- Intelligence failure: The FBI had interviewed Tamarlan Tsarnaev in 2011 at the behest of a foreign government, probably Russia. A request like that from abroad targeting an American citizen would not just be a random occurrence. Tamarlan was involved in something that got their attention. However, the FBI concluded that there was not enough evidence to go on. The government had made the same conclusion after initial interviews with Nidal Hasan, who later went on to commit the Ft.Hood massacre. Was Tamarlan on a watch list? If not, why not? If so, why wasn’t it effective in preventing this tragedy?
- The foreign connection: This was not purely “home grown” terror. The plot was at least inspired by a foreign terrorist entity, if not directed and controlled by it. Following the interview with the FBI, Tamarlan made a six month trip to Russia, visiting the Caucasus region and in particular Chechnya, a hotbed of radicalism. It is unclear thus far where he went or with whom he was meeting, but given that Russian intelligence services were already interested in his activities, and his mother’s claims that the FBI “knew what he was doing on Skype” and “whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremist sites,” it would be reasonable to assume that he at least attempted to meet with some of the people he was corresponding with. It is also a certainty that the Russian government knows exactly what he was doing and hopefully is now sharing that information with the U.S. government.
- Islamic radicalism: There can be little doubt that the Tsarnaev brothers saw themselves as jihadist warriors striking at the United States for its alleged crimes against the Islamic world. Tamarlan fits the profile of a young man from a not particularly religious background who suddenly adopts an increasingly religious lifestyle. People who spontaneously radicalize in this way are prime targets for recruitment by extremist groups, and at some point Tamarlan came under the influence of someone who convinced him that the frustrations he felt could rightly be translated into violent anger directed at the United States. Tamarlan then probably recruited his younger, less religiously inclined brother Dzhokhar to get involved in his plan. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said Sunday it’s hard to imagine why someone would deliberately harm, “innocent men, women and children in the way that these two fellows did.” But if you accept the jihadist premise it is actually very easy to understand.
- The sleeper cell: The most shocking new revelation is that the Tsarnaev brothers were not working alone. The terrorist conspiracy was larger than just these two men. Despite early reports that there was no larger plot, the FBI is now reportedly seeking up to a dozen individuals in a “sleeper cell” who were working with the Tsarnaev brothers. According to a report in the Mirror, an investigator said there is “no doubt the brothers were not acting alone. The devices used to detonate the two bombs were highly sophisticated and not the kind of thing people learn from Google. They were too advanced. Someone gave the brothers the skills and it is now our job to find out just who they were. Agents think the sleeper cell has up to a dozen members and has been waiting several years for their day to come.”
So rather than what was hoped – that this was an isolated, spontaneous and inexplicable act by two troubled young men – it appears that the Boston bombing was part of a long term, well planned, large scale effort by Islamic terrorists with foreign ties to bring jihad to U.S. soil. And if the plot was that extensive, the two most important questions now are, how did the U.S. government fail to detect it, and what else do terrorists have planned for this country that we don’t know about?