Intelligence experts say criticism that the FBI should have done more to catch the Tsarnaev brothers and prevent the Boston Marathon bombings could provoke government agencies to infringe civil liberties.
The comment is odd, given that entities such as the National Security Agency are operating invisibly to scoop up private digital communications, making privacy and other civil liberties already seem to be a relic of the past.
Nonetheless, investigators are being pressed to answer why they failed to prevent the bombings after receiving a tip about suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Russian officials in 2011.
“During daily threat briefings, we would look at homegrowns all the time,” [former FBI senior intelligence adviser Paul Mudd] told the Guardian. “The question is: what kind of screening do you want in place to get an American into that lense? Before you want to swing that pendulum too far: be careful.”
“If you want to guarantee we find those folks – and by the way, the FBI wouldn’t, anyway – there is only so much you can do in a open society to penetrate a closed circle,” he added during a debate at the Brookings Institution.
… But Mudd said the criticism from Washington politicians risked dragging the US down a route it did not want to go. “It’s such a misunderstanding of how national security operates. If he had not appeared in US government databases what would people have said: you missed it! When you are sitting there at the threat session every day, the threat matrix is a volume business,” he said.
“We are going to see this again, and we are going to ask ourselves: how did we fail? But before you ask that question, how are you going to boil the 10,000 people you interview down to that one case, and how are you going to deal with the 500 false positives?”