Thwarting terrorism a tricky act to pull off

By IANS/RIA Novosti,

Washington : As US authorities beef up security nationwide following Monday’s deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon and officials from Russia to Rio address precautions at the next two Olympic games, the uncomfortable truth is that governments are incapable of completely insulating the public from acts of terror, security experts told RIA Novosti.

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“We can’t be safe from such attacks in crowded spots, and … even the best intelligence and security measures will never be perfect,” said Martha Crenshaw, a terrorism expert at Stanford University Tuesday. “It is simply too easy to carry them out.”

Governments are at a distinct disadvantage in trying to guard the public against acts of terror, because assailants have at their disposal a broader choice of targets and dates than authorities can effectively predict, said Simon Saradzhyan, a security expert at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Terrorism “is the weapon of the weak, and as long as there are groups with grievances against nation-states, they will succeed in inflicting harm”, Saradzhyan told RIA Novosti.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that governments no longer have a monopoly on weapons that can wreak mass carnage in public spaces, Saradzhyan added.

“The means of violence are increasingly available to non-state actors,” he said.

Organizers for next weekend’s London Marathon said Tuesday that the race would be held as planned but that they would review security measures, while Russian officials said they would ensure thorough security at the summer world athletic championships in Moscow this summer and the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next February.

The Olympic Games typically allow for more effective security measures than a 26-mile (42-km) marathon route because the territory of the Olympic competitions is simply smaller, said James Forest, an expert on emerging terrorist threats and insurgencies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

“It’s much easier controlling the route in and out of the facility, making sure those people go through certain security checkpoints,” Forest told RIA Novosti. “That’s an advantage Russia will have at the Olympics.”

The most effective tools in heading off terrorist attacks are “quality intelligence gathering and analysis,” as well as undermining assailants’ motivation by “discrediting any ideology that suggests something can be achieved through the use of violence”, Forest added.

Security experts reached by RIA Novosti Tuesday said they expect US authorities to stiffen security measures in the short term, but that these efforts will likely subside in the same way that the security situation gradually relaxed during the decade following the Sep 11, 2001, attacks.

“As long as your country is a democracy, and as long as a country guarantees certain basic freedoms to its citizens and is not watching everything they are doing, there is a price to pay,” said Victor Asal, an expert on security and political violence at the University at Albany in New York. “The price is that certain people will take advantage of those freedoms to do nasty stuff.”

Furthermore, heading off attacks in certain public spaces can morph into a game of terrorist whack-a-mole, said Joseph Young, a professor at American University in Washington who specializes in issues related to transnational terrorism.

“When you make one area of your country secure, it automatically makes another place insecure,” said Young. “If you make parades a very difficult target for terrorists, shopping malls become attractive targets. If you make shopping malls a difficult target, something else becomes attractive.”

The potential for terrorist attacks is now much greater than even 50 years ago in part because people are increasingly choosing to live in densely populated areas and congregate in large numbers for events like concerts and athletic competitions, said Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, which maintains an authoritative database on terrorism statistics.

“This is probably something we’re going to have to live with,” said LaFree, a criminologist at the University of Maryland. “Fortunately, at this point in time, there is far less terrorism than there are opportunities for terrorism.”