Boston Marathon Bombing

The Boston Bombings and the Security Bureaucracy

"Power seldom reclaimed."


Patrick Cockburn on the Boston bombings' bureaucratic aftermath:

"…and other acts of destruction by Edward Jay Epstein"—wait, is this a confession?

An outcome of the bombings will be an enhanced sense of public insecurity, and support for those who claim to be doing something about it. Before the Boston attack there were signs of restiveness in the US at the excessive size of the post-9/11 security bureaucracy at a time of budget cuts. The FBI, put in charge of investigating domestic terrorism by President Bush, has 103 joint terrorism task forces, supposedly linking local and state police to federal terrorism investigators. As a result of 9/11, the US has the services of the National Counterterrorism Centre, which analyses and collates intelligence information for the Office of the Director National Intelligence. This, in turn, is supposed to coordinate and oversee the work of America's 17 intelligence agencies. Then there is the sterling work of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which unites the 22 federal departments and agencies that employ 240,000 people.

The creation of a bureaucratic Leviathan like this is more likely to impede than assist the gathering and analysis of intelligence. Too many people do not know what they are doing and there are too many layers of responsibility. Such vast organisations are on an endless quest to justify and expand their own influence and protect themselves from rivals. Power delegated to them because of a single crime is seldom reclaimed.

Drawing on Edward Jay Epstein's book The Annals of Unsolved Crime, Cockburn points out that events much smaller than 9/11 or the Boston bombings can serve this power-enhancing purpose. Epstein argues, for example, that the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby allowed J. Edgar Hoover "to expand the FBI, which he had headed since its creation [*], into a national police agency," even though it's far from clear that the man eventually executed for that crime was actually guilty of it.

"The worst damage stemming from the Boston bombing," Cockburn concludes, "will be if the security behemoths created or enlarged after 9/11, whose effectiveness is in doubt, were rejuvenated and expanded." I wouldn't use the word worst, but the man's got a point.

Elsewhere in Reason: Garrett Quinn on civil liberties and the Tsarnaev manhunt.

Elsewhere not in Reason: A righteous rant at Popehat.

* Reader "Seamus" correctly points out that J. Edgar Hoover was not the first head of the Bureau of Investigation: It was founded in 1908, and Hoover did not take over until 1924. Hoover was head when the agency changed its name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but that happened after the Lindbergh kidnapping so I doubt that is what Epstein had in mind.