Working together in Boston

I’m going to exercise my blog-owner prerogative to make a major deviation from the aerospace focus to talk about the Boston Marathon events.

The government response to what happened was superb. There can be no other word for it. There have already been a number of stories about the disaster response planning by Boston and how it provided instantaneous response to the injured. Lives were saved because of the rapid-response.

The ability to identify the suspects—not only in the videos but within hours their names—and then track them down is astounding. Certainly citizen cooperation made this possible. NBC News reported the FBI had about 25,000 hours of video to review provided by security cameras and citizens. How this could have been done in such a short period of time is bewildering. I haven’t seen anything to detail how many hours of video actually was reviewed before the suspects stood out, but according to news reports the key video came from a security camera mounted on the roof of a store.

Video Surveillance

Here is Seattle, there is a debate currently going on about the police erecting video cameras along an area called Alki Beach. Civil libertarians are concerned about invasion of privacy and police misconduct. Given the history of Seattle Police in recent years abusing civil rights, the concerns are particularly on-point here. But the video presence in Boston, contributing to the swift identification of the Marathon Bombers, certainly raises a solid argument for installing these.

There is a national debate over whether law enforcement should be allowed to use drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The critics cite the same civil libertarian concerns as they do with the street cameras. While there has been no indication I’ve seen that UAVs were used in Boston, it was clear that helicopters were.

I have a hard time understanding the difference between “plain view” observation by helicopters, cameras or UAVs. UAVs, which are cheaper to buy and cheaper to operate than helicopters, could easily have aided law enforcement as they searched for the Marathon Bombers, vastly increasing their reach. Whether it would have made a difference in faster apprehension (which was pretty fast as it was) will forever be speculative. But “plain view” is “plain view.” UAVs don’t change that.

Government in General

Survivalists and many politicians like to bash government as being Big and Bad. There is plenty to criticize about government, and I’ve been known to do so on more than one occasion. But I served on appointed city boards for eight years and with this experience came both the good and the bad. The good is understanding that, for whatever differences in philosophy that often lead to sometimes bitter debate, those serving in government want to make things better—however “better” is defined by competing interests. The bad comes from the inefficiencies, bureaucracies and sometimes plain incompetence.

Local, State and Federal governments came together in Boston to respond to the initial tragedies. Then they came together to identify the bombers. Then they came together in one of the largest manhunts in American history. Government at its best.

But the very government agencies involved face huge budget cuts because of Sequester and a view by Republicans that all taxes are bad. If nothing demonstrates that taxes are needed to fund government, Boston certainly does.

I’m not a blind-eyed defender of taxes or of irresponsible spending. But will there ever be any event to wake up Washington (DC) that common sense must prevail? Citizens of all stripes and ideologies worked together in Boston. Common sense and common purpose prevailed there. Wouldn’t it be nice if the politicians in Washington acted as well as Boston?

26 Comments on “Working together in Boston

  1. The problem with video surveillance is that it does not prevent crime, it only makes it easier to solve a crime after it is committed. In the case of Boston, the police had the good fortune of having a witness survive who woke up between surgeries and was able to give a description of one of the bombers. Even with the combined might of the FBI,HLS, CIA, NSA and a raft of other Federal and state agencies it was a campus cop who broke the case and city police who did the final take down after a citizen found the half conscious wounded teenager hiding in a boat. Had they set the search perimeter a block farther after the shoot out they would have found him sooner. Good solid police work and luck broke this case. Does it really justify giving up civil rights, privacy and the rule of law to chase down a 19 year old kid? Do you need drones, helicopters, and armoured vehicles to do police work?

  2. first of all – AMEN AMEN AMEN

    FWIW many years ago a good friend of mine ( now deceased ) who was an Engineer at BA and well known by Allen Mulally told me of his dealings at the highest level with government agencies. Internally within the Pentagon and related agencies there WAS a great deal of cooperation which went into a decline in the 90’s. When an issue was discussed – everyone of whatever ‘ rank” got a chance to input and speak their piece- for or against an issue.

    That attitude had to be resurected after 911. Since then, the ‘ working together’ bit seems to have again gone by the side- but perhaps Boston will again bring it to the fore.

    My friend- Dan Hartley was a rare bird – an Engineer- civilian advisor to the Secs defense from Nixon to Reagan and spent many many many hours in high level meetings, and as he remarked in a meeting one day ( I was present ) – He probably spent more hours in high level meeting than our guest at that meeting ( Rudy deLeon).

  3. I have been following the events in Boston from my Fort Worth home since these senseless bomb blasts detonated. I still have many friends and family members who live in the Greater Boston Area, I am originally from the Boston area. I have been on the phone to them all week, and was very concerned on Monday that I could not reach them (the city ordered the cell phone towers turned off in hopes of preventing additional bomb detonations by cell phone, a smart move I agree with).

    The Massachusetts State Police, Boston, Watertown, MBTA (Transit) and other local police forces and FBI did the right thing in shutting down a large American city on Friday….an unprecedented event.

