Inside the Boston Bomb Squad’s Defining Day

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

The Boston bomb squad’s defining day wasn’t what they trained for:

Several years after 9/11, I conducted training with a military bomb unit charged with guarding Washington, DC. Our final exam was a nightmare scenario—a homemade nuke at the Super Bowl. Our job was to defuse it while the fans were still in the stands, there being no way to quickly and safely clear out 80,000 people. That scenario made two fundamental assumptions that are no longer valid: that there would be one large device and that we would find it before it detonated.

Boston showed that there’s another threat, one that looks a lot different. “We used to train for one box in a doorway. We went into a slower and less aggressive mode, meticulous, surgical. Now we’re transitioning to a high-speed attack, more maneuverable gear, no bomb suit until the situation has stabilized,” Gutzmer says. “We’re not looking for one bomber who places a device and leaves. We’re looking for an active bomber with multiple bombs, and we need to attack fast.”

A post-Boston final exam will soon look a lot different. Instead of a nuke at the Super Bowl, how about this: Six small bombs have already detonated, and now your job is to find seven more—among thousands of bags—while the bomber hides among a crowd of the fleeing, responding, wounded, and dead. Meanwhile the entire city overwhelms your backup with false alarms. Welcome to the new era of bomb work.

(Hat tip to Bruce Schneier.)


  1. Chris C. says:

    The objective of a well-planned (military) ambush is to have the ambushees react to each phase of the plan in such a way that they run straight into the next phase, and so on. It takes the terrorist tactic of a second bomb going off after just enough time for the first responders to arrive to its logical and bloody conclusion. U.S. drone operators do this as well.

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