Random Links on the Boston Terrorist Attack

Encouraging poll data says that maybe Americans are starting to have realistic fears about terrorism, or at least are refusing to be terrorized.

Good essay by Scott Atran on terrorism and our reaction.

Reddit apologizes. I think this is a big story. The Internet is going to help in everything, including trying to identify terrorists. This will happen whether or not the help is needed, wanted, or even helpful. I think this took the FBI by surprise. (Here's a good commentary on this sort of thing.)

Facial recognition software didn't help. I agree with this, though; it will only get better.

EDITED TO ADD (4/25): "Hapless, Disorganized, and Irrational": John Mueller and Mark Stewart describe the Boston -- and most other -- terrorists.

Posted on April 25, 2013 at 6:42 AM • 20 Comments


DavidApril 25, 2013 7:39 AM

"Boston police" say facial recognition didn't help. What of the other agencies involved? Does he even know? You do realize the police do not have to tell the truth? What of behavior tracking or other software?

Matthias UrlichsApril 25, 2013 7:45 AM

I saw no "refuse to be terrorized" bits out there. I saw multiple instances of police pointing their guns directly at ordinary citizens.

I'll believe the "refuse to be terrorized" rhetoric when those people actually sue the police for recklessly endangering them. I mean, they pointed their (most likely, loaded and unlocked) guns directly at persons who clearly were NOT the (presumed) bomber.

NobodyApril 25, 2013 8:28 AM

The polls look better, but they are still very bad.

From this last attack, extreme over reaction, without results to show for it.

I guess the US needs a natural disaster to put things in perspective for them so they do not destroy the government they have out of seduction of fear and desire for "strong leaders".

lazloApril 25, 2013 8:39 AM

I'm going to have to call you on this one Bruce. Those are clearly only pseudo-random links at best. They have nearly zero entropy.

andyinsdcaApril 25, 2013 10:02 AM

I think that there needs to be a serious re-evaluation of the value of "crowd-sourcing" now that NBC News has confirmed that one of the guys fingered by Reddit was found dead. Once the momentum of the crowd is going, it's pretty damn hard to stop and get the wrong guy....

Jan DoggenApril 25, 2013 10:02 AM

Re Reddit: There is nothing (initially) wrong with a crowd sourced attempt to analyze pictures. It's just that once a suspect is 'identified', too many people participating in that search either start bragging about who they 'found' (naming names) or playing judge/jury/executioner (vigilante justice). The only correct course of action is presenting the information (+ 'evidence') to people who are trained how to deal with this, i.e. the police.

No OneApril 25, 2013 10:27 AM

@andyinsdca: That's disgusting. Nevermind that they did eventually identify and kill or apprehend two primary suspects, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Didn't we outlaw lynch mobs some time ago?

JasonBApril 25, 2013 1:02 PM

Bruce, could you comment on the role of surveillance cameras in helping catch the bombers? I know you're not a big fan of British-style blanketing (nor am I), but the various image sources seem to have gone a long way in this case to helping catch the bombers.

999999999April 25, 2013 4:35 PM

What if the Tsarnaevs had been the “Boston Innocents”?
What if some third party was hanging out there waiting for someone with a big black bag (such as used by photography boffins all over the world) and a few minutes after the two departed, planted the bombs and set them off. (Tin foil hat)
Or just yet another massive over-reaction of law enforcement?
There have been enough innocents who have been Arrested, charged, indicted and convicted of crimes and DNA evidence exonerates for us to say that in 24 hours the suspects are positively identified, living a few miles away and that they are extremely well armed (one pistol) and dangerous.
Law enforcement failed to bring the older brother to justice. They brought him to death, that is not justice. He was not arrested, accused or convicted of any crime and he is dead. This in it self bothers me only a little bit.
Let me explain:
1) People have been killing people in mass quantities since the beginning of time. It is practically our second oldest activity. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with the Gov. killing it's own people. Any person, whatsoever, no exceptions, ever.
2) In the interest of information. The person who killed the older brother did not only end his life but also the trail of intelligence.
3) Compare Anders Behring Breivik. He felled 77 and injured 300 more. He will sit in prison and every year he lives is a triumph of the rule of law in a civil society. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is a failure in comparison. The act was poorly executed and planned and he died in the process. The victim's families will never get to sit in court and hear a judge proclaim him guilty.

mooApril 25, 2013 5:18 PM

From what has been reported, it seems that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had _run out of bullets_ and was tackled by several police officers. They were in the process of trying to handcuff him when his younger brother ran over him with the stolen SUV, dragging him along the street a ways and probably killing him.

