COMMENTARY | In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt that brought down two terrorists, politicians are doing what they do best: posturing and finger-pointing. Seeing the issue as a way to hurt their political opponents, some are looking for scapegoats in order to say, “If not for this, we wouldn’t have had that.” With “that” being the Boston bombings, the “this” is the so-called “dropped ball” — the FBI investigation into the elder Tsarnaev brother and the subsequent non-decision of whether or not he should have been flagged as a potential terrorist and kept under watch.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday , Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, ” The ball was dropped in one of two ways; the FBI missed a lot of things, is one potential answer, or our laws do not allow the FBI to follow up in a sound, solid way. There was a lot to be learned from this guy. He was on websites talking about killing Americans. He went overseas, as Chuck [Schumer] had indicated. He was clearly talking about radical ideas. He was visiting radical areas. And the fact that we could not track him has to be fixed. It’s people like this that you don’t want to let out of your sight. I don’t know if our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed, but we’re at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game.”
First of all, Graham assumes that either the FBI didn’t do its job or America’s laws are too lax to allow the FBI to do a better job. In noting there were lots of things “to be learned from this guy,” he is referring to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia in 2011 and the FBI investigation into the man and his possible terrorist connections. The Internet videos and such were not part of the investigation because that activity occurred after Tsarnaev’s return from six months in Russia. Before the trip, the FBI had found no radical ties or activity on Tsarnaev’s part, reported such to the Russians, and asked for further information. When such was not forthcoming, the matter was dropped.
Graham also talks about not being able to track Tsarnaev. There was no reason to track him at the time. Graham is looking through a 20/20 hindsight lens. Knowing things that occurred after the FBI investigation is not a reason for the FBI to have had a different outcome in its investigation, no matter how much Graham belabors the point. Besides, the FBI does not track people overseas as a general rule.
As for the laws being insufficient for the FBI to do its job, then how to explain all those thwarted terrorist plots over the years, those that make headlines after they’ve been nullified? Apparently the laws were sufficient to stop a majority of plots and plans of would-be terrorists.
But not this one.
By Tuesday, though, Graham was backing away from his insinuations, telling CNN that a misspelling of Tsarnaev’s name on a Russian Aeroflot manifest was somewhat to blame for his not being tracked when he returned to the U.S. from Russia. Then Graham acknowledged that the FBI had done its investigation, found nothing suspicious, and was not given any more information from the Russian government (like why it had reason to believe Tsarnaev was involved in terrorist activities).
Still, someone must have made a mistake, right? So, not to be seen as lax on national security, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called for an investigation via a hearing through the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She notes that questions need to be answered and that the Department of Homeland Security had to have reason to deny the elder Tsarnaev his application for American citizenship.
Here’s the crux of the matter: The FBI shouldn’t be just some whipping boy to be brought out and publicly castigated each time a terrorist reaches his target or some lunatic slips through a screening. It provides a valuable defensive line in the ongoing wars on crime and on terrorism. And for the most part, it is extremely effective in protecting the citizenry.
Still, that does not mean the agency doesn’t make mistakes and should not be held accountable.
But stop making them the go-to scapegoats when things go wrong. Every time a terrorist plot reaches fruition does not necessarily mean the FBI “dropped the ball.” And members of the opposition party also need to stop using the agency as a springboard to attack the current administration.
Besides, the FBI didn’t orchestrate and carry out the Boston bombings. The agency wasn’t a causative force. It did not facilitate. So stop the blaming.