Snowden: Brussels Attack AND Boston Bombing Could Have Been Stopped

Claire Bernish
March 28, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) Edward Snowden proffered a rather damning criticism of international intelligence during a lecture last week, arguing the terror attacks in Belgium were entirely preventable and could have been stopped. As Snowden explained:

“In all the talk of Brussels, there’s a story that just recently broke, which I’m not sure has gotten the same play as the others, which is that the attack was preventable; and it was preventable through traditional means, not mass surveillance. An allied intelligence service — in this case, in Turkey — warned Belgium that this individual was a criminal, that they were involved in terrorist activities, and this individual turned out to be one of the suicide bombers.”

As Snowden noted during the University of Arizona panel discussion, which also included Professor Noam Chomsky and journalist Glenn Greenwald, these reports surfaced almost immediately after the attacks claiming Belgian and other intelligence forces had been notified of the potential danger this individual posed. In fact, an exclusive, though unverified report by Haaretz claimed “The security services knew, with a high degree of certainty, that attacks were planned in the very near future for the airport and, apparently, for the subway as well.”

But what stands as a matter of crucial importance is that we’ve witnessed, yet again, not only a failure by intel to act on credible information, but a further example of the uselessness of mass surveillance to thwart any attack. It wasn’t surveillance that gave Belgian intelligence its information, rather, it had been Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sounding the alarm. Turkey had previously deported one of the attackers as a “foreign terrorist fighter” — and Turkish officials notified the Belgian embassy in Ankara they had done so.

“In the United States, we have the same thing, in the Boston Marathon bombings. We were explicitly warned by foreign intelligence services that one of the brothers [who] was involved in the bombings would be engaged in that kind of activity,” Snowden added.

In fact, it was Russian intelligence that alerted the FBI about about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s links to militant Muslim terrorist groups; but the ostensibly inept U.S. intelligence community failed to do anything — due to a spelling error in his name. Whether that was actually the case or something darker might have been afoot remains unclear, but the point is the same: even when the appropriate governmental agencies have the information necessary to stop a terrorist attack, they fail to do so — every time.

Tsarnaev had been investigated, and in June 2011, the FBI concluded he had “no links to terrorism,” NBC News noted. In September, according to the Independent, “Russia’s FSB sent a cable to the CIA restating their initial warning, and a second note on Tsarnaev was entered on the TECS [U.S. Customs and Border Protection database] system, but his name was misspelled ‘Tsarnayev.’”

A few months later, he was in ‘terror training’ in Dagestan after passing through Moscow. When he returned to the U.S. via New York’s JFK Airport, his name triggered an alert but, due to the misspelling, he wasn’t considered a top priority among the “100 other names on a ‘Hot List’ of people traveling through JFK that day.”

It appears the same fumbling took place surrounding the Brussels attacks: two of the brothers involved, Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, “were listed as a potential terror threat in U.S. databases,” NBC News reported, citing unnamed and unverified U.S. officials. Congressional committees have now requested to know which databases, for how long, and “whether and how the information was shared.”

Despite these multiple intelligence blunders concerning individuals known to be dangerous, politicians immediately proposed even further truncations of civilian liberties, both in Europe and the United States. In an interview with Democracy Now, Glenn Greenwald discussed the implications:

“I think it’s really important to note a couple of things about Brussels. Number one is, the Brussels attack is now the fourth straight attack, after Boston, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and then the Paris attacks, where siblings, brothers, were at the heart of the planning. And just like in those three previous attacks that I just referenced, the attacks were carried out by people who live in the same communities, who live very close to one another, and who almost certainly met in person in order to plan them. And yet, the exploitive mindset of Western politicians is to say, every time there’s a successful attack carried out, it means we need to wage war on encryption, we need greater surveillance, we need more police in these communities. But the reality is … none of that will actually help detect the attack.”

Indeed, it appears such crackdowns — including Cruz’ and Trump’s call for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods and Clinton’s insistence on increased surveillance and police forces — serve, instead, to fuel resentment, which ultimately breeds more terrorist activities. Greenwald explained the most facile solution to terrorism by noting what drives it. For “15 years,” he said, the United States “has been declaring itself at war and bombing multiple countries and then acts surprised when people want to come and attack us back.

“And so I think, more than saying we need more intelligence and more surveillance and wage war on encryption and more bombing campaigns, we need to be asking whether there are things that we can be doing that reduce the incentive for people to kill us … and especially the support infrastructure that they get because of the anti-American and anti-European sentiment that gets generated when we engage in all of this violence in the world.”

Snowden, Greenwald, and myriad experts continue to warn of how this cycle not only creates more terrorists, but, almost by design, seems meant to make pliable the populace for increasing infringements on privacy rights. Ultimately — and perhaps because — these attacks were preventable by traditional means, and yet still were allowed to happen, we must be more suspicious than ever of programs initiated under the pretense of increasing security.

This article (Snowden: Brussels Attack AND Boston Bombing Could Have Been Stopped) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

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