Nightly News   |  April 15, 2013

Marathon security ‘extraordinarily difficult’

When planning high-profile events where terrorists can hide in plain sight, ensuring safety is a herculean challenge. And securing every possible public event that could invite an attack would be impossible. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back tonight. this is the scene as it happened. 2:50 p.m . this afternoon in boston during the marathon. there is the explosion. one runner hit by shrapnel goes down. this is an important point here. between the point of the explosion and the crowd police, boston ems , race volunteers were caught up in it. they were among the targets. so having seen this, having witnessed this, the question becomes how can we ever keep our public events safe if someone was allowed to get two devices this close to this classic a day in boston , massachusetts? nbc's tom costello has been looking at this conundrum for security personnel all day. tom, evening.

>> reporter: hi, brian. we talk about how security changed after 9/11. and it did. but security experts have been dealing with terrorist threats at big gatherings since the munich games in 1972 . trying to ensure everyone's safety is a herculean challenge. for any police agency planning for big crowds means months of nightmares. secures and stealing a course like the boston marathon with 20,000 runners and half a million spectators is almost an impossible challenge. bill bratton was the boston police commissioner before leading the nypd and the lapd.

>> it is extraordinarily difficult, as you might imagine, that 26-mile route. double it, 52 the miles because you have two sides of the street. most of the security would be focused on the finish line area where the actual bombing occurred.

>> reporter: atlanta, 1996 . a backpack holding pipe bombs packed with nails exploded in olympic park . two died. more than a hundred wounded. it wasn't until 2003 that police tracked down domestic terrorist eric robert rudolph .

>> get back, please!

>> reporter: london, 2005 . a series of coordinated suicide attacks on the subway and bus system left 52 people dead, 700 injured. the attackers used home made explosives packed into backpacks. those attacks on finds of the secret service when president obama was sworn in for the first time in 2009 . dan bonngeno was the lead secret service agent as people packed the national mall in downtown d.c. a potential terrorist could have been hiding in plain sight.

>> you can't guarantee anything. you reduce the probability to hopefully something minuscule so if something happens your response is enough to keep casualties to a minimum n times square 2010 . a car bomb failed to explode and was disarmed before it could hurt anyone. two days later a pakistani-american was caught trying to board a flight to the middle east . big sporting events like the boston marathon had been viewed as inviting targets since 9/11. the marine corps marathon attracts 30,000 runners each year. super bowl organize ohhers are often criticized for too much security at the big game . and securing every possible public event that could invite an attack is respond reasonable. michaelle leiter was the counter terrorism director under president george w. bush .

>> you can't protect all of the people at all of the large sporting events or any public gathering. that's the advantage terrorists have. they can look for the softest, least defended area.

>> it is not unusual to see trash bins removed, mailboxes removed, even the manhole covers screwed down. that's the kind of extraordinary security you get in a presidential zone. putting in place that kind of security at an outdoor marathon, brian, would be a different matter.

>> again, how ironic this happened at what was perhaps the most secure zone in all of boston along those 26 miles today. tom costello from washington tonight. tom, thanks.