Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Layman's Thoughts On The Boston Marathon Bomber(s)

Boston, the Marathon, the explosions, the injured, the dead, the unexploded devices, the media reports, the statements made by law enforcement and witnesses, the videos of what happened, all the other bombings that have preceded this one – have they gotten you to think about what happened yesterday? You can bet that the experts are thinking about it all, trying to figure out what happened and they are collecting, examining and analyzing the evidence. We do not have that ability, at least we cannot collect, examine and then analyze the hard evidence but we can analyze what is available to us such as the content of news reports as to what took place, what we have seen in videos of the explosions, the result of the explosions (as reported to us) and we can do so against what we know already about previous bombings.

I don’t know about you but I have been doing that since I heard about the bombings. I am certainly not a bomb expert although I have rudimentary education in how to construct a bomb (mostly from what I learned of them as a federal agent or as a result of watching televised news reports about bombings) and that includes how to detonate them remotely. I do not know much but know enough about explosive materials to be able to formulate the them. I know little about the actual physics of an explosion but again, I have, as does anyone who pays attention to current events on the news, some knowledge about how to place a bomb for more effect as opposed to ineffectually placing one, and I know about how to place and time multiple explosive devices to achieve the greatest amount of injuries and deaths. It has all been reported over and over and over again on the media. I also know that the hardest things to obtain in relation to an improvised explosive device are not the projectiles (ball bearings, nails, screws are available at any hardware store), are not the bomb casings (metal pipes, cans, PVC tubes and other things are available just about anywhere), are not the detonators (electronics used to set off bombs are easily obtainable at drug stores, phone stores electronic shops). The most difficult thing to obtain , or to formulate, would be the actual explosive compound. Yeah, sure, you can buy fertilizer and fuel oil to make an explosive but that does not make the actual explosive easy to formulate. You need the know-how. You can also get black powder, ready-made, but it is much less effective than Semtex ounce per ounce. It is not all that difficult to get an explosive compound but it certainly is not easy to get or make one that will do damage very effectively; this one was nowhere nearly as effective as a high explosive.

I also know that when an established group does something like this, they usually claim credit or responsibility for it right away. They have an agenda and one of the things that keeps them in the limelight is pushing that agenda by way of publicity associated with terrorists acts for which they claim credit. That is one of the reasons as to why so many groups often claim to be responsible for a single act of terrorism for which another group is actually responsible. In addition, I know a lone wolf does not often claim responsibility for such an act, at least not as quickly as would a terrorist group seeking infamy, because an individual is usually more cautious at the outset of his or her nefarious deeds. In addition, it is sometimes the case, that the lone bomber is killed in the act of setting off the explosions and we only find out about him or her after a decent amount of investigation has concluded that it was a lone bomber.

As I said, all this has gotten me to thinking. The hypothesis I have reached, mind you, based upon what scant evidence I have seen is that the person or persons who perpetrated these acts was or were amateurs with very little training. It could be that the person or people responsible for placing and setting off those bombs were part of a larger conspiracy but my initial guess would be that if they were part of a larger group, then the whole group is one of amateurs and not experienced in previous acts of terrorism, at least not in bombings. Why do I say that.

Well, first off, the placement and the timing of the bombs was amateurish. The first bomb, or maybe it was the second, to go off was placed in area in which there was a large crowd but was not placed for greatest effect. There was a storefront behind the bomb and the street in front of it. The storefront had a large glass window as could be seen in news clips and photos. What that means is that the blast had little resistance on any side and the blast wave expanded just about equally in all directions except down into the ground. Had the bomber placed the bomb with a concrete wall to one side, instead of a glass storefront, it would have directed the blast out toward the street and the bystanders with much more force.

Then there was the placement of the bombs about a block apart instead of much closer to one another. Had they been closer to one another, then first responders who came to the aid of the initial victims of the first blast would have been injured by the second blast as would have been people trying to run from the first blast. As it was, the second blast was too far from the first to achieve as effective a secondary kill zone. Thus, a second device would have been better off placed somewhat closer, at the furthest, I would guess it should have been placed at the nearest intersection because most folks would be running through the intersection either to respond or escape but the second one was placed a block or more away from what I could make out in the videos. So whoever did it had the notion of a secondary device creating additional victims but did not have the actual technical knowhow of how to get it right. This makes me think it was not only someone with little to no experience in such things but that the bomber had little training from someone who had the knowhow.