    To my knowledge from speaking with family members UAVs were not used during the bombing or the manhunt.

    Most, if not all of the video tape and pictures provided came from the public using their cell phones and their cameras as well as department store cameras. The store cameras are set up to help deter shoplifting, but in this case provided clear pictures of the two bombers. Almost none of the camera images used were owned by any government agency. So, at least in the case of the Boston Marathon (or any other large sporting event) it is the public who is watching, there is no need for the government to watch, too.

    Police agencies asking for public help or asking for cell phone or other images to help solve a criminal or terrorist event is nothing new. They have been asking for these images and pictures or video for years.

    There are more than 200 million cell phone cameras in the US today. People use them to document everything from flowers along a path, to people getting beaten up, to police abuse, and more. Additionally you cannot walk into a department store, grocery store, or even 7-11 without getting your picture taken by the store. That infaststructure is already in place and working today. So cameras are a vital resource the police can rely on, and even to help keep police abuse in check. There is no need for police monitored camera equipment anywhere as long as the public and police have a common interest in catching criminal activity. Police operated UAVs and camera systems are a waste of taxpayer money and truly an infringement on the people. Only a very few incidents have included information gained from a government owned camera. The one that comes to mind is the grainy images of AA-587 going down near JFK in 2001. The pictures were captured by a camera mounted on a toll booth nearby.

    • Various NRA representatives have suggested the bombing would have been prevented if more people (including athletes!) had been carrying guns …

      • I guess most of world is amazed what the relatively small NRA is able to achieve in terms of spreading of big guns in the US. Blocking moderate, reasonable gun control laws 90 % of the population supports. Determined well financed groups can beat democracy.

        • Hi keesje,

          The claim by politicians that “90% of the American people demand gun control” is far from the truth. Politicians do lie. Nor is the NRA a small organization, they have millions of members and are just one of many gun organizations. The NRA does not sell guns. Gun ownership rights are imbedded in our Constitution, it is call the Second Amendment. It states “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

          There have been many US Supreme Court cases upholding the rights of gun ownership in the US. There are state laws that do control guns in the US and there are many common limitations upon gun ownership such as guns cannot be owned by ex-felons, mentally ill people, or used in a crime. Gun ownership by law abiding people has never been a problem. In fact of the 250 million guns owned by citizens in the US, only 0.003% have been used to commit murders or injure someone.

          The US Congress or the President have no legal authority to regulate guns, but each of the states do. The US Constitution applies to the federal government. It is a document that limits the federal government but grants more rights to the individual states. It also outlines the rights of every citizen in the US. States can add rights to its citizens, but they cannot subtract rights granted by the Constitution.

          All of the recent gun crime cases in the US have been committed by someone who is not allowed by state laws to have a gun.

          The so called “assault weapons” have been used in just one gun crime out of every 25000. The “assault weapons” debate of today actually have nothing to do with magazine size or the number of rounds a single gun is capable of shooting. “Assault weapons” have been around for almost 200 years when the revolver hand gun was invented, and later during the US Civil War when the Henry repeating rifle was invented, and later the famous Winchester model 1873. Those were all the ‘assault weapons’ of their day. Even in the 1920s and 1930s when organized crime was a big problem in the US ‘assault guns’ were owned by people (and criminals) in the form of the famous Thompson Sub Machine Gun or the Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R.). Bonnie and Clyde had a B.A.R with them when they were killed by law enforcement, and Al Capone’s henchmen used the Thompson during the famous “Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

          The debate goes on.

  4. According to my information it wasn’t any surveillance camera that identified these – just don’t know how to call this idiots correct, maybe to offensive – it was a victim called Jeff Bauman. He lost two legs but right after operation he wrote on a paper ‘bag, saw the guy, looked right at me,’
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-04-19/boston-bombing-victim-in-iconic-photo-helped-identify-attackers.html

    People on the ground do the job and protect. The bombing in London wasn’t prevented by any camera. Video surveillance is faked security.

  5. First of all, I’m glad that some comments pointed out that the happiness on ‘solved’ crimes will never match the one on those.. which never happened. By this, no surveillance system could prevent what happened and no system ever will. Symptoms and causes.

    On a different occasion, I may cite a post on this site from February 11, 2013, namely this one: http://leehamnews.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/odds-and-ends-returning-the-787-to-service-elon-musks-tesla-challenges-droning-on/
    “McGinn is up for reelection and has proved to be a lefty-wacko who is very vulnerable. We think his decision is in character and an effort to appease his shrinking voter base.”

    The reason being that it may have become clear, by following the comments and the expressed surprise, why a large portion of people visits this very good blog: Analysis, extra information and, I admit, a bit of room to ask for/discuss details. I think it’s fair to state that I prefer the analysis part a lot over any kind of political news, even when being presented in a, mostly, reasonable way.

