ever since the 9/11 attacks received a rejuvenation. Just as in the case of the 9/11 events, the Boston bombings received widespread media coverage and a lot of airtime was dedicated to covering the event. The attacks were carried out by two Chechen brothers who detonated homemade explosive devices near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon.
The terrorists detonated two bombs that ripped through the Marathon in quick succession. Bogaisky reveals that the first explosion occurred at 2:50pm while the second one went off ten seconds later (24). The two explosions caused the deaths of three spectators and injured more than 140 people. The initial blasts were accompanied by widespread panic as reports that additional devices were present in the vicinity spread. However, law enforcement officers were able to establish that there were no other explosive devices planted in the area.
The Russian Warning
One of the terrorists suspected of carrying out the Boston bombings was a person of interest to the intelligence community. Russian intelligence agencies had issued a warning concerning one of the suspected Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Russian authorities had notified the US federal authorities that Tsarnaev had links to insurgency groups in Chechnya (Bogaisky 1). They warned that he had attempted to travel to Palestine and conduct terrorist activities there but had been unable to do this. The Russian authorities believed that Tsarnaev was a possible security risk and they advised the US federal authorities to investigate him.
After receiving this information in 2011 from the Russians, the FBI carried out a thorough investigation on Tsarnaev. They tried to establish if he had terrorist connections as the Russians claimed. Tsarnaev was placed under surveillance for many weeks and intelligence operations were carried out to see if he had affiliations to local or international terrorist organizations. However, the investigations failed to detect any suspicious activity from Tsarnaev and the FBI therefore closed its assessment (Mardell 1). It was not until the Boston bombing investigations identified Tsarnaev as a suspect that the Russian warnings were remembered.
Reactions to the Attacks
The Boston bombings were significant since they were the first major terrorist incident since 9/11. Greenwald states that some of the reactions following the Boston marathon attack were similar to those of the 911 attacks (1). Americans were quick to express anger and outrage over the perpetrators of these acts of senseless violence. President Obama called the act “Cowardly” and condemned the attackers (Mardell 1).
However, there was a significant difference between the reactions of the public to the two attacks. While 9/11 was followed by widespread panic and fear, the Boston attacks were followed by little panic and minimal shock (Fisher par. 1). While anxiety was high in the initial stages of the attack, people expressed an admirable level of calmness. The BBC reports that while Americans were sad and horrified by the terror attacks, there was no atmosphere of “anger or ramped-up patriotism” (Mardell 1).
The Boston bombings occurred in an environment of heightened securitization of US cities (Gerstein 1). This is because 9/11 turned the American homeland into the new frontier from where the war on terror would be waged. It was argued that since the terrorists were targeting America, enhanced homeland security was the most appropriate response. Most US citizens expressed confidence in the ability of the government to protect them. The feeling of vulnerability that accompanied the 9/11 attack was absent in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.
Not all people agree that the post 9/11 anti-terrorism measures have been successful. Heuvel contends that the acts taken by the American government following the 9/11 terror did not address the issue (2). The policies implemented only served to scapegoat religions and assault the basic liberties of Americans. In addition to this, the government engaged in radical militarization and this only served to deepen the animosity between the US and radical elements (Bozeman 1). It is true that the policies undertaken after 9/11 have led to greater radicalization and increased hatred for Americans. However, reports indicate that the country is better prepared to face any threat from terrorists. The response to the Boston bombing demonstrates the proficiency of the US to effectively deal with terrorism threats.
There have been concerns that the Boston events will lead to more power being granted to the US law enforcement and Intelligence communities, often at the expense of civil rights and constitutional guarantees. Following the 9/11 attacks, the US implemented new anti-terrorist legislation aimed at combating terrorism in a more proactive manner. Vervaele asserts that the new legislation led to a gross violation of civil liberties and personal privacy (202). The government gave itself widespread access to personal information. Searches and tapping operations were conducted without judicial warrants.
These radical reforms received widespread public support in the first year after 9/11 since the memory of the event was fresh in people’s mind. People were less concerned about the rule of law and more on security of their nation. However, the current atmosphere suggests that the public will not be in favor of radical changes to the anti-terror system. The reaction of the government to the Boston attacks was very impressive. Bogaisky reports that Law enforcement officials in Massachusetts and across the country quickly took up measures to increase security to protect the country against any potential follow-up attacks (1). Important areas that are prone to attacks such as the subway system and bridges were closed to the public and a temporal no-fly zone was imposed over Boston.
