Questions after the Boston Marathon bombings

The political aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings is just beginning, as both parties wait to see how it may impact a number of different issues, ranging from the conduct of anti-terrorism work by the U.S. Government to immigration, gun laws and more.

In the wake of terrorist attacks, it is only natural to look for ways that the system failed, and that will be true with the Boston bombings as well.

So, let’s see if we can get ahead of the curve in a few areas.

Terrorism

In terms of political heat, look for the FBI to take a lot of flak in coming days, after it was revealed that the Russians had asked the U.S. to take a look at Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Government agents did a review, but couldn’t find anything of note along possible terrorism lines. Here was the FBI’s statement about that:

Once the FBI learned the identities of the two brothers today, the FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. 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.

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.

Check that last line – the FBI asked the Russians for more information as to why they wanted an update on Tamerlan, but didn’t get it.

Still, the FBI has been in similar situations before, like with Army Major Nidal Hasan, who was charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas; he was checked out, but the feds didn’t find anything of note.  Expect Republicans, and some Democrats to pounce on that FBI record.

Immigration

The questions about the older Tsarnaev brother’s trip to Russia last year also begs a larger issue about how the brothers came to the United States, and the chain of events that led only to the younger one becoming a U.S. citizen.

“While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) last Friday at the first hearing on a new bipartisan immigration reform plan.

If the Tsarnaev brothers had been in the country illegally, then the bombings might have had a profound impact on the immigration debate; but right now, it may not represent much of a threat.

But we’ll see what kind of details emerge in coming days.

Guns

This one seems pretty simple; where did the Tsarnaev brothers get their weapons, and how?

If you are wondering, yes, a legal resident of the U.S. can buy a gun, but there are some restrictions:

“An alien acquiring firearms from a licensee is required to prove both his identity, by presenting a government-issued photo identification, and his residency with substantiating documentation showing that he has resided in the State continuously for the 90-day period prior to the purchase,” states guidance from the feds.

Did they buy weapons from a gun store, or on the internet, or exactly how? Those kind of details could – and I emphasize “could” – impact the debate on gun control.

Then again, it could just as well rise up for a few days and wash away. Let’s see what the facts show.

Guantanamo Bay

Several Republican in Congress in recent days have rapped the Obama Administration over how the surviving suspect will be dealt with, as they want him sent to the U.S. terrorism jail at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base for interrogation as an “enemy combatant.”

No one truly expected the White House to make that choice, as they are exercising what is known as the “public safety” exception to the Miranda Warning, which allows the feds some time to ask questions of a terror suspect before telling that person he has the right to remain silent.

This was the Republican view, from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA):

“Given what we know, and more importantly don’t know, about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, this terrorist should be fully interrogated as an enemy combatant before any consideration is given to providing Miranda warnings. I am disappointed that it appears this administration is once again relying on Miranda’s public safety exception to gather intelligence which only allows at best a 48-hour waiting period that may expire since the suspect has been critically wounded.

“This is not an ordinary criminal case, and a brief interrogation under that exception is wholly insufficient. Our courts, including the Supreme Court, allow detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects as enemy combatants, regardless of citizenship, and there is no reason to not follow that precedent here.

“I urge this administration to do the right thing and deem this suspect as an enemy combatant so that we get as much intelligence as legally possible before the suspect is mirandized.”

The Obama Agenda

It’s a little early to be making predictions about how this will impact the overall agenda of President Obama in a second term, but certainly it will mean more attention on terrorism, homeland security, immigration and even intelligence in coming weeks.

Just that effort and attention will take a little bit of oxygen away from the President’s plans on immigration reform and other issues – but it doesn’t mean anything will necessarily be delayed or derailed.

To quote Bob Schieffer, time will tell.