Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Analysis of the Boston Boming

Disclaimer: I am playing armchair quarterback. I am testing my skills as an accident investigator. I am using information (reports, pictures, witness statements, etc.) taken from the Internet and other media. I am applying my "Sherlock Holmes" skills and testing myself, publicly. 

I give my analysis of the devices.  I do not condone the use of or give directions on making these devices.  All information about these devices and their components was obtained (and cited) from wikipedia. This being a safety blog, I also have to say. do not attempt to make your own device, it is dangerous and illegal.

I do not mean to offend anyone or any of the victims, and the families of the victims. I am not a criminal investigator, but a different set of eyes and different skill sets may give the criminal investigators a different perspective on this tragedy. I could be totally wrong in my analysis when this is finally solved. Although I champion individual liberties and freedom of speech, I do not condone or justify in any way, the actions that occurred in Boston yesterday.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and friends. I hope that the perpetrator(s) are brought to justice swiftly. 

My Analysis, Choice of Time & Location:

Patriot's Day:

All the news outlets have been focussing on Patriot's Day. I do not believe that the focus was on Patriot's Day. Patriots' Day (officially Patriots' Day in Massachusetts and Patriot's Day in Maine) is a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. These were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.

It is observed on the third Monday in April in Massachusetts and Maine (once part of Massachusetts). The date is important, but (again) not for Patriots' Day. It just so happened that the third Monday this year was April15th.

Tax Day, April 15th:

I feel the date is the most important decision in the decision of the when and where. This is Tax Day. Tax Day is a colloquial term for the day on which individual income tax returns are due to the federal government. Most likely, this was done by a radical, anti-government group, trying to make a statement by doing this on Tax Day.

The Boston Marathon:

The Boston Marathon is an annual marathon hosted by several cities in Greater Boston in eastern Massachusetts. It is always held on Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897, inspired by the success of the first modern-day marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events. It is one of six World Marathon Majors.

 The Boston Marathon is the 2nd largest significance for the Date, April 15, 2013. It is a world class event, with people from all over the world attending, with large numbers of people, cattle chuted into, tight, closed quarters.

This is secondary. If this would not have occurred on April 15th, I would venture to speculate that the perpetrator(s) would have selected another target with large numbers of people crowded into a small space.  


The city of Boston also plays a (secondary) significance to the attack. Boston  is the capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The largest city in New England, the city proper, covers 48 square miles, having an estimated population of 626,000 in 2011, making it the 21st largest city in the United States. The city is the anchor of the larger metropolitan area called Greater Boston, home to 4.5 million people and the tenth-largest metropolitan area in the country. Greater Boston as a commuting region is home to 7.6 million people, making it the fifth-largest Combined Statistical Area in the United States.

One of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston was founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630 by Puritan colonists from England. It was the scene of several key events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Siege of Boston.

After the  American independence, the city became an important port and manufacturing center, and a center of education and culture as well. Its rich history helps attract many tourists, with Faneuil Hall alone attracting over 20 million visitors. Boston's many "firsts" include the United States' first public school (1635), and first subway system (1897).

Other Factors:

Sandy Hook Shooting: The December 14, 2012, shooting Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut that has lead to a renewed push by the radical, liberal left to enact laws to restrict (what is currently legal) gun ownership. This event occurred in relatively close proximity to the Boston Marathon incident, but I believe that this event had no bearing on the decision to target the Boston Marathon.

The Month of April: The Month of April is traditionally an antigovernment month.The Oklahoma City Bombing occurred in April, and the Waco Siege occurred in April. I believe that these events had no bearing on the decision to target the Boston Marathon.

My Analysis, the Perpetrator(s):

This may be the work of an individual or a group. Chances are that it is an individual. Two days after the incident, no one has claimed responsibility, points more to an individual. A group would have released a statement by now (untraceable through its many members) claiming responsibility by now. Chances are that if an individual, the person has ties with an antigovernment group or movement.

The bomber(s) are also of the "irrational, extreme, radical fringe" type. By that, I mean that if it is a group, they are "appealing to their base." They are not trying to "win hearts and minds." Targeting innocent people, unrelated to any organization, is purely an act of terror.

Extreme factions of groups like Greenpeace and many eco groups target who they perceive as "the enemy." Even Timothy McVeigh targeted a Federal building, where the Federal Government was the perceived enemy and the intended target. These types of groups and people are not looking to turn public opinion AGAINST them, they want the public to see them as heros, taking on the (perceived) enemy.

The Boston bomber(s) don't care what the public thinks about them. They perceive the world as "us" and the enemy. There are no neutral people.These people/groups tend to be irrational, extreme, and unwavering in their thinking. These people/groups would have a goal to destroy or overthrow the government (as opposed to a change the government's thinking/laws view).

Chances are that the perpetrator was male. Men are most likely to commit a brutal, violent act with mass casualties. Women are the less violent (think poison), targeting the specific person. Even if a woman has multiple targets, she will go after each target specifically, where a man would look at (although morbid) efficiency. 

One person/Multiple people? This is hard to say since the position of the devices are relatively close. This could have been carried out by a single person. A big piece to answering this question is if other devices were found and how far away.

Let us not forget the "Wildcard." This is someone who without "rhyme or reason" does something. This is the unforeseen, what you could not predict could happen (other than taking in to account the "Wildcard"). The "Wildcard" also is not one possibility, but an almost infinite number of possibilities that could occur almost randomly.

There may be logic to the act in the mind of the perpetrator(s), which may or may not make sense to us as investigators. It may also be a truly random happening, or may be the product of a corrupted thought process (such as mental illness).

