Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fed Foibles

Now that those responsible for the bombs at the Boston Marathon are dead or captured, folks are going to question the FBI's handling of the case.  The two big questions du jour are: why did they lose track of the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and was it necessary to shut down Boston for nearly 24 hours?

I am actually pretty sympathetic about the FBI's plight.  It is easy to criticize them for not following Tsarnaev after they were warned by Russia.  Yet, the FBI gets lots of tips about a lot of people so they investigated and moved on when they did not find much.  Did Tsarnaev do anything since 2011 that should have caught the eyes of the FBI?  Well, when we know where he got the guns (oops, still problems getting gun purchases under control), and if there were any special components for the bombs, then we can see if there is reason to criticize the FBI.  If the bombs were built from ordinary stuff, then it is hard to see an FBI agent playing close attention to Tsarnaev pulling the alarm after a purchase of a few pressure cookers.  I guess what I am trying to say is: if the FBI kept him under close observation, would they have been able to detect the bomb plot?  Given that it was a two brother operation (unless it was more than that), even closely watching him might not have been good enough.  Even if tailed by the Feds, going to the Marathon with a backpack would not have triggered any alarms, right?

Regarding the shutdown of Boston, I see both sides of the argument.  That the police and FBI mitigated risks by keeping people out of harm's way while they tried to track this guy down.  But it does send bad signals about what a couple of "losers" (using the uncle's term) can do to a city.  I don't think there were easy, clear choices.  The cops/Feds could have gone either way, and chose to remove the lockdown after less than 24 hours.  It did remind me of the US closing the border with Canada on 9/11, which was a very costly move and an overreaction.  We need responses that are between all and nothing.  I think it would have made sense to keep the greater Watertown area locked down and allowed the rest of Boston to continue their lives, but it is easy for me to say from my safe bunker beyond the Wall.

So, I am reluctant to point fingers and place blame for these moves.  I think other FBI moves, where they entrap folks, might not be so wonderful.  I do think we need to fight terrorism as one crime problem but not THE crime problem and certainly not as a military problem in the US.  That is, stick the younger brother in the civilian courts, try him for murder and put him away for life.

To be clear, my emotions on this are running against my brain.  Learning that the younger brother may have killed the older brother by running him over provided me with a certain degree of satisfaction.  That the younger brother may end up feeling guilty for killing his brother makes me somewhat happy, as it seems pretty clear that he was not feeling so guilty about the three people he helped to kill on Monday and the many he helped maim.  Sucks to be him right now. 

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