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Fareed Zakaria “But first, here’s my take. We’re learning a great deal about the two men who planted bombs at the Boston Marathon. The brother Tsarnaev. And we will learn more, including on this program today and in the weeks ahead and better understand a terrible story of alienation, radicalization and brutal murder.

Were these men an unusual case, loners, or are they part of something larger? How and when did they turn?

In one important sense, however, this was textbook terrorism. The plan was to frighten us. Terrorism is an unusual tactic in that it depends for its success on response of the onlooker, that’s why people have often said about terrorists they want a few people dead and a lot of people watching.

But if we who watch are not terrorized, then almost by definition it didn’t work.

On that count, how did we do? Pretty well. The people of Boston handled the crisis with calm and determination. The authorities did shut down most of the city on Friday for the manhunt, a decision that could be debated, but the people of Boston stayed steady and are already getting back to normal.

I spent seven years living in Boston. And I was always struck by the city and its people’s strength of character. They have a tough New England spirit, a Puritan ethic that prizes doing one’s job and not making a fuss.

But beyond Boston, we Americans may have come to realize, finally, that the most important counterterrorism program out there is resilience. Things were different after 9/11, that was a much larger attack raising much larger concerns. Many of the things that followed: security measures, the overthrow of the Taliban, were necessary. But others in retrospect were not. The vast new homeland security bureaucracy, shutting down travel, turning counterterrorism it into an ill-defined and ever expanding war on terror. Osama bin Laden saw the rational for 9/11 in precisely the overreaction it produced among Americans and he said so on several occasions.

Resilience is partly a matter of character, but it’s also one of public policy. Steven Flynn, a scholar at Northeastern University who has written widely about this, argues that despite the billions spent, we never made it a priority. In written testimony given last July to the Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs, Flynn predicted that small attacks carried out by one to three operatives particularly if they reside in the U.S. can be carried out with little planning and on relatively short notice. As such, they are unlikely to attract the attention of the national intelligence community and the attacks once underway are almost impossible for the federal law enforcement community to stop.

So how to make ourselves more resilient? The steps we need to take are not that sexy. We need to upgrade our transit systems and infrastructure so as to make them less vulnerable to attacks. For example, Flynn notes, the U.S. Navy has invested more in protecting the single port of San Diego that is home to the Pacific fleet than the Department of Homeland Security has invested in the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and Tacoma combined, upon which a bulk of the U.S. economy relies.

We must strengthen public health rapid recovery in the event of a biological attack, which is still the most worrying threat out there.

We need to make sure that the public understands the nature of these threats and how it can help identify and respond to them.

Above all, it needs to understand how not to respond to them. When bad things happen, it’s easy to react out of fear, emotion and anger. Let’s hope that in Boston this week we begin to chart a different course.”



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