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Even with Tamerlan seemingly on its radar, the FBI apparently did not zero in on him again until Thursday evening, after the decision was made to release video footage and still photos taken of the two suspects minutes before the bombings. Five hours after the images were released, the men allegedly shot to death an MIT police officer in his car, carjacked a Mercedes and told their kidnapping victim that they were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing. After a harrowing 30-minute ride the man—who said the suspects told him they wouldn't kill him because he was not American—escaped when the brothers stopped at a Cambridge convenience store. He alerted police to the suspects' whereabouts, sparking a six-mile car chase marked by gunfire and homemade explosives tossed out a car window. Fleeing the Watertown scene where his big brother was fatally wounded, Dzhokhar ran over Tamerlan's prone body, squeezed through the police perimeter, abandoned the car and escaped on foot—and went on to elude capture for another 20 hours.
"These guys [were] idiots, but dangerous idiots," says Mey, who has seen all kinds. He created the FBI's special events unit in 1996, warned organizers of the vulnerability of Atlanta's Centennial Park (where Eric Rudolph set off a backpack bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics) and oversaw the bureau's security plan for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He watched the Boston events unfold from Qatar, where he spent a month consulting on the country's 2022 World Cup preparations.
"It would boggle the mind of any law-enforcement individual to try to figure out how these knuckleheads carried this out," he says. "Eric Rudolph was on the lam for seven years; he was a smart guy. These are dopes. Either that, or they just don't give a s--- and their intent was to cause as much damage and chaos as possible and they made a pact that they're going to die for this thing."
But of far greater concern is the inability of federal law enforcement to recognize the threat as it began to play out. Mey studied the released photos and video footage of the Tsarnaev brothers as they moved about on Boylston Street. To a person, runners spoke of an extensive and visible police presence in Boston, particularly at the race's start and along the course, with authorities doing a superb job of crowd control and keeping the competitors safe. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said two sweeps for bombs were conducted in the finish-line area, including one an hour before the attack. However, he said, people were allowed to "come and go and bring items in and out" after the sweep.
Mey can't say whether it's a question of too few federal resources applied in the walk-up to the event or a lack of on-the-ground scrutiny, and he's quick to admit that hindsight is 20/20. But he says, "The only thing I would question, after looking at these stills: Who was watching the crowd? A trained [counterterrorism] law-enforcement individual can pick this kind of person out.
"This is not the responsibility of the [uniformed] police. This is where the Secret Service, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force have particular skills. And I would've thought that they would've been, particularly, in that finish-line area where all these people were gathered."
In the wake of the 1996 Atlanta bombing, a special designation—National Special Security Events (NSSE)—was created to assign the highest security priority to possible terrorist targets such as Super Bowls, political conventions and summits. Authority to designate fell to the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, and the first sports event so labeled was the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans. No American marathon has ever been named an NSSE, and a Massachusetts state official stated to CNN last week that they had not been aware of any credible threats to the marathon beforehand.
But the future of such events is already changing shape. (Sunday's London Marathon was reportedly staffed by 40% more police than usual.) Planning power could now tip from event organizers to security officials. Marathons that end in congested areas surrounded by storefronts and offices may find their traditional courses altered, with new finish lines set up, like the Olympics, in securable stadiums. The milling, encouraging crowds lining the route will face increased scrutiny and hassle, and more popular races could erect temporary, "sanitized" stands for family and friends. Undercover operatives, some armed with pole cameras that stream back to monitors viewed in real time, will move among the crowds. Entry fees will rise. Ticketing may become mandatory.
The New York City Marathon will be run on Nov. 3. Don't be surprised if it's designated an NSSE. Big sporting events are not like movie screenings or school sessions; they are scheduled media draws that all but guarantee the maximum physical and societal hurt when attacked. Potential copycats who watched Boston last week know where and when the next big event is coming.
"Terrorism works," Mey says flatly, no matter how much one insists that it won't change a thing. He grew up in Rhode Island, loves Boston, has been to many a Marathon Monday—he's watched his brother, a cop in their home state, run the race. "It's really something special," he says. "But with the society that we live in, it's never going to be the same."