Counter-terrorism precautions are always taken before a major event like a city marathon, some of them invisible and unbeknownst to the attendees.
Anthony C. Roman is president of Roman and Associates, a private investigation, risk management and security consultation firm in New York. He says the city of Boston, with 5,000 police officers just can’t do what New York City can do with its 38,000 officers.
“In New York, for example, you would have all of the manhole covers welded, you would have spotters on the roofs throughout the route, you’d have sniper teams, you’d have bomb squads, bomb sniffing dogs,” said Roman. “All of the garbage receptacles would be periodically checked during the course of the race. The crowd would be cordoned off in sections, as opposed to being allowed to congregate in one long line. Coupled with that is a high level of software sophistication and the surveillance camera systems in the New York metro area. In comparison, because of the lower manpower and lower budgets in a city like Boston, the level of sophistication just isn’t there. What you do have is a very robust effort in terms of securing the manhole covers, crowd control and bomb squad efforts.”
Despite the intense security, he doesn’t think anyone is to blame for what happened. Roman imagines Boston police were periodically checking the trash receptacles during the race, but they simply don’t have the manpower to thoroughly cover the 26 mile long marathon course.
“You have retail shops along the route where bombs can be placed and you can’t keep an eye on all of them. Most of them are private property so you do the best you can. There will never be 100 percent prevention, so it’s a question of acting as a major deterrent.”
I asked him if this is only standard procedure for a marathon.
“Anywhere that large crowds are gathering for long periods of time, or even short periods of time. Take for example the New Year’s celebrations in most downtown municipalities. Those are always given special attention. Sporting events, always given special attention. So anywhere large crowds gather on a regular basis, you’ll have police intelligence and counter terror efforts in conjunction with the federal authorities.”
He says the public isn’t even aware of how many events like this are prevented every year.
“We’ve been quite successful in preventing a host of terrorist attacks, both known and unknown. You can prevent 1,000 of them, you can prevent even more than are not known, but occasionally something will slip by. The important news, on that front, is we learn from every event.”
I asked Roman who he thinks could have done this.
“It’s very difficult to tell. We’re dealing with Tax Day, we’re dealing with where the heart of the American Revolutionary War was born. It’s a special event day, the Boston Marathon. These types of events, in general, will attract and be higher risk for terror attacks, either domestic or international. It’s too early to speculate on whether it’s an individual, whether it’s a domestic terror group or whether it’s an international terror group.”
The videos I saw made the explosions look fairly contained, and not anywhere near as big or vast as when the Twin Towers exploded on 9/11. I asked Roman if the size of the explosions is indicative of what kind of terrorist attack this was.
“Looks like it was a reasonably small device. On the other hand, with regard to the tactics used by international terror groups such as Al Qaeda, prior to the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s focus, for example, was on larger scale terror attacks that would cause a devastating number of casualties and worldwide attention. Now, there were factions within Al Qaeda that were not happy with that tactic. They wanted more frequent, smaller attacks that were easy to carry out. Whether or not that group is now in power and whether or not those are the tactics they’re shifting to is unknown. Either it’s a small, local group, unaffiliated, or whether it’s just an emotionally disturbed person, such as you had in Norway, that has a political agenda or a personal philosophy, and took it upon themselves to commit an act of domestic terrorism.”
More from the terror attack in Boston:
Feds seek clues in Boston attack
City’s signature events on the mind of Seattle mayor
A hero in Boston: Meet the man in the cowboy hat