It’s always dangerous to make judgments while something like the marathon bombing/murder of MIT policeman/shootout in Watertown/search is underway.  But recognizing that there is much I don’t know yet, my tentative judgment is that the leadership of my former city has kind of lost it.  As I understand it,

  • A murderer, probably armed and dangerous, is on the loose.
  • His appearance, identity, associates, history, family and more are well known and widely disseminated.
  • He is 19 years old,  not Carlos the Jackal with safe houses, a network, and years of experience being on the lam, and especially not [the fictional!]l Jason Bourne.
  • His partner is already dead and not helping him.

The response of the city and nearby suburbs has been to essentially close down: taxis are on the street again, but no public transit, businesses closed, streets empty, Amtrak into the city stopped. [My daughter relays the delicious tidbit that Dunkin Donuts shops remain open at the specific request of the police!] A population of about three million people is doing nothing but hunkering down and being afraid: the back of my envelope says the price tag for this is 3 million x $56000 [median per capita income for Boston] x 1/200 [fraction of working year lost] = 840 million dollars, not to mention the enormous unpriced costs of anxiety and inconvenience.  This response, it seems to me, is appropriate to learning that a dirty bomb or biological WMD or Oklahoma City-scale ANFO device has been set somewhere, not to a kid who might kill a few more people.  Indeed, the conditions in my bullet list above exist quite commonly in every big city and I’ve never heard of a reaction like this.

Someone needs to get a grip. Leadership seems to be wallowing in a positive-feedback orgy of too much adrenaline and too much media attention.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

49 thoughts on “Boston”

  1. Seems nuts to me, too. The similar situation which comes to mind is when Mike Dukakis kept the city shut for three days more than he had to in cleaning up after the Blizzard of 78, and this was one of the factors in a lot of voters’ decisions to vote for Ed King in the next election.

  2. I told a dear friend who is an analyst in Ottawa that she should be figuring out the effect the lockdown is going to have on Canadian Q2 exports.

    She thought I was joking.

    Assume 10% of that lost cash flow is hourly (non-exempt) workers. $84,000,000 isn’t a lot of money–it’s not the two weeks of no US-wide buying from mid-Sep of 2001, for instance–but with a reasonable multiplier and the probably-depressed spending of the previous four days, I wouldn’t bet on the first Federal Reserve district having a good quarter, especially if there’s any “hangover” effect at all.

  3. But, but, they’ve only got a few thousand armed men looking for him! After all, he’s a TERRIST, one of those guys who can’t even be sentenced to a Supermax because of his superpowers.

  4. Seems the type of policy that’s hard to dial back once the city implements it. Until the police find the suspect, people won’t feel satisfied with the city saying, “feel free to resume business as usual.”

    Perhaps you’re under-weighting the cost of the widespread anti-police ire that would result if the police had taken less dramatic action and didn’t impose the lockdown. Riots apparently cost taxpayers $200 million?

  5. I wanted to write a comment but then I wrote a blog post instead:

    Michael O’Hare, making the case that Boston’s leadership “has kind of lost it,” writes:

    “the back of my envelope says the price tag for this is 3 million x $56000 [median per capita income for Boston] x 1/200 [fraction of working year lost] = 840 million dollars”

    The math is right but I have to take issue with the underlying assumptions. If all “work” were analogous to, say, Bitcoin mining, this would be true, but:

    a) If you’re only looking at foregone economic production Boston is also filled with retirees and children and unemployed persons and students. Not sure where he gets 3 million from, it’s somewhere between the city pop and the MSA pop, but assuming that’s the right number a far smaller share are actually not working today when they would be working.
    b) Some people can work from home!
    c) Every organization has some amount of slack. Some days you do more work than average, some days less. I have a feeling a lot of Beaners will go to work on Monday and just compensate for today.

    So while the final tabulated Boston GMP for 2013 will undoubtedly be lower, it won’t be that much lower. In 2010 the relevant MSA had a GMP of $313,690,000,000, so O’Hares $840,000,000 number is roughly a quarter-of-a-percent of that; if you end up measuring the cost of today’s lockdown by total foregone wages, my guess is you’ll see the real loss will an order of magnitude less. I’d wager the majority of Bostonians would be glad to pay that price to see the suspects in custody (or worse) by day’s end.

