Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wild Guesses About the Boston Bombings

I was going to write a post discussing my hunches about who it was that pulled off the Boston bombing. I was, but then Gary Brecher beat me to it, with a much better piece. NSFW Corp is now behind a paywall (which you should subscribe to, if only for the War Nerd), but if you click this link in the next 48 hours, you'll get to see the column. If you just skip over there and only read his column, I wouldn't blame you.

Update: Link fixed

He focuses on a few points, one or two of which I'd thought of myself.

Brecher discusses the two more likely possible culprits, namely that it was some Arab/Subcontinent/Muslim terrorist group, or that it was some domestic Timothy McVeigh type.

He comes down on the side of the former, as do I. If there's one guy who's early stage prediction I'd want to have on my side on this one, it's the War Nerd. He's got a pretty good track record on these predictions. We'll see what turns out.

Firstly, I'd also thought that the two bomb setup, with one after the other, suggests these guys knew what they were doing. It seemed like the classic case of attracting people in with the first blast, to help with survivors, then targeting them with the second blast.

This suggests the work of a pro, which doesn't tell you much, but also implies something else that Brecher doesn't discuss - that the terrorists likely viewed the first responders to blast #1 as not only legitimate but also desirable targets for death.

That takes a certain cold-heartedness. Right-winger types may have enormous and/or irrational hatred of certain groups, like government employees. But they don't traditionally hate volunteer rescuers in tragedy situations. Anyone who wants to target those folks has a true disgust at the entire society. There may be Timothy McVeigh types who do fit into that category, but for some reason it just doesn't gel with my picture of their psychology. For instance, even McVeigh himself expressed a certain amount of "regret" (though that word may be too strong given his descriptions) about the fact that the building he bombed had a daycare centre in it, and thus a number of children were killed:
McVeigh noted that he had no knowledge that the federal offices also ran a day care center on the second floor of the building, and noted that he might have chosen a different target if he had known about the day care center. According to Michel and Herbeck, McVeigh claimed not to have known there was a day care center in the Murrah Building and said that if he had known it, in his own words:
"It might have given me pause to switch targets. That's a large amount of collateral damage."
True, children in daycare aren't exactly the same as volunteer rescuers, and true, calling them 'collateral damage' is extraordinarily cold and callous, so the level of sympathy is not exactly overwhelming. Still, even to McVeigh, this was a target to be avoided. It seems less likely, but not impossible, that Al Qaeda or an equivalent group would say the same thing.

The other part in Brecher's argument where I think I have something to add, even if the conclusion remains the same, regards the role of the significance of the date and event.

A number of commentators pointed out that the fact that the bombing occurred on April 15th, which is both Tax Day and Patriots Day, might suggest that this some right wing domestic terrorist.

In other words, we have the Boston Marathon on April 15th. Does this make it more likely the attack was motivated by the former (probably more likely under foreign terrorism) or the latter (probably more likely under domestic terrorism).

Let's suppose that each group might have thought of their part first. What would have been the consequences?

If you were a foreign terrorist group targeting the marathon just as a high profile event with lots of spectators, it wouldn't matter at all that it was on tax day. Brecher is right that this probably wouldn't even occur to you. You just bomb the marathon on April 15th because that's when the marathon is.

On the other hand, suppose you were a domestic terrorist wanting to target something for tax day. The question is, would you know or think to check whether the Boston marathon was on that day?

My guess is that the leap in imagination in the second case seems unlikely. If you started wanting to protest taxes, isn't it more likely that you'd think to bomb the IRS? Or at least some government facility?

I'd guess that most guys who were incensed enough about Tax Day to bomb something would be rather unlikely to know that the Boston Marathon was that day. Unless you happened to know about it specifically, or were googling odd phrases like 'What big events happen on April 15th?', I doubt the marathon would occur to you as a target.

So in other words, targeting the marathon in the first place you get you April 15th. Targeting April 15th would probably not get you the marathon.

This is all weak evidence, but it's not nothing.

The other point that Brecher makes, which I hadn't thought of at all, but is very interesting, was this:
The other reason I doubt the McVeigh theory is a vague one, not something I can prove, just something that, to me at least, tilts the probabilities away from a domestic group: geography. Weird as it may seem, right-wing American irregulars tend to attack on ground they consider theirs, aiming to kill alien influences. The territory they consider worth saving is usually South, the inland West, and the Sun Belt — but definitely not Boston. Massachussets is long since lost, as far as they’re concerned. Look at the biggest right-wing terror attacks: Oklahoma City, 1995; Atlanta, 1996; Knoxville (Unitarian Church) 2008; Wichita, KS (George Tiller shooting), 2009. Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee — those are all hardcore red states, and the right-wingers who attacked in those places aimed at alien, blue-state institutions: Federal employees, abortionists, and Unitarians, those Satanically broadminded bastards.
When the McVeigh types do strike at a target in the blue states, it’s usually one obviously linked to their pet hates, like when that 88-year old Nazi shot a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in DC in 2009.

In the end, Brecher thinks that it's likely to be linked to Pakistani terrorism. We shall see. He also includes this interesting aside about why Pakistani terrorist groups are really pissed off about drone strikes:
The drone attacks are very effective but very insulting, strange as that sounds. It’s much more infuriating to be killed by an unmanned machine orbiting over your village than to be shot in combat. It’s the way you’d kill a bug, and it’s created a deep hatred in the FATA.
Huh again. Read the whole thing.

If you think that it is ill-advised to speculate on who committed this repugnant act so early on due to the high risk of being shown to be a fool, I can definitely see your point. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Still, I don't feel it's rude or disrespectful in itself to speculate about who might have done this. Quite the contrary - I'd hope very much that a bunch of law enforcement and counterterrorism officers are busy going through exactly the same kinds of reasoning, along with all the more concrete evidence, to find the bastards that did this.

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