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Spreading the culture of fear

Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

Regardless of political ideology or level of sophistication, the terrorist apparatus has succeeded in spawning a network of crisis preparatory organizations and stroking our national paranoia.

The recent tragedy in Boston has law-enforcement organizations across the globe rethinking their security protocols while simultaneously hammering home the fact that today, almost two years after the death of Osama bin Laden, terrorism still looms in the American psyche.

Initial evidence concerning the construction of the bombs used in the recent attack has shed little light on the origins of the attack in this, an age of global discontent.

There are various disgruntled individuals and bands with axes to grind, and the ability to express that outrage by accessing household materials (the principal component of the Boston bombs is said to be a simple pressure cooker) and other ingredients for an expenditure of under a hundred dollars.

This apparent “DIY (Do It Yourself)” methodology has become the armament of choice for 21st-century grass-roots malcontents, regardless of ideology, and makes it that much harder to track down the guilty parties.

Preliminary reports had shrapnel consisting of ball bearings or BBs inflicting wounds, then followed by the declaration of one of the emergency-room physicians that there was no way to tell if the injury-causing debris was part of the bomb itself, or fragments from the surrounding environment sucked into the force of the explosion.

All this has generated more questions than answers. What is certain is that the suspect(s) have succeeded in dealing a blow to American confidence and helped continue the phobia America’s consciousness has experienced since 9/11.

With a massive commercial seaport, one of the busiest airports, world-class sporting events, and a huge entertainment hub, Los Angeles provides a tempting target for anyone intent on making the world take notice.

To counter this, the Southland has fostered a booming industry predicated on doom and gloom, for events that most pray will never come, but, with the realities of contemporary life, seem to be inevitable.

Sequestered in an office building near the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown, a little-known civil agency called the Emergency Management Department (EMD) has gone on alert in L.A.

In place since 2000, it is charged with synchronizing the city’s response to any of the myriad disasters, natural or man-made, that might befall the City of Angels.

Chris Ipsen serves as a spokesperson, and one of the duty officers charged with carrying a dedicated smart phone linking scores of organizations throughout the state and beyond.

Similar departments in Chicago (staff of 60) and New York City (more than 200 employees) do what EMD does with a staff of two dozen.

Its members must orchestrate all the law-enforcement, first-responder and hospital resources needed to address such calamities, along with all the private businesses and entities essential to getting the county’s economy back on track as soon as possible.

As they wait for the next crisis, these county employees preoccupy themselves with preparatory drills, and the study of misfortune in other locales in a grim form of “homework” for the day when catastrophe impacts native Angelenos.

Recently, the department conducted a training exercise simulating the Pakistani terrorist-coordinated 2008 Mumbai, India, bombing and shooting attacks. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year, they sent a team to study the challenges faced by authorities there.

A few years after EMD was established, the culture fostered in the wake of 9/11 created a fertile environment for private security firms and the directing of tax coffers toward more police and bigger facilities.

This led to the establishment of the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), a consortium of representatives of some 200 separate organizations housed under the roof of a nondescript commercial building in Norwalk responsible for some 18 million people across 40,000 square miles between San Luis Obispo, Orange County, the Pacific Ocean and the Nevada border.

Featured prominently here is the Los Angeles Police Department. JRIC is “ …  a direct conduit to what’s going on in Boston,” says LAPD Commander Blake Chow, Deputy Chief Michael Downing’s assistant at the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau.

Prior to 9/11, police cooperation in counterterrorism depended on casual, unofficial relationships between individuals within the different departments. As Chow notes, cooperation was “not formalized before 9/11.”

The harsh realities of contemporary geopolitics changed that. Cell phones and all the attendant accoutrements of technology have literally “shrunk” the world, and a beat cop can no longer only concern himself or herself with the latest stick-up at the local 7-Eleven.

The endless stream of threats range from serious menace to impotent gesture.

The week before the events in Boston, an anonymous envelope containing a threatening letter (later traced to a prison in Cumberland, Md.) along with a white powdery substance that proved to be chalk, arrived at the offices of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a man whose term in office ends in less than three months. All potential hazards must be scrutinized, regardless of methodology or point of origin.

“There are no boundaries anymore,” observes Chow.

All of this preparedness, installed to the tune of easily hundreds of millions of dollars for a threat that, as of now has not materialized, is merely a testament to the success of terror’s ulterior motive—escalating our anxiety.