Also, they were "extremely armed" with one gun and at least 4 improvised explosive devices including at least one pressure cooker bomb like the ones that detonated during the marathon. I don't think the media has reneged yet on the stories that the suspects threw at least 2 of these IEDs at police during the shootout, and at least one exploded.

I know conspiracy theories are all the rage, but I think we can say with some assurance that law enforcement did find the correct perpetrators in this case.

mooApril 25, 2013 10:06 PM

@andyinsdca, No One:

According to CNN, "[t]he Rhode Island State Medical Examiner's office said Thursday that the body has been identified as that of Tripathi, missing since March 15. No foul play is suspected in his death, the office said."


Tripathi (a student) was already missing for a month before the bombings. He probably died of accidental cause, or a natural cause. Perhaps he was already dead at the time of the bombings -- none of those details are mentioned in the article. In any event, him turning up dead is probably not the result of vigilantism after the Reddit crowd incorrectly fingering him as a bombing suspect. It was awful, and vile, and unfortunate. Hopefully online communities will exercise more caution/restraint in situations like this in the future.

NobodyApril 26, 2013 8:56 AM


I cringe at the usage of guns in the US by law enforcement. We could be using tasers, instead. We could have systems far better then tasers.

I think a lot of this is because of the gun culture here.

Killing these guys is extremely damaging for investigative purposes.

I would agree with your sentiment about how law is more better upheld without killing suspects or convicted perpetrators.

A lot of Americans would disagree with me. But that argument comes down to them arguing people making this argument are "soft of heart", and they are "hard of heart" -- where "hard of heart" they value as a virtue.

Ironically, it is probable the majority of those who would make this argument go to church every Sunday. Yet, the virtue of being "soft in heart" versus the vice of being "hard in heart" does not seem to sink in.

On tinfoil hat scenario:

The evidence seems strong this is a clear case where these guys were succumbed by a violent religious-political ideology. Enough so that Russia took the time to identify them and keep track of them on these very issues. They also took the time to work with our authorities to ensure their business was accounted for.

And, like many of these cases, the ball is dropped. I am seeing, in the media, this pressure is not being put on these suspects.

There are claims like "they worked alone", and "this was reasonable that they dropped off the radar". It really is not, at all, reasonable.

Could they have been setup? Anything is possible. In the nineteenth century, one of the ways frustrated policing agencies dealt with "saboteurs" was by setting them up. It is hard and frustrating to not try and entrap them.

But there are laws which enable cops to surveil legitimately suspicious suspects like this. There are laws which can get them arrested for being involved in these sorts of conspiracies.

Really, like in many of these cases, including 911, the suspects went overseas and to terrorist training facilities.

If that is not the criteria for a suspect, then what is? That they are Democrat? That they belong to the Tea Party? That they are political opponents to some powerful members of congress?

So, I see viability for conspiracy there, but not so much with these two actors.

Unless they were undercover agents, or didn't really have a violent bone in their body but just found some girl at an terrorist training facility.... and we can see from their actions this does appear not to be the case, at all.

MeApril 26, 2013 10:44 AM

@Moo Re: @999999999
I don't see what difference it make if we are 'sure' these are the right ones or not. We established a system in this nation to establish guilt and punish accordingly. Killing a suspect runs end-round that system and as such is a miscarriage of justice.

That said, I cannot fault an officer (or anyone else) for shooting at someone that is shooting at them, but I still feel that killing a suspect is not justice. (For the record, I did experience sadness even for the deaths of OBL and Gadafi, they deserved to be brought to justice not slaughtered. I also was saddened that they hanged Saddam, but at least he was given his day in court, I just don't think the death penalty is something that a civil society should consider to be justice.)