    Frankly, I think if we took more “everyday” urban homicides a tenth as seriously as we take attacks like this, there’d be a whole lot less of it.

  6. At the same time we have a fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people, injured 160 more and did far more physical damage and it gets almost no coverage at all. Maybe we should classify commercial crimes like this as terrorism as well.

    Also, has anybody bothered to count how many people have been killed or injured by guns in the same few days?

  7. Well, Michael, let me dissent in large part, and mostly because of the speed of these events. I think that at the point last night when they released the pictures, they really didn’t know who or what they were dealing with in terms of scope, organization, capabilities, you name it. The one victim had seen one of the bombers and could describe him but not identify anything about him; the description probably helped them zero in on the right tapes as quickly as they did. But they still didn’t know anything about the guys or their possible organization and other affiliated actors. By the time they released the pics last evening I think it was likely they’d gone through enough airport and customs imagery to be relatively sure these guys were still in the country and maybe with some probability still in NE.

    By that time, which was about this time yesterday, a lot of this die had already been cast– police, FBI, National Guard, etc, mobilized and in the area. Then last night at about 10:30 or so there was the MIT shooting and 7-11 event, followed by the wee-hours shootout in Watertown. Even if that gave them a positive ID on these guys, what did they still not know about a bigger picture? And especially given the recently-disclosed six-month visit of one of the brothers to Russia, which I have to assume would have been unearthed very quickly after they got a positive ID on the guy but which they wouldn’t have wanted to release. What might he have done, and with whom, while he was there?

    The really salient stuff all happened really quickly, from 10:30 last night on, and the positive ID after the Watertown shootout (with explosions too, everybody emphasizes) at something after 2:30 in the morning. A lot of the city starts its daytime movement by 6, and the T is all ramped up well before then. If you had to make the call at, say, 4 in the morning or earlier, and you didn’t know then what we apparently think we know now, what would you have done? Especially having all that law-enforcement capability right to hand?

    Where I’d agree with you is the media, and I think it’s really well worth separating that frenzy from the police operations (which by and large do seem to be pretty professional if geared to something much bigger). I think it’s really much more media adrenaline we’re seeing, rather than official testosterone. Media’s decided to go full-time with it but that means they’re just guessing and filling time with idle and often destructive speculation, pressuring the authorities to do something dramatic for the cameras. But this isn’t Katrina, a widespread tragedy where something could always be found and aired; it’s much more like the OJ Bronco chase. But they’d geared themselves up for something really big and wall-to-wall and by God that’s how they’re going to run it. They’ve got the assets there, they’ve got the inertia, and they just can’t stop themselves.

    BTW, I could be wrong but I believe it was the governor who ordered the shutdown.

  8. Perhaps. But I think many of us here (even on the edges) may disagree. My workplace was closed today and the dead campus cop was at my alma mater. There’s a guy out there trying to kill and maim as many people as possible, and doing a pretty fair job of it. Until he’s caught, people–rationally or not–are going to hesitate to go to work, send the kids to school, go shopping, etc., so if you want to look at it in bloodless economic terms it’s better to take the inconvenience up front and find the ****er ASAP. Letting him slip away would be very bad, and I can understand doing everything possible to prevent that. If he hasn’t been found by tomorrow morning I would assume they will lift the stay-at-home order everywhere except the neighborhoods immediately surrounding where he’s believed to be hiding because he ought to be contained. If not, well, we’ll talk then. Info is scarce, and much of what’s reported is (as always) suspect, but I’m willing to cut “the leadership” some slack on this one. There’ll rightly be some interesting (hopefully informed) discussion when this is all over of whether or not it was the right approach, but I think it’s too soon to say.

    1. Addendum: It’s school vacation week here so the kids were home anyway, along with a fair number of parents who had to watch them, so even less economic impact from the stay at home order. Which has just been lifted for a lot of places. MBTA service also starting to be restored.

  9. I imagine it would seriously complicate law enforcement’s attempt to find and capture the guy if there was a normal amount of people on the streets, traffic on the roads, etc.

    1. Well, sure, but they are apparently almost exclusively looking in Watertown, not the entire metro area.

    2. I would think that having people out and about would tend to significantly increase the likelihood of catching this guy. If he’s found a hideout of some sort, then emptying the city of people won’t help since the police would simply be racing around an empty city blaring their sirens while the suspect avoids them by also not being on the streets. At the same time, my assumption would be that he’s eventually will need to either reach out of some friend or family member or decide to commit suicide by cop. Those seem like his only choices.