Regardless of the rationale of the disaffected parties, America remains a potent symbol to rebel against.

Experts speculate on motive in Boston bombing

Massive killings may not have been intent

By William Covington

OW Contributor

Las Vegas resident Dorian Johnson became interested in bomb disposal while attending George Washington Preparatory High School. One day his sister, who was in the National Guard, invited him to a Guard open house. He was amazed at the explosive ordnance disposal gear used by the (EOD) technicians, who were specially trained to deal with the construction, deployment, disarmament, and disposal of high explosive munitions. He joined the Army just before the 9/11 attack and completed 11 tours of duty in Iraq.

Johnson remembers while on tour in Iraq overhearing a close friend, a physical therapist, describe how his talents as a therapist were wasted due to his assignment of packing in ice-filled body bags headed for Germany. Once in Germany, they were repacked with ice and flown to their destination in the United States. “You can tell the ones that have been blown up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” his friend told him. “The bag shifts back and forth due to the heavy unattached body parts moving inside.”

Johnson said he thought about that story when he saw images of the Boston bombings three days ago and refused to look at any news channels or read any newspapers. He had no idea that the explosion had only caused three fatalities.

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles and being a veteran of Iraq, Johnson said he tries to do whatever he can not to expose himself to stimuli that may trigger his post-traumatic stress disorder. This has included removing garment bags from his closet and throwing them in his garage because the garment bags remind him of body bags and his friend’s complaint.

The former Army munitions expert believes, based on his experience of deactivating IEDs, that whoever devised the Boston bombing plan may have been more concerned with the blasts being televised as opposed to producing a large kill ratio. Johnson bases this belief on the simple fact that explosions in confined spaces, like rooms and buses, have more of an impact on soft targets (humans). Detonating a bomb outside lessens the impact.

According to Johnson, the physical factors responsible for injury following an explosion in a room or building are: direct exposure to overpressure; blast-induced whole body displacement (force); impact of blast-energized debris (shrapnel); burns from flash and hot gases, and an open-air environment will dilute the energy or shockwave of that explosion and not be as effective.

He believes if more data was available or released by federal investigators it would be possible to understand the motive the perpetrator(s) was attempting to achieve—mass killings or media exposure.

What we do know, says Johnson, is that the type of explosive device used in Boston is known as a pressure cooker bomb. Many domestic terrorists are trying to get away from using materials like ammonium nitrate that can be traced through forensics. The key is to use a product that is not traceable and produces a blast wave of a significantly longer duration than those produced by older explosives like dynamite.

Johnson says we also know that the terrorist(s) more than likely wanted the explosion seen by millions, based on the finish line location. We also know that the bombs were activated by a cell phone, garage door opener, digital clock or some low-tech device, which can transmit a basic radio frequency command detonation.

Ken Trump, a senior security expert with Global, believes that the Boston Marathon bombing may have had technical issues with its timers or transmitters. He believes this attack was attempting to create a IED killing zone similar to an incident known as the Jaipur bombing.

Jaipur is the capital city of the Indian state of Rajasthan and a tourist destination. In May of 2008, terrorists or militants placed several IEDs at locations that they predicted fleeing people would run toward in an attempt to find safety once the explosions started.

After the first blast, the crowd at the Boston Marathon would have rushed forth past the finish line and encountered a human blockade of tired and resting race participants, some physically exhausted, as well as their family members and friends, in addition to volunteers and marathon officials. As ground zero for detonation, this unorganized rest area would have received the fleeing individuals, creating a blockade sending many toward awaiting IEDs. This is what happened in Jaipur in 2008.

The terrorists or militants detonated nine bombs at seven locations, and each device was detonated within 15 minutes of the preceding explosion. The blasts were arranged and synchronized to inflict maximum casualties. The first two blasts initiated a fleeing mass, and as the crowd rushed toward the exit another two blasts were detonated and blocked the exit point. These secondary explosions caused the panicked crowd to push back toward the others in the fleeing crowd, and the deadlocked individuals were in a killing zone based on the most basic human instinct, self-preservation. The scared and frightened individuals were then in a killing zone where subsequent blasts caused maximum fatalities.

Trump believes the key to the impact the Boston terror suspect or suspects wanted to achieve will remain unknown until more information is released to the media. An integral part of discovering this is the location of the devices that were deactivated before they could be exploded, possibly a result of user error on behalf of inexperienced terrorists or new technology the United States possesses.