Government Efficiency in Finding Suspects
Perhaps one of the greatest indications that the current anti-terror system is efficient is the speed with which the suspects were found. Within minutes of the attack occurring, there was a high police presence across the city and investigators began collecting evidence to determine how the attack had been carried out. Immediately after the attack, the NYPD stepped up security in the city and critical response vehicles were deployed in prominent locations in the city (Greenwald 1). The Boston tragedy led to a temporary loss of the fragile sense of security that the US had developed since 9/11. However, the quick response by federal and state officials created some reassurance for the country.
The FBI asked the public to send them any footage of the Marathon for assessment. On April 18, only 3 days after the attack, the FBI was able to release to the public pictures of the two suspects and begin a very public manhunt for these individuals. Reforms made following the 9/11 attacks contributed to this speedy identification of the suspects. The 9/11 attacks increased the surveillance levels in the US (Sidel 120). Many US cities are filled with surveillance cameras that enable the law enforcement agencies to monitor people and deter terrorism. The effectiveness of this surveillance was highlighted during the Boston bombing when law enforcers used these devices for investigations.
Was the Attack Avoidable?
There have been many arguments raised on whether the Boston attack could have been prevented. Some parties argue that if the Federal officials had followed up on the Russian intelligence reports, the attack could have been prevented (Gerstein 1). Others suggest that law enforcement officials should have been more thorough in securing the marathon area. In my opinion, the Boston attack was not preventable. To begin with, the two attackers were not affiliated with any terrorist organization and they did not use sophisticated explosives. Instead, they acted individually and used rudimentary explosives to accomplish their goals. Victoroff contends that it is often very hard to identify armature terrorists who have to affiliations to terrorist organizations (4).
The Boston bombings were carried out by foreigner terrorists. This raised the question as to whether tightening the country’s borders could have prevented such an attack. However, the two perpetrators were in the US legally. Any argument supporting the imposition of more stringent immigration reforms is therefore inadequate for foreigners will still be able to get into the US through legal means. The current measures effectively keep out most terrorists who try to gain access to the US through illegal means.
Criticism has been directed at the FBI since they had received intelligence reports from the Russians concerning one of the suspected bombers. However, it should be noted that the FBI engaged in a thorough investigation on the bomber and they only closed his file when no link between Tsarnaev and terrorists could be found. It would have been imprudent for the FBI to keep monitoring a person who was perceived to be innocent. The fact that the US federal officials and the Russian intelligence community were able to exchange intelligence findings shows great growth in the US anti-terror system.
This paper set out to analyze how well developed the homeland security provided by the US government is after the events of September 11, 2001. The paper began by highlighting the significance of terrorism in the 21st century. It then gave an overview of the events of 9/11 and the reactions that the US government took to safeguard its citizens. From the arguments raised in this paper, it can be stated that the US has developed an effective security apparatus to tackle the terrorism threats that the country continuously faces.
The paper has acknowledged that the US government has succeeded in dealing with most of the terrorist threats that the country faces. However, it would be impossible to tackle all the possible threats and ensure that the country is completely safe from terrorist attacks. The paper has demonstrated that the far-reaching powers of enforcement granted to the federal government in the fight against terrorism have strengthened the national security of the country. Obviously, civil liberties and the rule of law have suffered due to the great influence of the intelligence services in criminal law enforcement. However, the desirable results of a safer USA have to a great extent been achieved.
Bogaisky, Jeremy. “Three Dead, At Least 140 Injured In Boston Marathon Bombings.” Forbes Magazine 2013: 24-24. Print.
Bozeman, Brown. “Washington’s War Crimes.” The National 2013: 8-9. Print.
Fisher, Marc. “Americans react to Boston bombings with confidence and resilience.” The Washington Post 2013. Web.
Gerstein, Josh. Boston bombings test post-9/11 confidence. 2013. Web.
Greenwald, Glenn. “The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions.” The Guardian Newspaper 2013: Print.
Hammond, Allan. “Two countries divided by a common threat? International perceptions of US and UK counter-terrorism and homeland security responses to the post-September 2001 threat environment.” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 4.3 (2008): 218–239. Print.
Heuvel, Katrina. “Tragedy in Boson.” The National 2013: 3-4. Web.
Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Print.
Mabee, Bryan. “Re-imagining the Borders of US Security after 9/11: Securitisation, Risk, and the Creation of the Department of Homeland Security.” Globalizations 4.3 (2007): 385–397. Web.
Mardell, Mark. Boston bombing: A changed US reaction to terror. 2013. Web.
Sidel, Mark. “Choices and approaches: antiterrorism law and civil society in the United States and the united kingdom after September 11.” University of Toronto Law Journal 61.1 (2011): 119-146. Web.
Vervaele, John. “The Anti-Terrorist Legislation in the US: Inter Arma Silent Leges?”. European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice 13.2 (2005): 201–254. Web.
Victoroff, John. “The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 49.1 (2005): 3-42. Print.