Boston Marathon blasts not total surprise to law enforcement

The Boston Marathon bombings, horrific and tragic as they were, should not have come as a huge surprise to people who have made preparing for terrorism their business. Ever since 9/11, officials have periodically warned that an attack might come at some large sporting event.

This 2006 FBI alert (click here to read account) warned of a possible suicide bomber attacking some event, although the alert wasn’t specific. It referenced an Internet posting on an extremist message board. An ABC news report said:

“The posting recommended, according to the FBI, that one suicide bomber detonate inside the stadium and the others detonate at exit gates as spectators were fleeing.

‘The combined explosions would create a panic that would kill far more spectators than the bombing alone,’ the FBI quotes the message as saying.”

That attack never took place.

Two years ago, NBC News reported on a nine-page threat assessment for the 2011 Super Bowl, drawn up by counterterrorism officials and local law enforcement. The NFL was spending $6 million on security for the game, with Homeland Security adding much more, which apparently has been typical for the annual contest.

The threat assessment said there was no specific threat against the game, but it noted recent al Qaida attacks against sporting events in Iraq and Uganda. Of course, nothing happened at the 2011 game, or at either of the next two. That doesn’t mean officials were taking anything for granted.

In Salt Lake City, where this blog is written, the 2002 Winter Olympics posed a real security challenge. Held a mere five months after 9/11, the games were the first major worldwide sporting event to test a new level of preparedness.

I remember briefly speaking with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington a few weeks after 9/11 and asking his opinion on whether the Salt Lake games should be canceled. He said they shouldn’t, and gave me a lecture on the history of the ancient Greek games as a time of truce allowing athletes to travel freely despite war tensions.

The biggest terrorist attack against a worldwide sporting event came in 1972, when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Olympics. But that was a very specific attack, not at all in the mold of current terrorist attacks that target people generally and indiscriminately.

The Boston Marathon was not the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Its very participants were regular people, other than a small group of elite runners. Although these people had to post qualifying times at other marathons in order to compete, most of them are otherwise not considered athletes. The bombs were timed about four hours after the start of the race, meaning they were meant to hit runners with the most unremarkable times, and their supporters.

Check the Internet. You’ll find a lot of scholarly studies on terrorism threats, sporting events and preparedness. Sports unite communities and generally provide joy. They are natural targets for people who want to demoralize the nation as they spread mayhem and death. If you’ve been to an NBA game or other big event lately, you have had to pass through a metal detector and had your bags checked. Look for things to get tighter from now on.

We don’t know yet who was behind the bombings in Boston. But something tells me officials are going to treat security at sporting events even more seriously now.

Categories: Crime

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

5 comments

  1. Nikki

    As a 4-marathon finisher with times in the 5.5 hour range, let me tell you that a four-hour finish is not the least “unremarkable.” That aside, this is a terrible tragedy and one event that probably had light security compared to a high profile event this making it an “easy” target. So sad.

  2. LDS Liberal

    Not a surprise to me either.
    What with the history of right-wing extremeist Timothy McVeigh bombing the Oklahoma Federal Building 18 years ago this week and all…

    Why not a 2013 Tea-Partier,
    In Boston,
    on “Patriot Day”,
    Commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord,
    Setting off a “shot hear ’round the world”,
    Sparking another “Revolution”,

    Too many Atlas Shrugged and Turner Diary readers in the uber-far-right-wing.

    • Bridger

      LDS Liberal- Why must you take a tragedy and turn it into a politically charged attack. But I guess a trgedy is a terrible thing to waste, huh?

      You’ve been listening to Chris Matthews a little too much, hoping that the bomber was a Right-wing extremist in order to vindicate your hatred for the Right. Don’t make the same mistake that the Left did with Jared Loughner. That wasn’t Sarah Palin’s fault or any on the Right, but the MSM jumped on the chance to attack the Right without any evidence because of their sincere desire for it to be the Right. Wait for the evidence to come out, then make your judgment.

      And if you’re going to use LDS in your screen name, at least try to reflect the values taught by the faith. Hate and judgment is not included.

  3. AR

    I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but if the bomber was a suicide bomber (which I don’t know if it is or not), is it possible that it’s one of the people that died? Perhaps not, though.

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