Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Airport gift shops throughout New England are piling "Boston Strong" T-shirts in vivid colors. "Boston Strong" became a rallying cry of solidarity after the terrorist bombing last year at the Boston Marathon.
As the anniversary of the attack -- and the next race on April 21 -- approaches, emotional coverage of the event and aftermath is reaching feverish levels. A multipage spread in The Washington Post, "How Boston Stayed Strong," heaves with charged language: "harrowing," "carnage," "horrific."
So it's really odd to see these pained reminiscences alternating with rebukes of a National Security Agency surveillance program designed to prevent such assaults. Actually, the disconnect is something to behold.
One hears Rep. William R. Keating, D-Mass., complaining that federal agencies could have prevented the bombing. They did not heed warnings from Russian intelligence that one of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming radicalized.
But nine months earlier, Keating voted for the Amash amendment, which would have closed down the NSA's collection of phone and other records. (It bears repeating that the agency may not listen in on the actual content of such communications without a court order.)
Fortunately, it was defeated by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats ready to brave the hysteria -- unleashed by ambitious populists and conformist media too lazy to examine the realities of national security in the age of widespread spy technology and terrorists armed with explosive devices far scarier than weaponized pressure cookers.
So what will it be? Are Americans to rely on Russian spies, with their own agendas, to keep them safe? By the way, the Russian security apparatus is famously insensitive about people's privacy.
OK, but what good is the NSA program if it didn't catch the Tsarnaev brothers before they acted? Bad question. The agency doesn't "see" everything.
"No, NSA ops should not have been expected to 'catch' Tsarnaev online, because that's just not how NSA does its job," John Schindler, intelligence expert at the U.S Naval War College and former analyst at the NSA, told me.
"(The) FBI would have had to have tipped NSA off first, as seems not to have happened. Ball to FBI."
The NSA said it did use the program to rule out the likelihood of a second strike in New York City.
Meanwhile, Americans must better steel themselves against terrorism. Only three people died in the marathon bombing. I hesitate to use the word "only,'' because every death was a tragedy, and dozens of others were grievously wounded.
But during this month's Afghan elections, at least 47 people were killed. And terrorists across the globe are massacring innocents by the dozens on a daily basis.
When a cafe is bombed in Israel, the blood is immediately scrubbed away, and shattered windows are replaced. By the next day, the place is open again for business. Shrugging it off lessens the bombers' reward in inflicting pain.
By contrast, Boston virtually shut down for days after the bombing. Cellphone service choked. Bostonians were rushed indoors. There was no Amtrak and almost no taxis. Schools and businesses closed.
Of course, the NSA should not be allowed to do anything it wants. Nor should we ignore the potential for abuse, given the march of progress in photo recognition software, DNA analysis and such.
But that Americans are shuffling aside the memory of Sept. 11, 2001 -- the outrage that launched the NSA program -- is a wonder. The idea that we are magically protected seems a weird offshoot of "American exceptionalism."
Deep thinking on how we can confront the threat of terrorism is in order for the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Grown-ups can work with nuance.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.