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Intelligence Solutions Involved in the Response to the Boston Marathon Bombing

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By Richard Pera, Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University

Looking back on the 2013 Boston Marathon event is painful for many: Two pressure-cooker bombs were detonated near the finish line, killing three and injuring 264. Americans were shocked yet again as Muslim extremists—in this case the two foreign-born, Americanized Tsarnaev brothers from suburban Boston—committed an unspeakable act of terror against innocent civilians during an event which coincided with “Patriot’s Day,” commemoration of the start of the American Revolutionary War in nearby Lexington and Concord.

The Boston Marathon bombings were a horrible tragedy, and there were obvious comparisons to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Looking back on year later, however, the event confirmed the nation had made great strides in preparing for and responding to terrorist events. This “good news” is naturally overshadowed by the fundamentally bad news of the attack.

The Boston bombings were one of the topics discussed during my recent interview with William Tarry, Acting Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis and Chief Intelligence Officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Mr. Tarry served in senior positions in the homeland security and intelligence communities, and played a major role in coordinating information flow of domestic and foreign intelligence immediately after the event.

I posed the question to him during an interview regarding the official response to the Boston bombings. During this event, it was imperative that law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies had to share information and work together—a process that had been widely criticized in the case of 9/11.

Mr. Tarry recounted multiple, positive lessons learned from Boston. He focused on preparations before the event—specifically the millions of dollars allocated to Boston and other metropolitan areas for first responder training.

“You can’t help but be amazed by the tremendous effort by the men and women of Boston to minimize the casualties. That didn’t occur by accident,” he told me.

Some of the training implemented on Boylston Street in Boston a year ago was based on the lessons learned by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly regarding detonations of improvised explosive devises (IEDs). Written in blood, these lessons were sometimes counter-intuitive. Mr. Tarry quoted the instructive mantra of Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA): “Do less quickly.”

Mr. Tarry also discussed successful interfaces between federal, state, and local law enforcement and the U.S. Intelligence Community. In addition to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI established a joint center at “Liberty Crossing” in Northern Virginia (the term “Liberty Crossing” is often used to describe the headquarters of the Director of National Intelligence). DHS established a 24-hour center to garner and disseminate critical foreign travel data on the Tsarnaev brothers, especially on trips to Chechnya. Coordination with intelligence agencies was also critical because of the laser-focus on possible links to foreign terrorist organizations.

As Mr. Tarry concluded: “It was a great example of how we’ve learned to work well together.”

Here is the five minute excerpt about the Boston Marathon bombings from my interview with William Tarry:

Dick PeraAbout the Author: Richard Pera has more than 30 years of Navy and intelligence community experience, having most recently served as director of the Defense Intelligence Resource Management Office of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, DC. Prior to joining DIA, Pera served in a variety of senior assignments, including director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance on the Navy Staff and director of global information acquisition at the Office of Naval Intelligence.

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