      But having the city on “lock down” means that it’s pointless for him to contact anybody because they can’t get to him even if they would be willing to help him with money, a car, food or whatever. Yet, because of the high-profile nature of the case they have more than enough resources to wiretap his entire family and all of his friends and follow them if they go someplace. But, obviously, people who are called by him for help and want to help him can’t do so because they can’t leave the house—which also means they can’t unwittingly lead police to the suspect. By the same token, anybody he contacts who would like to betray him to the police can’t do so because being the only civilian being permitted to move around the makes it too obviously a setup.

      Similarly, the police have now limited the number of people who are capable of seeing and reporting the suspect. But they haven’t really limited the number of people who can be attacked by him—perhaps as he runs out of food or feels the need to improve his hideout. Moreover, they have arguably improved his ability to stay hidden if (as I suspect) his hideout is someplace where he’s forced an entry.

      Aside from the reasons why it’s a bad idea to shut down an entire city to hunt for a single terrorist armed mainly with handguns and hand grenades, I think it also makes it much more difficult to catch him since it freezes him and anyone he might reach out to at the same time as it reduces the number of eyes that might see him and report such sightings to the police.

  10. Michael O’Hare may be correct from an analytic intellectual perspective. That is if,

    i) Our doe-eyed, 19-year terrorist in not part of a larger gang of miscreants.
    ii) Our doe-eyed, 19-year terrorist is not strapped to the eyebrows with grenades and IEDs to be thrown hither and yon.

    Much of what is going on right now is pure naked emotionalism. Asking institutions to behave analytically and intellectually in the midst of it, is a like trying to make a point of 3 in the game of Craps. To wit, consider the emotional power behind this cut and paste:

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev, dead and naked on a slab, snapped by an unknown person, was emailed repeatedly by law enforcement officers Friday. “Suspect 1” was written above the gruesome picture. Seeing a photo of one of the Marathon bombing suspects dead was cathartic, said one law enforcement official who saw the picture. Passing it around was a rare chance “to revel” while other officers searched for Tsarnaev’s brother, Dzhokhar the official said. “Mission accomplished. We’re halfway there. Justice is served.”

    1. I think it’s pretty much obvious that Tsarnaev isn’t a part of anything larger or better organized. They basically seem to be two radicalized guys who decided to bomb the Boston Marathon but clearly didn’t have any plans beyond that and no access to resources. They obviously didn’t have any kind of escape organized.

      Terrorists who have access to resources have safe houses, changes of identity papers, cars, money, weapons left for them to use as part of their escape. Essentially what people called a “ratline” during WWII. Or maybe something like an Islamist version of ODESSA. People with resources don’t rob 7-11’s to finance their getaways. Neither do they steal cars or engage in shootouts with security guards. Essentially, they have their escapes in place before the terrorist strike.

      This is a much different threat than we faced on September 11th in part because the structure of Al Qaeda has been decimated. What you have now are vulnerable/suggestible/troubled people, typically young men, who are alienated from both Western and Islamic society who have become radicalized and then make use of their own typically limited resources plus what’s available on the internet to carry out terrorism.

      I would point to the Mohamed Merah affair as an example of what I’m describing or, more generally, as described in the excellent movie “La désintégration” where these young men are disintegrating in every sense of the word. I think the older brother fits this mold perfectly. I not sure if I’m right about this or how it can be addressed but I think that’s what’s going on here.

      1. I think their isolated operation was clear at the time you were writing, at evening today on the east coast, but maybe not so much at 4 in the morning when they had to make up their minds about shutting down the transit system. I agree that an organized group would have been more likely to have had an escape plan, but lying low ala Purloined Letter isn’t an inconceivable one; they used grenade-like devices in the shootout and who knew what kind of arsenal they’d built up; and we know of more than one event involving Chechens where no escape was intended, only maximal damage (Moscow theater, Beslan). In that kind of situation I have to think that anyone who bears some responsibility for public safety is more likely to go big than to simply say “carry on,” if only because of the possible blame factor. I’m not cheerleading for the paramilitary response, just trying to follow their likely thought patterns.

