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Boston's Lockdown A Rare Aspect Of Bombing Investigation


One of the most startling aspects of Friday's bombing investigation was the shutdown of most of a major metropolitan area. That's rarely, if ever, happened in quite this way. The people around Boston affected Juliette Kayyem, who will talk with us about what this means. She's a former top Homeland Security official from Massachusetts and for the Obama administration. She is now a columnist for the Boston Globe, and her family was locked down on Friday in the Boston area. Welcome to the program, Juliette.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this in anybody's playbook, shutting down a city like this?

KAYYEM: Well, it's often in the playbook when it comes to, say, winter storms. So, actually, if you just look back a couple months, the governor essentially closed down the entire state. That was a non-voluntary shutdown. Of course, it feels different in the context of a terrorism investigation and chase.

INSKEEP: Is there actually some intellectual background here? Five or ten years ago, someone said next time we're chasing a terrorist suspect, we should shut down the city.

KAYYEM: Right. There is. So, there's been lot of planning for variety of reasons. One of them, of course, Steve, would be sort of some radiological event, some biological event. Unprecedented, though, you know, I'm not going to deny it, that a chase like this causing such a big geographic shutdown was very unique.

But in the context of Thursday night, here's what the police officers knew. They knew that there had been a terrorist attack a few days earlier. They knew that the culprits were still in the city. So that's pretty scary. Right? Why are they still here? They know they're heavily armed, they're throwing explosives out the car, and they don't know at that time whether there are others that are going to, you know, sort of join the bandwagon.

So at the moment, you're thinking, how do I protect the civilians? And how do I empty the streets so that pubic safety official can focus on the hunt? You could have made a rational case the other way. It's just at that moment you want to isolate the younger brother, you want to protect citizens and you want to relieve public safety pressures that, you know, them doing their other jobs.

INSKEEP: OK, so that's the case for shutting down the city...


INSKEEP: ...that was made in the moment. But, as you know, as this happened, there were some people raising questions about whether this went too far. One commonly heard remark on Friday was, well, this is what a terrorist would love to know that they were able to do to shut down a major metropolitan area.

John Cassidy of The New Yorker said, I decided this fine country of ours had lost its moorings and gone a little nuts. He couldn't believe that in addition to shutting down the city that even trains running out of Boston were shut down.

KAYYEM: You know, there's a lot of ways to judge America's greatness. So, one maybe that we don't shut down the city, as Cassidy and others are arguing. But another way to judge it is, you know, we're going to get this guy and we're going to ask civilians and citizens to just stay put while we get him. That doesn't seem to me to be any more or less American than sort of, you know, not having a lockdown.

INSKEEP: Were you glad your kids were kept at home?

KAYYEM: Oh, yeah. I wanted to take them out. And, first of all, MIT is about three blocks from my home. I got stuck at a hotel. I was out Thursday night because my husband said don't get out there. I'm hearing too much going on. Finally, when he said, all clear, I drove on the Mass. Turnpike home. I was passed by about 30 or 35 police cars, and I had to pull over. I mean, my heart - I had never sort of experienced anything like that. In terms of just the stress I think of the week and then the potential that these people would finally be caught. And I want just, you know, the truth is whatever the governor said, my kids were probably not going to be out and about, given what had happened in my neighborhood Thursday night.

INSKEEP: Juliette Kayyem of the Boston Globe. Thanks very much.

KAYYEM: Thanks so much, Steve.


INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.