“Security is a most seductive thing” and the Single Bus Line that Shut Down Boston

The WSJ has a fascinating story this morning about 3 pages cut from an early draft of the kids book, A Wrinkle in Time. It includes a discussion between the heroine and her father, in which the latter describes the dangers of valuing security over all else. He starts by talking about totalitarian governments, but when Meg asks about their own country, he responds,

“It’s an equally logical outcome of too much prosperity. Or you could put it that it’s the result of too strong a desire for security.”


I’ve come to the conclusion,” Mr. Murry said slowly, “that it’s the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great great grandmother, and all those like her, had worried about security? They’d never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg,”

As it happens, immediately after I learned one of the signature American kids book originally compared US paranoia (during the height of the Cold War) with totalitarianism, I read this summary of an interview Juliette Kayyem did with former Boston Police Chief Ed Davis. In addition to confirming that the authorities immediately assumed this was an Al Qaeda attack (which fed some false assumptions about the attack) and providing background to the decision to release pictures of the brothers, Davis explained that then Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation successfully pushed to shut down the entire city because a single bus line crossed close to where Dzhokhar was believed to be hiding.

Davis gets into detail on another major debate: whether to issue a “shelter in place” order while law enforcement tracked down Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Davis points to Richard Davey, then the state’s secretary of transportation (and now the CEO of the Boston 2024 Partnership) as having particular influence. Authorities were focused on an MBTA bus that passed through the area where they believed Dzhokhar was hiding. They didn’t want Tsarnaev to have access to the entire transit system, but Davey argued that it’s difficult to shut down just that bus route—just one piece of the system. It strands those who expect it to be up and running. Because of that perspective, the debate became more “all or nothing.” Shut nothing down or shut the city down. In the end, Governor Deval Patrick made the call, in part because the city had shut down for a snow storm the week before and, as Davis puts it, “This is at least as dangerous as a snow storm.”

This is craziness! They shut down an entire city rather than shutting down a single bus line (or, better, putting a cop on every bus on that line rather than having hundreds of cops shooting like drunken cowboys a few blocks away in Watertown). And the guy who made the decision is now heading Boston’s Olympics bid.

Madeleine L’Engle was onto something.

Davis also suggests that the FBI admitted knowing the brothers before they now claim to have confirmed that ID.

19 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I would bet that transit users in Boston, like those in other cities, are used to pieces not working at odd times, and either wait or work around it. I find it hard to believe that people running the system are that ignorant of how it actually is used (although I know that managers don’t use transit: it’s beneath them).

  2. scribe says:

    We are governed by cowards. And somehow these cowards keep f’g up and moving up, when they should get kicked to the curb posthaste.
    Oh, and this is the same city that couldn’t cope with snow to keep the T running. Like snow in New England in February is one of those things they just couldn’t foresee.

  3. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    I can speak with some authority on this, as a member of (but not speaking for) the Cambridge Public Transportation Advisory Committee.

    The MBTA has no surplus buses. At rush hour, they are fully committed. If they have to run emergency shuttles in place of subways, they steal buses from various routes and degrade services on those routes. Or, to put it another way, their operations plans involve stranding passengers.

    Shutting down the city because it might strand a few people is the most bizarre thing I’ve heard.

    It does add a little piece of justification to the MBTA’s new bus surveillance system (the most expensive ever, according to a trade publication) which provides multiple cameras and a live feed from the buses to a control center as well as police cruisers.

  4. pdaly says:

    The single bus line running past the Watertown Mall near where the shootout took place is MBTA bus 70. The explanation given of not stopping just this bus route (to avoid inconveniencing bus 70 travelers) makes no sense in light of the fact that the government shut down the entire Suffolk County affecting everyone instead.
    Bus 70 takes you east to Central Square, Cambridge, MA–from where I believe the Tsarnaev brothers were fleeing (unless they were in Watertown when the FBI released their photos on TV?), so I don’t expect Dzhokhar would head back there.
    Bus 70 heads also west and ends in Waltham, MA next to interstate 95. Did Dzhokhar have any remaining friends living in Waltham (see murder of 3 people in Waltham apartment in Sept 2011, all former Cambridge residents and visitors at one time or another to Wai Kru in Allston)? I don’t think the Waltham area was included in the shutdown of Boston, however.
    As you mention, it would be easy enough to staff every bus on line 70 with a police officer going in and out of Watertown–we know there were enough of them that night in Watertown!
    The shutdown seemed to me, instead, a convenient excuse to trial run a martial law exercise.

  5. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    One more thing. “Security mom” Juliette Kayem, is also part of the Boston 2024 Olympic bid, though she’s keeping a low profile after submitting an embarrassing performance at an early forum.

    • emptywheel says:

      Egads. How is Kade not making an even better case that the Olympics would invite a police state?

        • Peterr says:

          The Olympics are the best in the world at shutting down an entire metropolitan area’s transit system, so any city that is serious about winning the games better show the IOC that they are capable of handling this important and critical task.

          But Boston really stepped up their game when the took the guy who did this and made him the head of their bid committee.

  6. Rich says:

    can we put to rest the big lie of the brave covered wagon people bullshit who were backed by the rage of the U.S. Military as they heroically moved West annihilating and displacing the indigenous Americans who lived there in the first place? Are these the lessons taught in Mormon temples worldwide?

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It seems rather like Dick Cheney’s view that it would be self-gelding to have a power and not use it. Cheneys’ argument avoids restraint, of course. It also avoids how and how well one exercises the power that Mr. Cheney so slavishly admires. That’s really the exercise of ordinary governance. Most of Mr. Cheney’s peers would have us avoid that, too, as they rush madly to empower themselves (but not us) and to “keep us safe”.

  8. elise bowen says:

    Davis also suggests that the FBI admitted knowing the brothers before they now claim to have confirmed that ID.

    Chief Davis suggests in what way, i’d like to know. i’m presuming it’s in your link to the summary. still, it’s confusing to grok.

    • elise bowen says:

      4. Davis’s notes of criticism came after Kayyem asked him when he learned [sic: when did he learn] that he was dealing not with international terrorists but two guys from Cambridge.

      Davis says he learned from the FBI’s Richard DesLauriers that “we know these guys” because they’d visited radical areas of Dagestan.

      While he admitted he has no idea if things would have played out differently had the FBI told Boston or Cambridge police about the Tsarnaevs, he told Kayyem he thinks the FBI ought to be required to give local cops information if they have it.

      ah. now i get it. Davis gets my ‘attaboy’ vote on this, too.
      “who are they? beats me” is a super-dangerous answer and apparently a lie.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    It’s really not about buses, it’s about that they are something and we are nothing, in their minds.
    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
    ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

  10. 4DI says:

    FBI’s Richard DesLauriers knows these guys because they had visited radical areas of Dagestan? FBI knows these guys because they had visited radical areas of the Boston exurbs, to play Spy vs. Spy. The feds never thought to wonder who was surveilling who was surveilling who. The resulting G2 is much too valuable to save some patsy’s neck. It is the stuff of regime change.

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