        This is just a hunch about the older brother, but there’ve been reports today that the FBI questioned him a couple of years ago on a tipoff from the Russians. They’re supposed to have cleared him, but if there was a triggering event that turned him toward this kind of act, it wouldn’t surprise me too much if that would have been it. He could well have figured that at best he’d be under pretty heavy surveillance here for the rest of his life, at worst that both we and the Russians were in cahoots against him.

        Or it could have been just personal. Now that the younger one is in custody, maybe their reasons will come out. Not that it would excuse them, but understanding always seems the preferable approach.

      2. Centralized terrorist organizations frequently use bombers who are given zero aid after: Suicide bombers. And the older brother apparently had a bomb vest, we can’t say at this time that the younger didn’t, too. Perhaps this is a case where they found some willing idiots, gave them so pre-bombing aid and encouragement, and there was no plan for retrieving them after because they weren’t supposed to survive. But did arrange for them to set other bombs, as a kind of force multiplier.

        Well, the younger brother did survive, and hopefully will be a fount of information.

        It is my understanding that the Mosque is one with a history of bringing in radical anti-American speakers. That might be a fruitful avenue of inquiry, if PC doesn’t preclude it. The brothers had to have been radicalized somehow, and that’s the most likely way it happened.

  11. Perhaps they believe there is a much greater chance of taking him alive if they can operate in a distraction-free environment and one which makes his escape very much more difficult by reason of visibility. There is huge value in taking him alive and being able to determine if he is a nut kid unconnected to a network or, in the other case, much more information about the network and other potential threats.

    Perhaps he is a lone wolf. But we’ve taken out so much of Al Qaeda at th management level, lone wolves may be all they’ve got left, and his live capture stands to reveal much about that if indeed he is part of a network or part of a conspiracy. (In the original sense of the word)

    I am certain they’re trying to reach him through his associates, friends, family — you better believe they’re working his mother or whomever else they can to communctae wtih him to urge him to surrender, etc.

    Did anyone hear the interview with his aunt on NPR today? That was a remarkable series of statements. This business is bizarre and it is hard to reconcile what seems to be known.

    1. Two points:

      1. My impression from what’s in the media is that he was probably the less committed and less alienated of the two brothers and might now be feeling some regret both for the atrocity he seems to have perpetrated but also for his own lost future.

      I just don’t see surrender as a realistic option for him. What possible reason would he have for giving himself up? He has no future. His life in prison will be nightmarish, at best. Spending the rest of his days in super-max hell is not really an improvement on being dead.

      2. I agree the interviews with family members have been bizarre. But understandable if they had no idea of where the brothers were on their path towards becoming terrorists. This has got to have totally shaken their world to its core. And as immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, they’ve got to be absolutely terrified for their safety—which I think is particularly at play in the aunt’s interview. The uncle is either scared or maybe’s he has been watching them drift towards alienation and radicalization and has been at odds with them for some time about the direction he saw them taking.

      Also, they are refugees from a part of the world that has been a living hell for a long time and a bizarre place for centuries, so I think it’s difficult for somebody like me to think as I suspect they do.

      The other thing that struck me as totally weird was the interview with the father. Apparently, both parents live in Russia which seems a bit strange in light of the names he gave his sons. Also, he seems to have given an interview this morning after the shootout and after his surviving son was named as a suspect in which he urged his son to come home to Russia. Maybe he got so much pain and grief that he’s lost touch with reality but that was the most bizarre thing I’ve read in years.

  12. The entire point of terrorism is to maximize the quantity:

    (fear + disruption + civic resources)/(terrorist resources)

    Mission accomplished.

  13. Also recall that about half the day’s lost “productivity ” going on in terms of dollars is just rentiers doing their thing, … whereas all the moms and dads stuck at home are at least raising children, or cooking food or talking to friends and family, … which real work continues and is much more productive than almost anything anyone does in a modern office job.

    (Moreover, I’m not so sure a day off isn’t better for overworked, stressed-out, benefit-free Americans than the so-called GDP it represents. )

  14. I don’t think law enforcement have a plan. I think they lost the guy hours ago, and don’t want to acknowledge it, so they’re keeping people on lockdown till they work out a plan for how to handle things once they’re not on lockdown.

  15. As I understand it, they were very worried because they had found an IED, they didn’t know that he had no confederates, and they did know that he had a bunch of explosives with him and might have booby-trapped things. They really didn’t know what else he had left lying around. Also, they had just had a huge shoot-out, in the course of which it was a mercy that no one other than one suspect got killed. I’m not feeling like second-guessing them.