In addition, there was the timing between the explosions. There was only about 15 seconds between the first and second blast. It would take longer, for people to have realized what had happened and then either run from the area where the first went off to where the second was planted for it to have effectively gotten more victims as they tried to escape. Likewise for first responders. The timing was off to achieve greater effect and this makes me think that both bombs were remotely set off by an amateur who was swept up in the excitement of the moment and set off the second bomb prematurely or who had them timed poorly because of inexperience.

What else is there to go on. Well, judging from the video of the first explosion, for which there were at least a couple to a few different views available to us, I would say, again guesswork, that the explosive used was not a high explosive but was a lower grade explosive. Had it been a high grade explosive, the force of the explosion would have knocked many more people to the ground and shaken stationary objects like light poles, fixed cameras (on tripods or other stands), and sign posts. We did not see almost any of that. What we saw was a small blast, with a large cloud of gray smoke, something akin to an explosion of black powder. An explosion that would require a lot more to do the same job that only a little of a high explosive could accomplish. This tied in with the poor placement, already mentioned above, as to the glass storefront as opposed to a strong wall to one side of the explosive to guide the explosion out from the wall again has the signature of an amateur or poorly trained individual.

Then there was the overall timing of the explosions. Had they gone off as the winners were crossing the finish line, the effect would have been at least somewhat more effective if only psychologically so. There would have been much more media coverage of the actual event at that time. Several news crews had already departed the area by the time the bombs went off. Terrorists are not merely successful because they maim and kill people and destroy property, they succeed in their reigns of terror by having their heinous acts publicized as much as possible. I think it likely that had this been perpetrated by a terrorist operative who had been trained by an organized terrorist organization  it would have been orchestrated for maximum media coverage.

Now, as I readily admit, I am certainly no expert on any of this; heck I am not even an amateur. It is all guess work on my part based upon what little I know of previous similar events. What amazes me is that I have not heard one iota of anything like what I just said coming from even a single member of the news media or from any of the usual pundits. Granted, maybe that is because what I just hypothesized is all wrong. Yet, I am more than willing to bet just a little that we are going to find out that either this was a lone wolf psycho (right or left wing extremist, it does not matter which because psycho will be the key word) or it was committed by a wanna be member of a major terrorist group who had the moral support of terrorist cell and handlers but had little actual training from them and who received little actual physical material from them to get the job done. Then again, I guess, I have to keep in mind that many terrorists are not rocket scientists and that it does not require an advanced physics or mechanical engineering degree to impart an awful lot of terror and misery onto unsuspecting victims and there were a lot of victims. Yet, I just keep thinking that a knowledgeable bomber, with the proper resources, would have created 5 to 10 times as much devastation with the two bombs that went off.

That is all just my hypothesis, I am not saying that is how it happened, I am just guesstimating, based on my scant knowledge of previous such acts, that the bomber(s) in this instance was or were poorly trained in what he, she or they set out to do. I shudder to think about the outcome had the guilty person(s) been well trained, previously experienced, and sufficiently equipped terrorists.

Edited, on 04/16, to add: I want to be absolutely clear on this, I am not trying to belittle the loss of any victim's life or the horrid injuries that many people suffered by saying that I believe whoever did this was amateurish. Because I think the bomber(s) was probably inexperienced does not make the act that was committed any less a terrorist act. Regardless of the level of expertise of the bomber, the outcome was terrifying. Even one injury was too many; yet, whoever did this injured scores of people and killed others. The injuries sustained by people were horrific, that is certain. The loss of life definitely most terrible and saddening. The emotional injuries and scarring, to they who lost loved ones or had loved ones injured or who were injured but survived, unendurable yet long lasting. The disregard shown by the bomber(s) for the victims is unfathomable but worthy of every effort to understand it so to be better able to hunt down the killers and swiftly bring them to justice. As I said in my earlier post about the bombing, I am keeping all of the victims and their loved ones in my thoughts and prayers and I mean that most sincerely.

All the best,
Glenn B