Failure Analysis – Asking the hard questions on the Boston bombings

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It has been one week since the Boston Marathon bombing. We now know that the perpetrators were two brothers acting in jihad. A primary and a secondary device were planted to maximize casualties.

The perpetrators went to ground for 3 days before they surfaced. One of them, Dzhokhar Tsaraev, went back to his dormitory room and acted as if nothing had happened. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to those who knew him. None of those who knew him seem to have any recollection of anything out of the ordinary leading up to the bombings.

The trail of the other brother, Tamerlan, is much more clear. At a certain point he turned towards a very conservative Sunni interpretation of Islam. His family was concerned. From what little we know of his wife, a convert, she adopted the hijab and lived as an observant Muslim in a small town in Rhode Island. Not the most normal state of affairs in small town New England.

Tamerlan began to follow ultra conservative imams and posted their sermons on his web page. He also posted jihadi videos taken in Syria and elsewhere.

According to Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, the FBI visited him at some point. According to Tamerlan’s father the visit was a warning. “We know where you live. We know what web sites you are frequenting. We know who you are talking to” was the message.

And yet this week the FBI reported that the U.S. government was asked by Russia to investigate Tamerlan, did so, found nothing amiss, and were legally required to close the file.

The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars building a security apparatus that includes the most sophisticated surveillance systems; that allows for an unprecedented invasion of the privacy of its citizens, and that has access to virtually every database on-line.

When speaking with a FBI Agent based in the Santa Ana, CA office recently, I was told that the office had become one of the largest in the country because of the ongoing programs monitoring the Muslim community. Mosques have been bugged, imams are regularly interviewed, and close attention is paid to anything out of the ordinary.

And yet we find this week that Tamerlan Tsaraev was thrown out of his mosque in Massachusetts because of his radical and aggressive actions.

We also found that he spent six months in Dagestan, a known region for Islamist unrest, and may never have been questioned about his stay.

The UK’s Channel 4 reported that Tamerlan was under surveillance for 5 years. So said his mother. The Dail Mail reported:

The FBI said in a statement released Friday that it had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaeva in 2011 at the request of a foreign government. The FBI did not reveal which country’s government that was.

‘The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups,’ the FBI statement said.

The FBI said that in response to the request the bureau culled through its databases and interviewed both Tamerlan Tsarnaeva and members of his family, but were unable to find any evidence that he was connected to a terrorist organization.

It would seem that the Wall Street Journal’s account and that of the FBI differ, or perhaps there was more than one meeting. Tamerlan’s father mentioned no questioning by the FBI.

Regardless, it now seems obvious that Tamerlan Tsaraev should have been on the terror watch list at least 2 years ago. The question is why was he overlooked? The press does not seem to want to ask that question yet.

The press has also been remarkably forgiving of an administration that stonewalled on both Fast & Furious and on Benghazi. Will they ask the hard questions now?

1 – What are the full and complete circumstances of Tamerlan Tsaraev’s interactions with our government?

2 – How and where was he radicalized?

3 – How, where, and why did he take the steps to become a terrorist?

4 – Why did his family know and his mosque know he had become radicalized and the FBI not know?

5 – How and why did the FBI and other agencies, especially Homeland Security drop the ball?

6 – Could this have been prevented by better tactics and strategy?

The carnage was minimized through the heroic actions of many and a lot of luck. The apprehension of the perpetrators is still murky, but after the largest lockdown in American history, it was a citizen who made the final link. It was ordinary Americans who finally solved the case; a dead cop in Cambridge led to the chase to Watertown and a bloody exchange with the terrorists. Some guy who noticed a tear in his boat cover.

Did we need every SWAT cop within 100 miles out there marching around and searching without warrants? Did we handle the lockdown properly? Was it an intrusion too far on civil rights?

We need answers to all of these questions and we cannot afford to have bureaucratic or political agendas keep us from the truth.

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