    1. I think you make some valid points. Also, shutting down Boston isn’t like shutting down a major city on the West Coast. Boston, Philadelphia and even NYC more or less shut down for days at a time do to inclement weather so it’s not an entirely unprecedented event. And they obviously want to avoid having people congregate because that’s where he’s likely to go if he wants to die and take people with him.

      On the other hand, there have been a great many shootouts with heavily armed criminals where they’ve gotten away from the police but nobody shut down the entire city. Here in LA we just had a lunatic killer with a veritable arsenal of firearms and explosives who scared the hell out of the entire city (including me)but we didn’t shut down the airports, bus stations, train depots and tell everyone to stay in their homes.

      Although I accept that the risks you describe may have been in the minds and I, too, am reluctant to second guess the authorities who may be aware of facts unknown to the citizenry, I don’t see any risk to people outside those two specific parts of the city where we know he dumped IED’s and maybe at the airport. Beyond that, it’s basically the same level of risk we deal with everyday, everywhere.

      I think that it’s a serious mistake to give this kind of power to terrorists. Henceforth, it will be difficult to justify not shutting down an entire city when there is a similar incident. This was a bad precedent.

  16. “they didn’t know that he had no confederates,”

    So far as I can tell from the coverage, they STILL don’t “know” that he had no confederates. At best they merely suspect it.

  17. No fan of overreaction to terrorism, but as a nitpick: isn’t it likely that there would be some significant loss in economic activity without a shutdown? People are gonna be scared and stay home, right?

    Also, if (and it’s an if, for sure) shutting things down saves a life or two (or, given his MO, maybe many more) that should figure in the calculation of cost and benefit.

    Just trying to say that the cost-benefit calculus ain’t all that simple, and comparing this dude to your average quadruple-murderer is a bit facile. He’s terrorized the city, like it or not. Catching him today is probably worth the (probably overstated) economic loss.

    1. (That last sentence in my comment kind of sucked. I shouldn’t say it’s “probably” anything – too many variables. Sorry. Hope the overall point makes some sense.)

  18. Well, lookee here: apparently he was found just as soon as the lockdown came OFF and a Watertown home owner looked in his back yard. Huh.

  19. One additional downside to the citywide lockdown: somewhere in America, some loser is looking at his TV and seeing how easily a couple of other losers were able to bring an entire metropolis to its heels, thinking, “If they could do that, so can I.” He could be starting to imagine the nationwide TV coverage of a great city paralyzed by what he has wrought. The copycat risk grows as the amount of civic disruption from one action grows in magnitude.

    I have been wondering why they did not bring in bloodhounds at the very beginning of today’s chase. A suspect escaping on foot could be tracked efficiently, especially when there is literally a trail of blood leading from wherever he left the car to where he ended up hiding.

    Another odd (probably nonessential) question is whether Tamerlan is a given name or a chosen nom-de-guerre. It appears that the father gave the first suspect that name at birth, but it sounds a lot like naming your kid Genghis. Tamerlane was the Mongol scourge who invaded Russia among other targets in the late fourteenth century, and it is interesting for a Chechnyan kid to have this moniker. If you hate Russia and want to attack it this is a name you could choose to be known by.

    1. About Tamerlane– according to the family’s next-door neighbor (“Emily”), the father told them of his being tortured to near-death by the KGB. So I’m guessing the dad would have picked the name, or at least approved of it.

    2. A lot of people in that area of origin have given names like “Tamerlane” and “Cengiz” (what we spell “Genghis” and they pronounce “jenn-gheez”), actually. Not unusual at all, and not necessarily more political than naming your kid Louis which after all traces to Clodovic.

      1. Yep. I will never forget getting some intestinal nightmare in Turkey; a doctor was called, and when he arrived he held out his hand and said: Hello, I am Dr. Genghis. (OK, Cengiz, if we have to be literal about it. But I didn’t hear the spelling.)