When a people decide that killing is such a bad crime that it should kill those that commit it, they are hypocrites and make themselves criminals.

999999999April 26, 2013 11:33 AM

The tin foil hat comment was made to nail in the fact that you would have to be nuts to think that this was a conspiracy. There was no conspiracy.
But, what if?
I heard that in the confusion the younger brother killed the older brother. That sounds like a frightened, panicky amateur and not the steely eyed cold blooded operative that gripped the city in fear. Such a danger to society that he kept everyone on curfew and caused the authorities to point loaded weapons at civilians.
I will make a prediction: Law enforcement will react badly and escalate.

Well armed: by definition, if you run out of bullets you are not well armed.
Well armed: the bomb killed 3 people. That is a tragedy. Can you imagine if the bombers would have been competent? It would have been a travesty.
They were incompetent, panicky and volatile. Too many bad action movies and rap music (according to some). But the authorities treated them like a well armed, well trained, cold blooded operatives. Who is more delusional? the perpetrators or the so called trained professionals?

The Russians: So what if the flagged him? the US just flagged 16 Russians. The Russians put a rock band called "Pussy Riot" in jail (not just on some list). The Russian authorities are not a reliable source of information. Not even here in Russia.

law enforcement did find the correct perpetrators in this case. Then one of them died. They also found a few who were not the correct ones. They also broke some laws themselves. This comes back to ends justifying the means. The end result should have been 2 bombers in court and the trail to the inception of their radicalization being investigated. Anything short of that falls somewhere between "small failure" to "total catastrophe"
The older brother dying should be unacceptable to all of us.

PeterApril 26, 2013 11:47 AM

"But the most recent Fox News survey found that — for the first time since before 9/11 — more respondents were unwilling (45 percent) than willing (43 percent) to sacrifice personal freedoms to reduce the threat of terrorism." - from the NYT link

Might that be because in the current zeitgeist, "sacrifice personal freedoms" equals "give up your guns" in that particular audience?

mooApril 26, 2013 3:04 PM


"I don't see what difference it make if we are 'sure' these are the right ones or not. We established a system in this nation to establish guilt and punish accordingly. Killing a suspect runs end-round that system and as such is a miscarriage of justice."

Maybe you didn't actually read my post, or any of the dozens of news articles that have described the events of that night, because Tamerlan wasn't killed by the police, his own brother ran him over with a stolen SUV in a desperate bid to escape.

The cops had tackled him to the ground and were in the process of handcuffing him when his brother drove directly at them in the SUV, ran over Tamerlan and dragged his body aways down the street. The cops rushed him to the hospital where they tried to save his life, but were unsuccessful. At the time the media breathlessly reported that he had wounds all over his body, but those weren't necessarily gunshot wounds--probably a significant amount of the damage was the result of being dragged by the car.

People need to learn read news articles carefully and critically. Only accept facts or statements with 2 or more distinct sources or one clearly identified authoritative source. Most readers seem to be drawing their own wild inferences about what happened, probably without even realizing they are doing so. Look at the number of people who have leaped to the conclusion that Sunil Tripathi was killed by angry vigilantes, when all the news articles say is (1) he was wrongly accused of the bombing by Reddit and others, and (2) his deceased body has been recovered. I haven't noticed any trustworthy news sources actually claiming a causal connection between these two events.

Citizen #5April 28, 2013 5:59 PM

Atran makes some good points, but I disagree with his assessment that terrorists "win" when their acts attract lots of media attention and some type of disruptive response.

The response in Boston was certainly disruptive, but it was also reasonable given the information available at the time; it was short-lived; it was carried out without causing permanent damage to innocent persons or the community; and it was fairly effective.

I only care about the goals of terrorists insofar as it enables us to better achieve our goals: enabling a free society and minimizing harm to life. If an action fulfills my goals, as the Boston response did, then I could not care less if it is also a goal of a given group of terrorists. If they want attention, and want to see their faces on display everywhere, then so long as it serves our goals there is no reason not to oblige.

One of the two terrorists involved is captured; the other is killed. For those lucky enough to have not been scorched by their actions, life goes on much as before. As to prevention, we may or may not be wanting, but as to response, the result is quite positive.

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