Pavlovian Politics: Leaders Line Up To Call For Increased Surveillance In Aftermath of Boston Bombing

220px-2013_Boston_Marathon_aftermath_peopleBelow is my column today in USA Today on the Boston bombing and the call for new security laws and expanded surveillance. I have been doing interviews trying to caution against these calls for immediate action — a mantra that we hear after every attack no matter the cause. I am in Chicago today and was struck by how quickly Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called for more surveillance cameras in a city with one of the largest surveillance systems in the United States.

For civil libertarians, all terrorist attacks come in two equally predictable parts.

First, there is the terrorist attack itself — a sad reality of our modern life. Second, comes the inevitable explosion of politicians calling for new security measures and surveillance. We brace ourselves for this secondary blow, which generally comes before we even fully know what occurred in an attack or how it was allowed to occur.

Politicians need to be seen as actively protecting public safety and the easiest way is to add surveillance, reduce privacy and expand the security state. What they are not willing to discuss is the impossibility of detecting and deterring all attacks. The suggestion is that more security measures translate to more public safety. The fact is that even the most repressive nations with the most abusive security services, places such as China and Iran, have not been able to stop terrorist acts.

While police were still combing through the wreckage from the Boston Marathon, politicians ran to cameras to pledge more security measures and surveillance. Indeed, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanded more cameras in response to the Boston attack. Chicago already is one of the most surveilled cities in the United States. Emanuel’s solution: add some more. It is a perfectly Pavlovian response of politicians eager to appear as champions of public safety.

We need to resist the calls for a greater security state and put this attack into perspective. These two brothers built homemade bombs with over-the-counter pressure cookers. They placed the devices in one of the most surveilled areas of Boston with an abundance of police and cameras. There is only so much that a free nation can do to avoid such an attack. Two men walked in a crowd and put two bags down on the ground shortly before detonation.

No one is seriously questioning the value of having increased surveillance and police at major events. That was already the case with the Boston Marathon. However, privacy is dying in the United States by a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems. Before we plunge ahead in creating a fishbowl society of surveillance, we might want to ask whether such new measures or devices will actually make us safer or just make us appear safer.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.


95 thoughts on “Pavlovian Politics: Leaders Line Up To Call For Increased Surveillance In Aftermath of Boston Bombing”


    Simulation Exercise Examines Atrocity Prevention Board’s Role in Preventing and Responding to Mass Atrocities
    By Samane Hemmat
    Crimes Against Humanity Program
    “This summer, Human Rights First and the National Defense University’s (NDU) Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) conducted for the second time the simulation exercise Shrouded Horizons, which examines the challenges of identifying and responding to potential mass atrocities. Twenty-six representatives from ten agencies of the Sub-Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) working group participated in a simulation and round-table discussion examining prevention of mass atrocities, U.S. response options, and international efforts to prevent or mitigate crimes against humanity.”
    overview: Human Rights First:

  2. Mike Spindell 1, April 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Despite the SCOTUS ruling I believe that the “Public Safety Exception” is unconstitutional.
    Yep, some folks read English then derive a different meaning from it than the Supreme Five do, especially the dissenting Almost-Supreme Four.

    I do not know how they figure that “The Public Safety”, a variant of the theme “the common good”, is served by removing what established the common good.

    The Constitution.

    To water down the Constitution is to water down the common good, the public good.

    Eventually, all that is left is a trickle which never gets down to the common, down to the public, down to the good.

    1. “Bombing suspects’ mother: FBI monitored older son ‘at every step’”


      As I’m sure you well know,from its inception the FBI has been an organization that relied more on building favorable publicity rather than really pursuing justice. Its founder, J. Edgar Hoover, was a petty, egotistical man who used the Agency to glorify himself. It became an organization that prized conformity over creativity. Even its vaunted services, such as its Crime Lab have been found to be corrupt. I would suspect them capable of anything in the pursuit of personal and institutional glory.

  3. “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The Big Issue Is Not Miranda, It’s Presentment”

    Posted on April 20, 2013 by emptywheel

    “There are a lot of reasons why delaying reading Dzhokar his Miranda rights are wrong, ethically. But I’m not as worried about that as the possibility they’ll stash Dzhokar away for a couple of weeks without a lawyer or any oversight. And in any case, the Administration seems intent on developing both means of curtailing rights.” -emptywheel


    “Next for Boston suspect: 5 legal questions”

    By: Josh Gerstein
    April 19, 2013 10:06 PM EDT

    Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said that he saw no legal basis for holding the suspect as an enemy combatant.

    “I am not aware of any evidence so far that the Boston suspect is part of any organized group, let alone al Qaeda, the Taliban, or one of their affiliates — the only organizations whose members are subject to detention under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as it has been consistently interpreted by all three branches of our government,” the Michigan Democrat said in a statement on Saturday.

    1. “PRESENTMENT” Anon…as usual you are astute at educating the rest of us. I had no conception of “presentment” as a term or a categorical concern and appreciate your hand in getting this material to the site. The article is extremely interesting as is the comment stream which must be taken objectively as a full spectrum (reactionary & responsive) “observation” of the ungoing social & legal, & political impact of this complex arrangement of events and consequences. For my part, I added one question to the mix at the other comment stream:
      green card vs citizenship designation…

      Bruce E. Woych on April 21, 2013 at 10:19 am said:

      “Just a thought, but had they managed to catch both Brothers alive they would have had one confirmed citizen with the 19 year old, and as I understand it…the older Brother only had a green card status. The distinction should be relevant to future situations, and clarified under the circumstances.”