My Analysis, the Devices:

Let's look at the devices. First we will look at the secondary explosive then the primary explosive. The secondary explosive is less sensitive than a primary explosive and require substantially more energy to be initiated. This is what "does the work," makes the "boom." The primary explosive is an explosive that is extremely sensitive to stimuli, and detonates the secondary explosive.

From the video we have seen of the devices going off, you notice much gray/white smoke. Initially I thought kerosine or diesel (components used in the Oklahoma City Bombing) for the secondary explosive. Then I thought inefficient combustion. Initial reports are that the perpetrator(s) used black powder (which is weaker and much less efficient than smokeless powder).

You also see a very (red-)orange flame. 

Black powder is relatively easy to purchase, with less restrictions (generally) than smokeless powder. Black powder is commonly used in shooting/hunting with muzzleloaders and muskets.Just about any sporting goods store that carries bullets will carry black powder.

The explosive mixture is placed in some sort of (usually metal) container to build up maximum pressure when detonated. Initial reports are that a pressure cooker was (possibly) used. It could have been a metal pipe, thermos, cooler, etc.

The primary explosive could be as simple as a shotgun shell or firecracker. The sensitivity of the secondary explosive would determine what is used. Black powder is easy to detonate where the mixture used in the Oklahoma City Bombing was more difficult.

The detonators (devices which detonate the primary explosives) are a bit interesting.  I remember an old WWII flick, where you take a lit cigarette & fold it into a pack of matches, the cigarette will burn down slowly into the matchbook, causing it to light whatever else you have it tucked into, hence a time delayed fuse.

 In the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, the enemy used improvised explosive devices (IED). It seems that the choice detonators for these are cell phones. Calling the cell phone turns it in to a remote trigger. In news reports, the 2004 Madrid, Spain train bombings used smart phones as detonators, instead of calling into them, they used the alarm clock app in them.

The difference that this makes is that if the cell phone is placed inside container, chances that the cell signal will not penetrate the container, so the alarm app is used. If the device is to be detonated by making a call to the cell phone, then the cell phone is placed outside container, and holes are drilled in the container to run wires from the "actuating device" (i.e. the cell phone) to the detonator.

A travel alarm clock could be used in lieu of a smart phone in the event that the timer (alarm app) is used. The advantage to using a smart phone is that they are much more available (you can buy prepaid cells in any minimart), and whether you use the timer or call in to it, the other can serve as a back up in the event that the first fails.

My Analysis, the Scenes:

Looking at the scenes, the first device was close to a building. With the people all trying to be near the street and looking to the street, it would go relatively unnoticed behind them. It simply may just have been a bag or cooler, looking like someone's stuff pushed back out of the way. Below are pictures of the blast sites before (circa 2009) and after the events in Boston. The before pictures are for reference.

The second device appears to be right near the edge of the street. It would have been in view of the hostess stand (if it was up) of the restaurant behind it. This device hed to be better hidden, in something that people would not look in to,  like in a garbage can. Someone would have noticed a cooler or bag left at the side of the street.

So that is my analysis based on media reports. I looked at the facts, and what they point to. This is no different from what I would do with any industrial accident that I investigate. Let's hope they catch whoever did this soon.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and friends. Do not live your life in fear, do not lock yourself in your house. If you do, then the people who did this won.

Thank you for reading.

Update, April 18, 2013:

Last night there was talk on the national news programs by "consultants" hired by the news programs. They referred to these events as "Al-Qaeda style attacks." I do not believe that Al-Qaeda was involved in these attacks. If so, by now Al-Qaeda would have taken credit for it and posted videos of the attack that "they" carried out.

There has also been mention of a recent English edition of Inspire (a jihadist magazine), having an article on building such a device. It would not be unheard of other extreme groups using Al-Qaeda terror guides. (As I have said in other articles about written safety plans, "why reinvent the wheel?" "Use what is out there already.") Again, this supports my decision to rule out Al-Qaeda. I would focus on homegrown, antigovernment extremist groups (or individuals that non-extreme groups may have "excommunicated" due to their radical views). I would also look for a theme of Federal tax reform or abolishment in the group as well.

Update, May 1, 2013:

As more information comes out from the investigation, we are finding out that this incident did not fit any "template." I am also finding out that I was a little more than half right about my analysis, especially given that I was basing everything on news reports.

Let us turn this into a learning situation since this event seems to defy logic. The 2 defining aspects of this event were "opportunity" and the "Wildcard."


The perpetrators chose the City of Boston because it is a large city (density of people) and because the Greater Boston Area happens to be where they immigrated to from Chechnya. That is where they just happened to settle.

They chose the Marathon because it was an event that pack the most people in the city into the smallest space, and allowed them the freedom to come and go without searches like a sports stadium would have.

The Wild Card:

This is "the everything else category." These two seemed to have a hatred of Russia for what was happening in their home of Chechnya. That is why they set bombs off in the US. The US and Russia are not exactly the best of friends.  Hence, the Wildcard.

Even the FBI and CIA missed these two, again because of them being the "Wildcard."  They were reported to US authorities by Russian Intelligence, but after US authorities looked at them, they did not fit any pattern that would have caused concern.

So, what did we learn?

This was an extremely valuable exercise for me. I hope that you take away as much as I did. Exercises such as this, or staging an accident scene are valuable teaching tools.

Note: If you are staging an accident, always use an incident that has been thoroughly investigated and documented. Recreate the facts exactly as they occurred. Do not "invent" your own scenarios, the cause and effects may have no correlations.

Always take into account the "Wildcard." Even when you think you know the cause, stop, step back, and look at what else it could be. This is the flip side of the a saying that I have heard in many recent Sherlock Holmes movies and television shows:

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

I will update this as new information becomes available in the media. Again, thank you for reading.

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