April 15 2014
One year ago two explosions erupted on the final stretch of the Boston Marathon. Three innocent Americans were killed and dozens more were wounded. As we remember those tragically lost, we should also take stock of where we are as a nation. Are we any safer today from a terrorist attack than we were one year ago?
The blatantly obvious answer is no. We are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as we always will be. Terrorists are continually looking to exploit our security weaknesses in order to slip through the cracks undetected and reign down terror upon our way of life. Terrorist organization are constantly changing and adapting their tactics, techniques, and procedures to improve their chances of success. The Intelligence Community, law enforcement, and the private sector must be just as nimble and never allow complacency to set in once the dust has settled after an attack. That’s hard: our natural tendency is to forget the past. Once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But we as a nation must remain vigilant; our safety depends on it.
The Boston Marathon bombing united Americans in the same way 9/11 did. Citizens rallied around Boston with love and concern and desire to assist in anyway possible. ‘Boston Strong’ became the slogan of support for the entire city. But more importantly, upon guidance from the Boston Mayor and police chief, bystanders collaborated by sending in their photos and information to help find and apprehend the Tsarnaev brothers. The general public’s eyes were reopened to the fact that terrorist attacks come in many different forms. But that type of nation unification and alertness is what is constantly needed in an era where terrorism is an ongoing potential.
Aside from the Fort Hood shooting on November 5, 2009—which is still deemed “workplace violence” by the Obama administration–we had not seen a successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, until the Boston bombing. While the intelligence community and law enforcement should be commended for foiling numerous terrorist plots since then, information sharing and collaboration between government agencies, law enforcement, and the private sector remains intermittent with significant room for improvement.
Primarily, agencies within the intelligence community are excellent at what they do. They know the laws, they know how to collect data, they know how to analyze information, and produce actionable intelligence. That being said, intelligence failures happen, it’s just part of reality. But intelligence is also often politicized (as we saw with Benghazi), bureaucracy can lead to significant time constraints and lack of information sharing all adversely affect our nation’s safety. Information is only good if the appropriate people and departments know about it, in order to make informed decisions. This is especially critical with ‘lone wolf’ type attacks as we saw with the Boston bombing, which are often the most difficult to identify and track.
America will never be fully protected from violent attacks inflicted by terrorist organizations, but there are ways to be proactive. We must not allow the fallacy of peace (in a world that has never known peace) to shade the reality of the world: There are terrorist organizations around the world that want to terrorize and kill as many Americans as possible each and every day, for simple fact that we are Americans. Apathy and complacency towards the threat of terrorism to our nation and its citizens is something our country simply cannot afford.
More Americans need to be cognizant to these threats, and recognize that the war on terror is anything but over. We must all be citizen-soldiers in our nation’s defense.
Amber Barno is a National Security Policy Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is a former Army helicopter pilot with combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.