NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 10, 2013

Bombing probe may find key weaknesses


Newburyport Daily News

---- — We welcome an investigation into the handling of intelligence related to suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.

There have been allegations that various government intelligence and law enforcement agencies had prior knowledge regarding the radical nature of the older of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that could have been used to thwart the attack.

However, that assessment may be nothing more than wishful thinking. Having some information isn’t the same as possessing the ability to unravel a plot.

It’s true that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on a watch list assembled by the United States government. But it should be noted there are approximately 500,000 people on that list. Keeping close track on all of them is impossible.

Still, there have been allegations that information possessed by some federal agencies regarding Tsarnaev wasn’t shared with others. Again, that fact does not mean the bombing could have been prevented. But it may indicate some holes in the nation’s intelligence-gathering process.

After all, investigations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks determined a lack of information sharing by government agencies produced a crucial weakness in the ability of America to defend itself against such violence.

Also raising red flags regarding the capacity of law enforcement is the fact the FBI received information from Russia regarding Tsarnaev in 2011. But after an inquiry, the agency concluded there was no indication he posed a threat.

What may come out of an investigation into the history of the Boston Marathon bombers is possible patterns of behavior that could be useful in identifying future threats. Obviously, the better law enforcement becomes in determining who’s a threat and who’s merely a complainer serves to improve public safety.

Significantly, this attack may lead to closer intelligence ties between the United States and Russia where Islamic extremism is concerned. Tsarnaev hailed from a region rife with anti-Russian activity, with Islamists seeking independence from Russian control.

In many ways, it makes little sense that an Islamic radical from that region would target the United States — thus dragging this country into an ongoing dispute and siding with Russia. But be that as it may, America and Russia now appear to have a common security interest to address.

And if radical Islamic organizations are broadening their reach, even nations that see each other as intelligence rivals may find good reason to cooperate in key areas.