Lessons learned in Boston
Published 11:00 pm Friday, April 26, 2013
The beautiful Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, Calif., was the last place I expected to be reminded of the violence that paralyzed the city of Boston last week and turned it into a mini-Baghdad.
But I was reading my father’s presidential dairies and there it was in his very first entry — the issue of terrorism and how to fight it.
On Jan. 26, 1981, on his first Monday on the job, Ronald Reagan wrote that he called the FBI, the CIA and other intelligence agencies into an Oval Office meeting to find better ways of sharing information with each other on terrorists.
I read my father’s entry Tuesday, the same day Sen. Lindsey Graham was being told in a hearing that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI had not shared what they knew about dead Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
It’s too early to know the details of who knew what or when, or if the FBI or someone else fumbled the ball. So far it looks like what is to blame is a combination of bureaucracy and the complexities and legalities of compiling and monitoring terrorist watch lists.
But we’ve already learned the FBI interviewed Tamerlan in 2011 after being told by Russian intelligence officials that he had recently changed into a strong believer in radical Islam and was suspected of joining underground groups in Russia.
The FBI ultimately decided Tamerlan was not a terrorist threat and did not know he went to Russia. The DHS knew he went to Russia but apparently didn’t know the FBI had checked him out.
Haven’t we seen this tragic sitcom plot before?
Wasn’t the failure of the CIA and the FBI to share what they knew about the 9/11 terrorists one of the main reasons they were never caught?
To share. Wasn’t that the important kindergarten lesson our overlapping, turf-warring intelligence agencies were supposed to learn from 9/11?
We thought the intelligence-sharing problem was going to be fixed after 9/11. My father thought the same thing after that big meeting in his office. But nothing’s changed after 32 years.
Not that our intelligence agencies could have stopped the Boston Marathon bombers even if they had been sharing information the way they should.
To a large extent the Brothers Tsarnaev were under our anti-terrorist radar screens. We only knew what we knew about them beforehand because the Russians tipped us off.
It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when we have to rely on the Russians for intelligence about terrorists in our own backyards. Who’ll try to help us next time, the North Koreans?
There will be a next time. Everyone knows Boston was not a one-off. Other terror cells we don’t know anything about yet are living among us and they’re radicalized and trained to hurt us — and they will. America has millions of soft targets.
At least the state and local police in Boston did a great job, finding and capturing the bombers in less than four days.
But it was humiliating to watch a proud city be shut down and terrorized for more 24 hours, its people cowering and “sheltering in place” because of two punks with pistols and a couple of homemade pipe bombs.
Paul Revere and his fellow patriots would have been ashamed to see so many Americans afraid to even go outdoors.
It’s doubtful, but maybe some of the die-hard liberals of Boston — and the rest of the country — learned a lesson from what played out so dramatically on their streets and our TVs.
Two weeks ago everyone on TV was talking or crying about the need for tougher gun control because of what happened at Newtown. Now, after Boston, everyone is talking about how we all need a gun at home to protect ourselves.
(Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press).