  20. Our excellent public transportation was a vulnerability in this case. Persons of interest could have hopped on the commenter rail and been in RI or CT in a short time. So, why not just shut down the MBTA? OK, so everyone who uses the MBTA to get to work or school now has to drive, so more traffic on the roads, or they stay home anyway because they can’t get in to the city or park their car when they get there or get around once they are there. And more traffic on the roads is a problem when there is a major law enforcement operation underway, and the suspect has shown no hesitation about shooting cops, lobbing IEDs out the window, crashing cars into lines of cops, and running over his bomb-strapped brother. These losers may not have been smart enough to think through what would happen after their act of terrorism, but they showed that they are really good at making explosives out of cheap, readily available stuff. And again, while all we know now says disaffected losers, we may learn more later, or perhaps the uncertainty was judged to enough reason to play it safe. Dumb ass losers can still be dangerous.

    It would be over reacting if we cancelled all sports events or public gatherings for fear that something like this might happen again. It would be over reacting if we installed baggage screeners in every Starbucks and movie theater and subway station. It would be overreacting if the lockdown had extended far outside fo the area of interest or,had extended because there might be someone out there who helped them. But minimizing travel in and out of the city, keeping the roads clear as possible, and asking people to stay in their homes in the town where and armed and dangerours and desparate guy was thought to be, and in fact was, is not over reacting.

  21. I think calculations like this are not particularly useful. They assume:

    1. That economic activity would have been normal without the shutdown. That seems wrong. Surely, er.. Michael, many fewer people than normal would be going to malls, movies, restaurants, etc. anyway.
    2. That no productive activity, including job-related tasks, took place at home.
    3. That nothing was displaced to the weekend. No one calculates the cost of offices being closed on weekends, because it’s normal. But if more work – not to mention more shopping and so on – gets done over the weekend than usual then that offsets the loss.
    4. That there was no reduced risk of loss of life or property damage – including even an escape – as a result of the shutdown.

    1. 5. That Americans aren’t working too much at their day jobs already and the marginal utility of a day off could well be more than that of another day at work.

  22. As Altoid above summarized it: . . . at the point last night when they released the pictures, they really didn’t know who or what they were dealing with in terms of scope, organization, capabilities, you name it.

    Everything flows from the tactical decision to release the pictures to the general public, and that was an absolutely, insanely crazy thing to do. It’s because they released the pictures, that the bombing suspects ambushed and murdered that MIT policeman, and shutting down the city seemed to become necessary and reasonable. The reasonably anticipated consequence, in terms of panicked response from the suspects or spontaneous mob violence, had what actually happened as only one instance of a horrendously bad range of probabilities.

    As other commenters have said, the decision to invoke mass-action was deeply emotional. Boston, on its worst days, has a much higher sense of civic solidarity and identity than most American cities, and the city was attacked in the midst of one the cherished rituals of its civic life. I don’t discount the possibility that leaders were carried along their course by a deeply felt need in the city to act, together. That said, it wasn’t a wise choice, from an instrumental standpoint, and not something, I think, we would want to see become a customary part of our nascent police state.

    Video surveillance is seemingly cheap and becoming pervasive. Figuring out how to make effective use of it, without triggering ambush or mob violence, or shutting down a major metropolitan area, ought to become an important focus for imaginative public policy analysts. There’s got to be a better way.

    And to those, who question how else someone could be quickly identified from fuzzy photos and video, I would submit that the methods of random sampling and public polling might give some hints. Given the degrees of separation in even a big city, the chances of an identification from showing the photos and video to a carefully selected sampling of 500 ought to approach certainty.

    1. You had a pair of mass murderers, on the loose, and intent on going down with a bang, taking as many people with them as possible. (Suicide vest wearing kind of confirms that…) Sure, releasing the pictures caused an incident, the ideal would have been to quietly locate them, and arrest them without warning.

      The exact opposite of ideal would have been to give them enough time to set up and carry out a dramatic, maximally deadly finale.

      So I think we should seriously entertain the possibility that keeping a pair of killers rushed and off balance wasn’t a bad tactic, because they weren’t going to slink off any hurt nobody else if left alone.

      In the meanwhile, consider the irony of this: They locked down the city to make finding the remaining brother easier, and then only found him because they lifted the lockdown, so that one of the untrained civilians could spot a clue, check it out, and call in his location. If they’d kept the city in lockdown another 12 hours, they’d have a second dead body on their hand, kind of unresponsive to interrogation.

    2. Bruce: I think about that every time the dead MIT cop gets mentioned. The decision to go public is the one that needs re-examining the most, and the most urgently for any other cases that might come up.

