America's surveillance and anti-terrorism forces were put to the test in Boston last week as federal, state and local law enforcement collaborated in removing one threat and bringing the other in alive.
Unfortunately, it takes an event like the 9/11 attacks more than a decade ago or the attack last week to show our vulnerabilities. The rapid growth of the Internet and social media outlets have become a major part of helping law enforcement deal with terrorism and potential threats but that high-speed technology is a double edged sword. The same tools that aid our law enforcement also allows terrorists to probe for weaknesses. Simply by Googling, a lone wolf terrorist can learn anything about American society, and even how to build a bomb to wreck havoc and destruction.
The fact that the Boston terror suspects had Chechnyan roots but grew up in America presents the kind of threat U.S. officials had been warning about since 9/11. The Boston terrorists were virtually home-grown, having entered the U.S. when they were 8 and a 15-years old, apparently becoming radicalized in recent months or years.
When Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told us after last Friday's standoff and apprehension of the younger brother that this is a very complicated, challenging case and that there are still questions remaining to be answered, he wasn't exaggerating. Finding home-grown terrorists is and will remain one of the greatest challenges facing American law enforcement.
What is scary about the Boston case is that the two brothers grew to adulthood and were assimilated into American society. Both initially seemed well-adjusted and benefited under the American system, excelling in sports. The younger brother especially was seen as a normal and popular high school student, even becoming a captain of his school wrestling team. The older brother was a promising amateur boxer, and at one time reportedly hoped to represent the U.S. in the Olympics.
Identifying our enemies are difficult enough but when the terrorists are home grown, the profiling becomes especially difficult. The looming questions in the Boston case are how and at what point did the brothers become radicalized enough to trigger the kind of reaction that caused last week's death, carnage and fear.
Things seemed to have changed when Tamerian, the older brother, went to Russia for six months in 2012 and supposedly went with his father to visit relatives in Chechnya. When Tamarian returned to the U.S., Russian authorities, sensing he was a potential threat, reportedly requested that our government interview him. The FBI reportedly checked his travel history and his Internet postings for any suspicious information, but apparently found no connection to a terrorist group and he was released.
If there wasn't any followup, there should have been. His wife reported that Tamerian became a different person in the last few years, even becoming angry with her when he thought she was not devout enough after her switch from Christian to Muslim. The fact that she and their 3-year-old daughter were living with her parents for the past year because he was so difficult to get along with should have presented a red flag in itself.
Events in Boston prove that our enemies around the world are still on the offensive and our tactics in dealing with them must always be evolving. One thing that remains constant and drives the radical terrorists is their hatred for America and their hope for our absolute destruction.
One terrorist was killed and the other was seriously wounded and taken into custody but their actions did succeed in stretching our anti-terrorism resources to the limit, shutting down a major U.S. city for an entire workweek while striking fear throughout a large population center.
The best bit of advice Americans can take away from the latest attack is the motto used in the national Homeland Security campaign: "If you see something, say something."
By Jim Zbick