      While emotions are understandably high and relatively extreme in places, objective considerations are not to be construed as lack of sympaty or empathy for the victims. Nor (particularly) for “anyone” capable of perpetrating these atrocities (and that includes institutional instrumentalists that may exist in the background). But one further caveat; it is perfectly understandable that the police in Boston deserve our gratitude in apprehending the “suspects” charged in this gross insult to humanity. But that, in itself, does not erase the deeper complications of constitutional political rights that may be trampled if we simply cheer in an environment of tears and fears. The totality of this is historic, not localized incidental.

      Thanks, Anon…Bruce

  4. QUite a number of FBI “successes” in preventing terrorist attacks involve them false-flag recruiting and training potential bombers. They equip them with dummy bombs and arrest them in the act of trying to detonate.
    They also get their marks to involve others.

    Given that the FBI were aware of the elder brother accessing various websites, it would be a certainty that they would try the same procedure with him.

    I suspect that his interest was in sites related to Chechen resistance to Russia.
    From the little I have read about the brothers, they might be an unlikely pair of self-starting terrorists.

    What was the point of that particular bombing? Where is the manifesto? That’s going to be a very interesting part of the questioning.

    It seems from comments by his parents and the article linked below that he wold have had difficulty in making physical contact with Chechen fighters.

    This would make him an ideal candidate for a FBI “success” stunt. If the mark is feeling frustrated in trying to make contact, he’ll be very open to a false flag approach by the FBI.
    What if…
    – An FBI agent or a turned Chechen recruits and grooms the brothers.
    – They get trained up for an operation.
    – The brothers slip the leash and do an independent solo run – with live bombs.

    That’s just a speculation based on nothing other than the FBI standard ploy – and Murphy’s Law.

    It’s a pity that the elder brother died, as he would probably have been the main point of contact for any genuine or any FBI recruitment.

  5. Back on track with potential “domestic” considerations: Mike Spindell has brought up Russ Baker’s insightful commentary that includes the following:
    ” Was there anything else we could have been focused on? There was, but it was just too “distasteful” to broach, at least in the early hours. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the Fox brand (admittedly a local station, not the propagandistic Fox News Channel) that dared to raise questions about events that terrorize the public. In this report, the correspondent dares to remind us that the FBI has in the past had close relationships with people who want to blow things up, and has even facilitated these plots up to the point where law enforcement can intervene to thwart the bad guys. Was a similar sting in place at the Marathon – a sting that went horribly wrong?”

    and here’s the “report” he indicates:

  6. Despite the SCOTUS ruling I believe that the “Public Safety Exception” is unconstitutional.

  7. This was posted on
    in the comments by “Anime” and it clearly pertains to the insidious and ubiquitous nature of these surveillance encroachments:

    The quoted statement:
    “While the lamestream media was/is preoccupied with current events, “On Friday, Anonymous called for an Internet blackout in protest of CISPA, which passed the House on Thursday. If signed into law, CISPA would make it legal for websites to give your personal information to the U.S. government without your permission. Naturally, the hacker collective anonymous is not happy, calling for an Internet protest on Monday, April 22.”:

    from James Kwak’s “Fatal Sensitivity” at Baseline Scenario.

  8. “Professor, we don’t really know that these two brothers committed these acts. You’re reinforcing the idea of their guilt. I don’t know how you can trust such reports,”
    Probable cause to arrest bombing suspects is usually sufficient when they have been photographed in the area just before detonation and in their flight from the law they murder a police officer and throw bombs and fire guns from their carjacked vehicle when pursued by the police.

  9. Getting background to these “control” and power abuses of a surveillance state; we are a product of historic recurrences.

    “The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”

    He supplemented the supervisory principle with the idea of contract management; that is, an administration by contract as opposed to trust, where the director would have a pecuniary interest in lowering the average rate of mortality.”
    “Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.

    Bentham himself described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example,…”

    Appropriately enough, Bentham got his idea from his brother, an early proto-managerialist working for a Russian Prince as an industrialist attempting to devise a system “…as a means of allowing a small number of managers to oversee the activities of a large and unskilled workforce.”

    (see the link for the full article:

    [The framework of surveillance capture devised by Bentham was critically utilized by the French philosopher Micel Foucault]:

    “Although the Panopticon prison design did not come to fruition during Bentham’s time, it has been seen as an important development. It was invoked by Michel Foucault (in Discipline and Punish) as metaphor for modern “disciplinary” societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. “On the whole, therefore, one can speak of the formation of a disciplinary society in this movement that stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social ‘quarantine’, to an indefinitely generalizable mechanism of ‘panopticism’.”[36] The Panopticon is an ideal architectural figure of modern disciplinary power. The Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power, where no bars, chains, and heavy locks are necessary for domination any more.[37] Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories have evolved through history to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon. The notoriety of the design today (although not its lasting influence in architectural realities) stems from Foucault’s famous analysis of it.

    Building on Foucault, contemporary social critics often assert that technology has allowed for the deployment of panoptic structures invisibly throughout society. Surveillance by CCTV cameras in public spaces is an example of a technology that brings the gaze of a superior into the daily lives of the populace.”
    Panopticism in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish

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