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Criminology: The Role of Intelligence in Boston Marathon Attack

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The Boston Marathon case involved bombings and subsequent series of shootings, which started on April 15, 2013. During the events of Boston marathon, two bombs made of pressure cookers exploded at around 14.49. The explosions claimed the lives of three individuals and injured approximately 264 people. The two explosions occurred approximately 12 seconds and 190 m apart next to the marathon finishing point on Boylston Street. When such kind of attacks occur, it is the work of intelligence to determine the cause and the suspects or terrorist group involved. In fact, they should give early warning in case there is an indication showing possible attacks in a forthcoming event. Though the intelligence agency did not have information at hand to give prior warnings, the coordination of intelligence and law enforcement agencies enabled them to uncover the suspects behind the Boston Marathon incident.

The US intelligence did not warn the public about the possible attacks by the two brothers or any other group. April 15, 2013 was Patriot’s day and the yearly Boston Marathon started without any indication of an imminent attack. Security and officials swept the area of incident twice before the explosion occurred. They did the last sweep an hour before the explosions. People were able to walk freely and carry their luggage in and out of the scene.  Assisted by Central Intelligence Agencies, Drug Enforcement Administration, and National Counterterrorism Center among other agencies, the FBI led the investigation that named the two suspects after the incidence. According to the government of the United States’ officials, there were no intelligence reports indicating that such attacks would occur. According to Peter King, who was a member of the House Intelligence Committee, he received two top-secret briefings a week before the attack on the current level of threat in the United States (Philip, 2013). However, there was no indication that such bombings would occur.  

On April 18, 2013, FBI released a surveillance video and photographs of the two suspects. According to the FBI’s investigation outcome, the two suspects were identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, Chechen brothers. Shortly after ther identification by the FBI, the suspects engaged in fierce confrontation with the police. They allegedly killed a MIT police officer, carjacked a SUV and launched a gunfire exchange with police officers in Watertown, Massachusetts. During the fight, police officer was injured but survived the attack. Police shot Tamerlan several times during the firefight. His brother, Dzhokhar, subsequently ran him over with the stolen car as he escaped. Tamerlan was pronounced dead by the police at the firefighting scene. Several law enforcement agencies launched unprecedented search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 19 in a 20-block region of Watertown. Authority directed the area residents to stay indoors during the manhunt. Subsequently, many businesses, public transport systems, and institutions were closed (Philip, 2013).

During the first interrogation by the intelligence officers while at the hospital, the suspect alleged that the mastermind of the attacks was his brother, Tamerlan. According to Dzhokhar, extremist Islamic believer, the ongoing Afghanistan War and Iraqi War were the motivation behind their intention to launch the attacks. They were self-motivated and not linked to any terrorist groups. He learned to develop explosives from an online magazine affiliated with the Yemen based Al-Qaeda (Wilson, 2013). According to the suspect, the two had decided to travel to New York in order to bomb Times Towers after their successful attack at the Boston Marathon. He was shown to the media on April 22 while still in the hospital.

The intelligence report confirmed that the suspects used Al-Qaeda instructions posted online in the Arabian Peninsula Magazine called Inspire to make the bomb. After the suspects were identified by the intelligence officials, the Boston Globe reported that the fireworks were bought by Tamerlan in a New Hampshire fireworks store. Assisted by the Hudson County Sheriffs and West New York Police, the FBI seized computer devices in the apartment of the suspects’ sister situated at West New York in New Jersey on April 19. On April 24, the FBI together with the Homeland Security released to the Los Angeles Times a joint intelligence briefing and preliminary analysis of the evidence recovered (Philip, 20113). According to the briefing, intelligence officers believed that the suspects used long-range remote controls similar to those of toy cars to trigger two homemade bombs. They also confirmed that they had finished preliminary reconstruction of the homemade bombs used by suspects to disrupt the April 15Marathon event.  

It is important to note that FBI was dealing with an unusual and difficult challenge. If the intelligence had concrete evidence that involved a particular person or a group of suspects, it would pursue the case through the traditional investigation techniques and authority. The process would be done with the following in mind: criminal investigation procedures, prosecution of suspects, and conviction. However, in the case of Boston Marathon, the FBI was asked to give protective steps against suspects that were unidentifiable to prevent a crime that could occur at anytime and anywhere within a jurisdiction (Wilson, 2014). The challenge reflected on the task relied on four obvious broad measures to provide security against terrorist attacks.

Conclusion

The intelligences did not have information in hand to give prior warnings. However, after the incident, the intelligence together with the law enforcement agencies collaboratively worked to uncover the suspects behind the Boston Marathon incident. From the point of the incident, suspects’ identification, preliminary reports to prosecution of the suspects, several challenges were clear. The steps used by the intelligence to suppress insecurity posed challenges especially in metropolitan areas like Boston with millions of people and a tiny fraction of the population having the idea of terrorist attack. The worst part is that only a small fraction of that group is already planning a terrorist attack and a small percentage of those plans have been executed. It would not only be difficult for the intelligence to distinguish members at first, but it is also difficult to distinguish members of either category from millions of people who are hardly different from each other. However, the coordination between the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to uncover crime and crime suspects worked successfully in the case.

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