Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 15, 2013. (FBI photo)

Former Boston Chief on Preparing for Next Terror Attack: Get ‘Ready to Be Overwhelmed’

The Boston Marathon bombing underscored that training to prevent and respond to the next terror attack needs to be dynamic, inclusive and “constantly evolving” to keep up with the changing tactics of evildoers, said Boston’s former police chief.

Daniel Linskey, who retired in 2014 after serving 27 years on the force, told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Complex Coordinated Attack Symposium on Tuesday that the first attack of its kind — the 2008 Mumbai attacks, with multiple assailants utilizing bombs and guns at different targets — left him “kind of shocked at how ill-prepared we were” and made him urgently deploy assets to protect critical infrastructure, writing the “protection of Boston on a hotel notepad in New York … we had never thought of a plan.”

“The terrorists were not going to do one-offs,” he said of the complex coordinated attack model. “They were going to try to attack multiple cities.”

Linskey, now a managing director in Kroll’s Security Risk Management practice, asked the audience of first responders, public safety leaders and emergency management personnel if, after the coordinated bombings targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, they immediately thought about what they needed to do to protect houses of worship in their own jurisdictions.

Preparedness involves thinking outside the box to determine what the terrorists might do next. “We need to match their evil geniuses with our own evil geniuses,” he said. That especially means designing training around what our geniuses on the front lines, such as hazmat response teams, are experiencing and training together instead of operating in silos.

“We have to be ready for them and we have to be ready to be overwhelmed,” Linskey stressed. “Train the way you fight and fight the way you train.”

Intensive post-Mumbai training “absolutely saved lives on Boylston Street” on April 15, 2013.

As he was every year, Linskey was at the marathon that morning, looking for bombs — which were feared and taken “very seriously” as a threat long before Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev turned pressure cookers into deadly weapons — and checking to ensure that security was on the ball. The bombs weren’t expected, though, nearly three hours after the winner of the race had passed the finish line, with thousands of runners still laboring to reach the end.

“I got it completely wrong when they would hit us,” the former chief said, noting that he hoped the first explosion had been a transformer “but I had a feeling we’d been hit.”

Fortunately, “if you get hit you’re not in this alone” as mutual aid comes rushing to the scene from all corners. But with every cop and deputy in the area converging on the crime scene, the response can quickly spin out of control. As media also descended on the scene, police had to deal with runners still on the course and lots of bags for bomb techs to inspect.

Three people were killed in the two blasts: Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford, Mass., Lu Lingzi, 23, from China and studying at Boston University, and Martin Richard, 8, of Boston. MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, 27, was ambushed and killed three days later, and Boston Police Officer Dennis Simmonds, 28, died a year later as the result of head trauma suffered when fleeing bombers threw an explosive device his way on April 19.

“I’m trying to comprehend what I’m seeing, and a wave of shame and guilt washed over me because I missed that guy…. I failed that family,” Linskey said, recalling of Martin how the Tsarnaev brothers “annihilated that baby — they destroyed him while on my watch, in my care.”

“Anyone who said he was manipulated by his brother and didn’t know what he was doing – he could have picked one of my cops; he picked an 8-year-old boy,” he said of where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now on death row, set the bomb.

There wasn’t tension at the top level between agencies, Linskey recalled, as they launched a unified mission to get the bombers — “it’s about trusting each other, training with each other” — in the massive manhunt that ended in Watertown. On April 19, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police; Linskey remembers telling the bomber “he was going to burn in hell” as he was loaded into the ambulance. The 26-year-0ld died on the way to the hospital, and “I’m pretty sure my prediction came true.”

Telling the Richard family that police got the bombers was the “most transformative moment of my entire life,” the chief recalled.

Throughout the ordeal, prior relationships forged through comprehensive training proved critical to keeping agencies operating as a team. Fire and EMS were alongside police and getting the same intel as the cops. Authorities had to work through the challenge of social media: using the medium to glean tips and get information to the public while at the same time weeding through sometimes erroneous information. It was “good and bad news” that a “ton of information” flowed in and out of the investigation: “You want to give information to make people comfortable, but you have to make sure it’s real.”

Those charged with preparing for an attack “need to have discussions about the next challenge — could someone use fire as a terrorist attack? No one thought about an elevated position until Dallas, and then Las Vegas,” Linskey noted, adding that the vehicle ramming threat needs to be considered during everyday neighborhood events such as marches and parades that were perhaps not previously seen as a likely attack venue.

A plan to deal with complex coordinated attacks is “not a plan — it’s a planning process that’s constantly evolving,” he stressed.

Cogs in the interdiction and emergency response machine all have their specific roles, “but then you need to train them working together,” Linskey said. “Starting to cross-pollinate each other is something we should be doing… It’s about building a team to plan, not building a perfect plan.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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