Letter From the Editor 

The difficulty of stopping — or catching — terrorists in the U.S.

The only way to stop a bad guy with a bomb is a good guy with a bomb, right? Probably not. How about good guys with guns? Yes, probably, at some point, near the endgame. But the most effective way to stop a bad guy with a bomb — or, at worst, catch him after he's done his dirty work — is with good guys who have computers and surveillance data.

I recently saw the film Zero Dark Thirty, about the search for Osama bin Laden. While, in the end, it took good guys with guns — and high-tech night-vision goggles and helicopters and small explosives — to capture the Saudi mass murderer in his Pakistani lair, determining where he was took years of monitoring cell phone calls, satellite surveillance, and on-the-ground spy work by the CIA and military intelligence agencies.

By the time you read this, the FBI may have rounded up a solid suspect in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Taliban have disavowed any involvement, which, whether true or not, has led to speculation that the bombings were the work of a domestic terrorist (or terrorists). And the fact that the bombings occurred on Patriots' Day, widely seen by some American antigovernment activists as symbolic of federal oppression, heightened that speculation.

On Patriots' Day in 1993, after a 52-day siege, federal ATF agents and the FBI attacked the Waco, Texas, headquarters of the Branch Davidians. Leader David Koresh and 82 others inside died, some as a result of the assault; most from a fire the Davidians set during the attack. Two years later, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on Patriots' Day was widely perceived as retribution for the Waco assault. Coincidentally or not, the Columbine school shooting in 1999 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 also occurred on or around Patriots' Day.

But given the recent history of American mass murders, we shouldn't be surprised if it's yet another mentally unstable young American male living out some warped fantasy or video-game-inspired violence. In fact, as was noted by several websites on Tuesday, a recent episode of the show Family Guy featured a character setting off two bombs at the Boston Marathon in order to win the race. Inspiration? Horrific coincidence? Who knows?

The sad truth is that nothing can stop all the bad guys bent on mass destruction. All we can do is try to make it more difficult for them to pull it off. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this latest tragedy — and to those attempting to catch the bad guys. It appears to be a war with no endgame in sight.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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