If there was a wake-up call from the chaos that spread throughout the Boston region after the bombing at the Boston Marathon last week — days of terror reminiscent of the week of the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon — it was that public vigilance can save lives, and nothing is ever too “silly” to be reported.
Does this mean that a 9/11-like cloud of terror is becoming America’s long-term reality?
“We have had better security planning since 9/11 and a lot of luck. Now, we ran out of luck and need to ramp up our vigilance,” says Professor Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and National Security at the University of Maryland. He noted that the nearly 12-year gap between the two major domestic terror attacks is a lot longer than security forces expected.
“American freedom means that we should have the ability to go about our lives freely,” comments David Boehm, chief operating officer of the Manhattan-based Security USA private security firm and a retired decorated NYPD veteran. “But it also requires us to step up to the plate and protect ourselves.”
Mr. Boehm points out that New York City — international terror’s number-one US target — has not seen a single successful attack since that infamous day, and not due to a lack of trying in a city with scores of bustling landmarks and major events drawing thousands into one place.
Despite the strong law enforcement presence and bomb sweeps at the Boston Marathon, officials there were neither as equipped nor as determined to deal with security threats as they are in the oft-targeted Big Apple. The NYPD, led by combat veteran and former US Customs enforcement chief Raymond Kelly, places a constant focus on counterterrorism — even establishing its own counterterrorism intelligence unit — while the city’s street life remains unhindered.
Mr. Boehm notes, for instance, that it appears that even within the security perimeter at the Boston Marathon’s finish line, there was no “frozen zone” that requires all entrants and their baggage to be searched. This cumbersome security measure is employed at mass New York events, such as the New Year’s celebrations in Times Square, and could potentially have blocked the bombers from bringing their pressure-cooker-enclosed explosives into the area.
According to Boehm, the NYPD typically has undercover officers mingling with the crowd at major events, on the lookout for individuals acting suspiciously. Security cameras later revealed that the Boston bombers fit that profile.
Professor Greenberger emphasizes the importance of beefing up the number of surveillance cameras on the street, which helped crack the Boston case and could potentially deter terrorists who want to remain unnoticed.
“I’m a civil libertarian,” he stresses, “but you can’t have any expectation of privacy when you’re on the street.”
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