In a recent Salon post, author Natasha Lennard equates retired Gen. Michael Hayden’s comments in a speech delivered at the Bipartisan Policy Center to the “Red Scare” of the 1950s spearheaded by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Hayden warned that hackers, cyberactivists and transparency groups who might act in support of NSA leaker Edward Snowden could target the U.S. government — equating such groups and individuals to al-Qaida (sic) terrorists.
Though Hayden’s remarks never directly connect these groups or individuals to al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist organizations, per se, his analogical language is quite clear.
So if they can’t create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after? Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida (sic).
Lennard’s post dubs Hayden’s comments (here and elsewhere) as illustrative of what she calls the “cyberscare”. Like the red scare before it, this political and media escalation strategically paints the likes of Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, and others onto a canvas not unlike the one that hangs fresh in our post-9/11 collective American minds.
A similar “scare” has happened in Boston. In fact, it’s continued happening in and beyond Boston since April 15, 2013. Let’s call it the “Bostonscare” for the time being.
The Bostonscare doesn’t just concern (threats of) terrorism in the greater Boston area since the Boston Marathon Bombing. Rather, it’s a combination of this and many other things. Items that have plagued our local, national and global newsfeeds throughout the spring and summer months. Panic, paranoia and complacency.
Remember the lock down? I awoke the morning of Friday, April 19 to the annoyingly repetitive sound of my cellphone. Friends and family members were calling and texting me ad infinitum, inquiring about my safety. They’d seen or heard from the national news that law enforcement officials from various agencies had found, tracked and fought with the suspected bombers through the night. The chase ranged from M.I.T. to Watertown. Boston and the surrounding area was on “lock down” until further notice.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have a clue as to what in the hell was going on. I’d been asleep, comfortably oblivious and wrapped in the euphoria of my bed sheets.
Like most of Boston, I quickly became bored with “playing it safe”. A short walk around the block gradually added streets. Then neighborhoods. Friends’ apartments. The Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Every once in a while I’d hear sirens or see a small platoon of cop cars wiz by. But I was never stopped, questioned or ordered home.
John Cassidy of The New Yorker would suggest that Friday was the moment when America “had lost its moorings and gone a little nuts”.
The police believed Dzhokhar to be armed and dangerous. But does that justify locking down an entire city? America is a violent place. Practically every day, somewhere in the country, cops are looking for armed and dangerous men who have just killed one or more innocent members of the public. But when a gunman runs amok in East L.A., say, they don’t close down Brentwood or Santa Monica.
Yes, that week had its scary moments. And yes, caution was most often the best stance to take. But a fully-fledged, militaristic, don’t-leave-your-homes-or-the-monsters-will-eat-you lock down? We were acting stupid and silly.
And we were panicking.
Consider the recent frenzy initiated by journalist Michele Catalano. At first, she thought her husband’s arrest had something to do with government access to Google searches, spying and so forth. Many other news agencies agreed and ran with the story. In actuality, local police were tipped off by her husband’s former employer after the latter noticed Google searches for “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks” on the former’s work computer. Seems Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t as true as many had thought.
But it was all still very frightening.
I’m sure that Catalano’s story encouraged many U.S. internet users to question their own daily usage of Google and other search engines. What was the last key term(s) you’d searched for? Could it or any implicit combination with past perusals possibly signal an alarm in the annals of the country’s intelligence community? Were armed men in camoflauge coming to “escort” you from your home courtesy of a black, sightless hood?
Probably not. But damn…
What about the case of Cameron D’Ambrosio, the Methuen teenager who was arrested in April for posting rap lyrics to Facebook boasting that he’d outdo the Boston Marathon bombers? It’s one thing for a person to scream “fire” in a crowded room when there’s no fire, and another to come down on said person with the full force of the law (and then some) when there’s neither been a fire or a life-threatening stampede. We were acting stupid and silly.
And we were panicking.
Nearly four months on, does anyone even care about any of this anymore?