  6. Mass. State Police published photos of the boat in which the suspect was found, showing him in the boat thru a cover.

    https://www.google.com/webhp?source=search_app#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=mass.+state+police+bombing+photo&oq=mass.+state+police+bombing+photo&gs_l=hp.12..33i29i30l3.4366.16081.2.19204.22.19.3.0.0.0.122.1517.18j1.19.0…1.0…1c.1.9.psy-ab.ap1Dj4J_0Gc&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45512109,d.dmQ&fp=f97acdd8fceb51d7&biw=1366&bih=667

    WSJ has two terrific articles on the amazing speed and competence with which blast victims were moved to appropriate emergency rooms, literally within minutes of the explosions. Among other things, first responders knew the locations and capacities of the nearby emergency rooms, and so sent to each one only the number of victims it could handle.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324493704578428702998650358.html?KEYWORDS=boston+medical+response+bombing
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324345804578427250465921428.html

  7. As Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Unfortunately, now we don’t even “really” have democracy but House Representatives beholden to lobby groups due to their need to constantly raise money for re-election every two years. The money in politics is crazy and corrosive.

  8. Churchill is also reputed to have said of the USA that we always do the right thing, but only after trying everything else.

  9. At long last Boeing has started replacing the NEW BATTERIE in the 787 one hour ago good luck Boeing letts hope it does not happen again.

  10. Interesting that most of the small sample of replies to your blog post don’t agree with your argument for more surveillance to beat crime. Where I am, in the UK, blanket surveillance is accepted without debate. Maybe it shoudn’t be.

    I agree with some of your other commentators that video surveillance is not particularly effective at preventing crime and terrorism. This relies on human intelligence and infiltrating groups that might do bad things. This raises its own, I think more serious, ethical issues about subverting groups whose ideas most of us would disagree with, but who generally don’t blow people up.

    The situation in Dagestan and Chechnya has been grim for years but the extreme violence has mostly been contained within the Caucuses. . I image we will find out more over time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that the individuals concerned weren’t an apparent threat in advance of the attack.

    Finally, we need to learn to ignore terrorists. They rarely achieve anything concrete by their acts, except death, destruction and chaos. By over-reacting you may play to their agenda by making them seem powerful than they are. Of course you take any action necessary to save lives.

  11. kc135topboom :
    Hi keesje,
    The claim by politicians that “90% of the American people demand gun control” is far from the truth. Politicians do lie. Nor is the NRA a small organization, they have m
    …….
    w enforcement, and Al Capone’s henchmen used the Thompson during the famous “Valentine’s Day Massacre”.
    The debate goes on.

    KCT we won’t open this discussion, but I have seen the numbers compared to population and its clear the US have a hell of a problem in this area (5-10x as bad as other western societies). Once my wife didn’t want to travel to the US because of the amazing gun culture/ homicide rates. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/01/gun-violence-us-cities-compared-deadliest-nations-world/4412/

    • You are the one who opened this conversation, not me. You quoted statistics that are just out right wrong. The murder rate by guns in the US is 3.2 per 100,000 people, less than most countries in the world. In fact, the US has a much lower violent crime rate (466 per 100K people) than at least 6 EU countries, see the daily mail story below. Even little old Luxembourg has a higher rate than the US at 565 per 100K. Canada, long considered to be a ‘safe’ country has a violent crime rate more than twice that of the US.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196941/The-violent-country-Europe-Britain-worse-South-Africa-U-S.html

      http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/11/international/europe/11SHOO.html

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence

      But, you and I are getting to far from the discussion of this blog which is about the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon last week. As that investigation goes forward, the FBI is looking into who trained these two Tsarnaev brothers, and the older brother’s 6 month trip to the Russian Caucuses last year. Chechnya is a hot bed of terrorism, and the Russians have been dealing with them for years. Now it appears Chechnya may be exporting its radical Islamic terrorism to other p[arts of the world. I fear we have not heard the last of them now.

      • Sorry but I could not let this just slide. The wikipedia link you provided shows that the homicide by firearms per 100,000 rate in the US is 3.21 and 67% of homicides are by firearms. By comparison the rates in other countries are: Canada .51/32%; England .07/7%; Germany .19/26% Australia .13/11% and my favourite Hong Kong 0/0%. More alarming are the total number of deaths in the US by firearms, over 33,000 a year. By comparison 3 died in Boston and 3,000 in 911 yet no one wants to address any way of reducing gun deaths. Amazing.

        • The way to reduce gun deaths in the US is to enforce the laws we already have, not make new laws that won’t be enforced either.

  12. To give this a counterpoint:

    Getting the perpetrators seems to have been initated by the kidnapped driver of the car the two bombers had hijacked being able to flee at a petrol station and inform the police.

    Videos and other surveilance stuff seems to have not been involved.

    Elsewhere this is really doing “Purzelbäume” :
    German Minister for the Interior Hans Peter Friedrich says that even if video surveilance will not stop an initial suicide bombing it will provide for stopping a second or third try.

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