By RK Raghavan
The disruption of the hallowed Boston marathon last evening is significant in many ways. It takes the enemy right into the heart of a nation that had legitimately prided itself on a nearly foolproof security regimen since it was first devastated by the attack on New York’s Twin Towers in September 2001.
If you ignore the November 2009 incident in which a pro-Al Qaeda US Army Major Nidal Hassan went berserk at an army training camp in Texas killing 13 people, there have been only some unsuccessful attempts by individuals with terrorist leanings during the 12 years that have gone by. These are too early hours to brand the Boston explosions at the finishing line of the marathon as a terrorist misadventure. The FBI/Boston Police have searched a home and have also questioned a Saudi Arabian fleeing from the scene. We have to wait for their outcome.
President Barack Obama must be a very worried man. He has cautioned citizens against jumping to hasty conclusions. This is obviously to deflect any attempts at reprisals against the huge Muslim community in the country. But it looks as if he is talking from emotions and an anxiety to maintain peace in society, rather than on the basis of facts.
We can expect the FBI to crack the mystery. It has a reasonable track record and the resources to spread the net far and wide. It would look beyond the suspicion of an Al Qaeda-inspired misadventure. Going by the fact that the bombs set off were crude and could not, therefore, cause major loss of lives, one is inclined to believe that it was an individual rather than an organisation that was involved. Direct material support from outside the US is difficult because of the tightened controls established by a host of Federal agencies. A local maverick is probably involved.
We should remember that the US is now a nearly fractured society. The growing urban poverty (read: joblessness) have formalised groups that are increasingly potent and hostile against an administration that is struggling to juggle a bloated budget and keeping the borders impermeable to a huge number of potential immigrants. Crime rates are erratic across the nation. Temporary drops in some cities are more than offset by sharp increases elsewhere. The police are kept busy either bringing down crime or maintaining current dips.
Computer systems are adequate to keep out aliens from slipping into the country. It is, however, a moot question whether they are effective in keeping track of home-grown dissenters and mischief-mongers. This is why I am inclined to believe that, when unravelled, the incident could well prove to be the work of a mad white supremacist, incensed by the rising prominence of the brown population in many fields of activity, including law and justice. Some names (Srinivasan and Kamala Harris) doing the rounds for Federal judge positions have the potential of promoting jealousies.
The reported increase in the number of so-called Patriot groups that are blatantly anti-administration is a matter of concern for the White House. This is especially in the context of the imminent changes to the gun law that will make background checks more stringent. The proposal has caused perceptible anger among those who believed that President Obama would not rock the boat and are now greatly disappointed. The National Rifle Association’s (NRA’s) power is difficult to underestimate. It resists any attempts to make gun acquisition and ownership more procedure-ridden. Not that the NRA will engage itself in direct assaults on government. It has nevertheless the immense capacity to whip up passions that end up in mad acts against innocent civilians.
This is the backdrop against which one should dissect the Boston incident, which highlights how difficult it is to secure sporting events against anti-social elements. This is especially true of an enormously spread-out competition like the marathon. The London marathon is billed for next week, and coming close on the heels of the Boston attack, the Metropolitan Police will have to keep its fingers crossed. The aplomb and professionalism with which it managed last year’s Olympics offer hopes that next week’s gala event will be incident-free.
In this context, security for our own IPL will remain a major concern. Already so many individuals and groups must be hovering around our stadiums waiting for an opportunity to strike. There are certain features of the IPL that compound the situation. For instance, the slight caused by keeping out Pakistani cricketers cannot be wished away. This seems unethical as well undiplomatic, if one reckons the enormous talent that country has. The decision to keep out the Sri Lankans also muddies the water. The Indian police have their job cut out for the mega-event that the IPL has become. Whether they have the skills to filter out the undesirables and permit access only the innocent cricket fan is debatable. The fact that five editions of IPL have gone by without a hitch, however, offers hopes that this year also we can watch cricket without fear.
To be sure, terror incidents can never be fully avoided - as the Boston blasts indicate. But the key thing to learn from Boston is how things were handled after the blasts. Jack Greene, Professor and former Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, says soon after the blasts, "first responders did an amazing job, controlling the area (now a crime scene), evacuating people to safer places and to emergency medical services." They also helped "reassure people that they were in control."
Greene also said: "National, state and local police and investigative services have converged in Boston, and I expect that such coordination will produces the perpetrators of this event, although no one has taken responsibility to date. I would say that the weight of all government resources is being applied to this event to get at the underlying individuals or groups that caused these explosions, injuries and deaths, and to make it clear that the government will go to all ends to address such issues. It is also interesting as the police (at all levels) are holding regular news conferences as well."
Tragedies can happen. It is how we respond to crises that matters. This is surely a learning for India's own terror fighters.
The writer is a former CBI Director