If this act of terrorism had been an ordinary crime -- say the abduction of a child -- law enforcement immediately would have combed their records for the presence of individuals in the surrounding community who raised suspicion based on previous crimes, or who had been the subject of investigations for unsolved crimes. So why did the feds not turn up Tsarnaev's name? After all, a foreign government had alerted U.S. authorities that he was a person who might be involved in terrorist planning or activities.
Hindsight is always 20-20, and there is a tendency to think we should be able to prevent bad things from happening. But as former President George W. Bush said, in order to do so, we have to be right 100 percent of the time, and the bad guys only need to be right once. We have uncovered similar plots, and it may be that we will never be right every time, especially since we need to balance protecting our civil liberties and privacy rights with being able to prevent terrorism. None of us wants to live in a police state that monitors everyone's move.
But that doesn't mean we can't do better. We may not be able to prevent every single act of terrorism, but we should be able to quickly apprehend those involved when their names are already on our watch lists. Thankfully, Tsarnaev and his younger brother were stopped before they could finish the job they started -- which included bombing Times Square, as investigators learned Thursday.
We won't get better at preventing such terrorist acts, however, until all counterterrorism information is shared between agencies. Congress should investigate why this isn't happening. If the reason is that the agencies lack the legal authority to do so, Congress should change the laws. But even before that happens, the FBI should launch its own investigation into why officials in their Boston office didn't quickly discover Tsarnaev's name in their own files and act on it immediately after the bombing.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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