By Tim O'Shea
Following the fatal double bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15th and subsequent investigation into Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsaernaev, investigators have found themselves in a sense of deja vu. For reasons both concealed in classified reports and overlooked by overlapping agencies, the family had been looked into by the FBI in a March 2011 investigation, yet did not present enough of a threat to be watched. The Russian government wiretapped a conversation between the older brother, Tamerlan, and the brother’s mother, Zubeidat, in which they discussed ‘jihad’, a Muslim term for “holy war” commonly used by Muslim extremist terrorists referring to their fight against the United States and other western institutions. Furthermore, the mother also communicated with an unnamed individual from the Caucasus already under investigation by the FBI. So, the question presents itself: why, if the family had a history of suspicious activity, was there no action taken place that could have prevented the tragedy in Boston?
Many have begun to point the finger at Russia. After all, the entire reason the 2011 FBI investigation was closed was because communication broke down between the investigative agencies of each country. But the idea that Russia could have been aware of their intentions and knowingly withheld information from the FBI is absurd. First, Jim Treacy, former FBI attache to Moscow, notes that the Russian government has actually sought more cooperation in recent years, seeking to widen their global investigative net to better fight their enemies in Chechnya. Second, Russia has no clear motive to wish harm on the civilians of America. Even if Russia wishes to surpass us as an economic or geopolitical superpower, bombing a marathon furthers neither of those goals and presents a huge risk if they are caught. Finally, it simply makes no sense that they would offer us the information after the bombings if their true intentions were to hide their involvement. Why would they aid us in the investigation if they could just as easily make the records disappear?
Any attempts to point blame at the FBI are similarly illogical. Without possessing the Russian intelligence, little about the Tsarnaevs would hint to any ill intention. Chechens have little history of anti – American sentiment. Instead Chechens antagonize Russia because of religious and ethnic divides that resulted in a bloody war in the 1990s. The capital, Grozny, was reduced to rubble, and up to 200,000 women and children became refugees as a result of the violence. So in an area preoccupied with fighting Russia, how did radical Islam take root? The answer lies in the nearby region of Dagestan, where Tamerlan spent six months last year. While Chechnya has begun to cool down, Dagestan has become more violent in the past years, with Islamic militants beginning to employ bombings and other terror tactics against local authorities. But without the information that Tamerlan ever visited the area, the FBI had little reason to suspect anything of him.
So where should the blame fall? Oddly enough, the answer may come from 1994, a time when most American citizens knew nothing about terrorism and couldn’t even pronounce Al – Qaeda. In 1994, Stephen Bowman published “When The Eagle Screams”, a book widely recognized to be the first to warn Americans of anti – American terror. Bowman was so comprehensive in his predictions that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and plot against the Lincoln Tunnel had already been predicted in his first drafts. And in this analysis that would not come to be acclaimed until after 9/11, Bowman notes an intrinsic weakness in the American justice system. While other countries focus more on prevention of terrible acts than on punishment afterwards, America seems to be the other way around. Punishment works well to harm those who value the conventional goals of life and liberty, but because extremists value spiritual goals and rewards they believe to be received beyond the grave, they do not hold the same attention to consequences. In addition, the mainstream media causes attention to flock to terrorist actions, turning suspected bombers in to overnight celebrities. The problem is that when their goal is to bring attention to their acts, media coverage acts more as publicity of their success than as condemnation of their actions.
So while we can point the finger at bureaucracy or other countries, we have to realize that the nature of our society inherently makes it easier for us to be targeted. Blame may prevail in certain incidents, but it is the overarching problem that should be most important in the long term.