Terrorism reared its ugly head again this week on U.S. soil, when the annual Boston Marathon was interrupted on Monday by a terrorist attack whose sole purpose was to kill and maim innocent U.S. citizens – men, women and children who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As of this writing, four people are dead, including an eight-year-old boy and a police officer, and close to 200 are injured, some severely, with wounds more akin to a battlefield than an organized sporting event in one of America's greatest cities.
Federal, state and local officials, led by the FBI, ATF, JTTF, and the Boston PD, launched an all-out deployment of resources to identify those responsible for this heinous act and bring them to justice. And just as we've done in the past, whether it was solving the Oklahoma City bombing, finding a Middle East dictator hiding in a hole in the ground or tracking down the most wanted mass murderer of our time in Pakistan, good old fashioned detective work led to identifying at least two suspects (one of whom was killed in a confrontation with police early this morning) and I am absolutely confident will soon lead to the capture of the other.
Let's face it. There were two explosive devices – ordinary kitchen pressure cookers – filled with ball bearings and nails, an ignition device and some type of explosive, and someone had to get these very heavy objects into place. Someone had to see something. Ultimately, it was the miles of security camera footage and amateur video shot at the scene that enabled authorities to hone in on the suspects. But even before that, whether it was selling pressure cookers to someone who didn't fit the mold of a cook, or buying nails and ball bearings in an unusual quantity, someone had to notice something unusual.
We need to become a society trained in the practice of "if you see something, say something." I had my own see something, say something moment not long after 9/11. I had just boarded a flight from LA to NY and, courtesy of a very generous client, was traveling in first class. I made my way to my window seat, 3J, when already seated was a gentlemen in the aisle seat next to me, seat 3H. I was a little suspicious because when the flight started boarding, I was literally the first passenger to enter the aircraft (so I thought).
I sat down, got comfortable and started reading my newspaper as the plane started to fill up. About five minutes later, the gentleman next to me stood up to put something in the overhead luggage compartment. His shirt was not tucked in, and when he reached up, what I saw startled me – you guessed it, a gun tucked into the waist of his pants. As soon as I saw it he became aware that I had seen it, sat down again and told me not to worry. He said he was an air marshal and not to say anything to anyone about what I had seen. Now I sat back thinking for a couple of minutes and realized that if he were a terrorist, he certainly wouldn't introduce himself as such, so I decided at that moment that I had seen something worthy of saying something about. I certainly wasn't going to wait until we were 45,000 feet in the air to find out if he had lied to me.
So I got up, went to the front of the plane where the pilot and a flight attendant were greeting boarding passengers, and told them exactly what happened and what I had just seen. They smiled, thanked me for coming forward and assured me that the gentleman next to me was in fact a federal air marshal. Feeling relieved, I went back to my seat where the gentleman looked at me and asked me if I felt better. I said yes, and those were the last words we spoke for the entire five-hour flight.
Too bad, but I wasn't going to risk my life, or those of the other passengers on that flight, by not saying something. We all need to be more vigilant when things we see or hear just don't make sense or fit in. We have to become a society whose mantra is “if you see something, say something.”
P.S. About two months after that LA/NY flight, I was taking the same flight, same seat, and seated next to me again was the same federal air marshal. This time we just nodded to each other and enjoyed the flight to NY.