      As a starting point I have to think there was a fairly big bank of official images of the older brother. He was interviewed once or more by the FBI, and more to the point for generating pictures he recently traveled overseas so there have to be lots of pics of him at airports and in customs lines in official possession.

      I think one obvious conclusion is that real-life facial recognition software doesn’t work anything like as well as it does on NCIS, either because there were too many faces to correlate in official and publicly-donated media or because it just can’t deal well enough with variations in angle and elevation. By Thursday night, when they released the videos, they apparently didn’t have anything like an ID that might give them, say, a dozen or more premises to search. Given enough time they might have, though.

      Setting hindsight aside, which pace Michael I really think we have to do, I can see a legitimate worry on Thursday afternoon that more events could be in the offing. I’d have to consider that as the only plausible reason for releasing the videos and setting all this in motion. And the underlying reason for that is being unable to match at least one of them with all the official pictures they should have had, hence not having the slightest idea who these two guys were.

      Given my conclusion that the technology is nowhere near as accurate or dependable as people would like to expect– particularly the technology for dealing with the flood of images that was made possible by other technology– the question was how to balance the possibility of another mass event against the effects of flushing out and provoking potentially desperate and deadly people. For everybody except the MIT cop, the MBTA cop and some more Watertown cops, and the suspects, the result was essentially limited to fear and inconvenience. But that couldn’t have been known going into it.

  23. Oh, dear, so much for the pair of lone wolves theory:

    Boston bombers: FBI hunting 12-strong terrorist “sleeper cell” linked to brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

    The FBI was last night hunting a 12-strong terrorist “sleeper cell” linked to the Boston marathon bomb brothers.

    Police believe Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were specially trained to carry out the devastating attack.

    More than 1,000 FBI operatives were last night working to track down the cell and arrested a man and two women 60 miles from Boston in the hours before Dzhokhar’s dramatic capture after a bloody shootout on Friday.

    A source close to the investigation said: “We have no doubt the brothers were not acting alone. The devices used to detonate the two bombs were highly sophisticated and not the kind of thing people learn from Google.

    “They were too advanced. Someone gave the brothers the skills and it is now our job to find out just who they were. Agents think the sleeper cell has up to a dozen members and has been waiting several years for their day to come.”

    1. Brett,

      I would be interested in having your appreciation of this article in light of what is known about the brothers Tsarnaev and the events of the past week. For example, does the claim of an (inter-aware) network or cell of perhaps a dozen people in the Boston area seem reasonable to you, again, when evaluated in light of published facts? What is your evaluation of the claim that the brothers were “specially trained” given what we know of the various devices they constructed (simple pressure cooker devices from plans available on Islamist website and pipe-bombs probably from the anarchist’s cookbook)and of their trade-craft in organizing their attack and its aftermath? Assuming that the members of the cell were “inter-aware,” why weren’t the other members of this supposed sleeper cell mobilized either to participate in the attack or to provide support afterwards?

      If the various organs of state security were not aware of the existence of this “sleeper cell” before last week, does it seem reasonable to you that they were able to uncover it literally overnight? Again, if they were “inter-aware” then they presumably knew of the attack and would reasonably have been expected to take some kind of action (leaving the country, if nothing else) before the bombing of the Boston Marathon took place. If there is a huge “sleeper cell” why didn’t they help the brothers Tsarnaev to leave the country, make more or bigger bombs or conduct followup attacks?

      My personal opinion is that the Daily Mail’s source is a blithering idiot but, as I say, I’m curious about your appreciation of his statement.

  24. The Watertown police chief indicated in an interview that police used one or more flashbang explosive devices in persuading the younger suspect to surrender.

    Is Wayne LaWhore now going to blather that the only way to stop a bad guy with a bomb is to have a good guy with a bomb?

    1. Possibly. Depends on whether there’s any money to be made selling bombs to the general public. If it’s as good a market as firearms and if the industry is willing to let Wayne wet his beak, then, my guess is that you’ve probably anticipated the NRA’s next campaign in favor of a personal right to keep and bear explosives.

  25. À propos of Brett’s find of the article from the Daily Mail (the only “news source” less creditable than the Onion), I have found a wonderful new contender in the stupidity/hysteria sweepstakes. A local Fox News station identified Zooey Deschanel as a Boston bombing suspect. These people really are idiots. Walter Cronkite must be turning over in his grave.

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