President Obama said Tuesday that his staff is reviewing intelligence gathering prior to the Boston Marathon bombings to see if anything was missed that could have thwarted the attack.
“When an event like this happens, we want to go back and we want to review every step that was taken,” Obama said at a White House news conference.
Obama also pushed back on claims by a prominent Republican -- Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- that Boston and last year’s Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya show that U.S. intelligence is going backwards.
“No, Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure it generated some headlines,” Obama said.
The president said the Boston review led by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is standard operating procedure in the wake of the April 15 attack that killed three and injured hundreds more.
The goal is to find out whether there are “additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack,” Obama said. “And we won’t know that until that review is completed.”
It includes talks with intelligence officials in Russia, which had raised questions about one of the two brothers implicated in the attack. Obama said the Russians “have been very cooperative with us.”
In a response to the news conference, Graham noted that “both the FBI and CIA were warned by the Russians about a radical Islamist in our midst,” and that the older brother traveled back to Russia unhampered by intelligence agencies.
“With all due respect, Mr. President, Benghazi and Boston are compelling examples of how our national security systems have deteriorated on your watch,” Graham said.
According to U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement officials, the Russian government first asked the FBI to review the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in March 2011, fearing that he and his mother were linked to extremists.
After interviewing both parents and Tsarnaev, who was killed in a confrontation with police in the days after the bombing, the FBI concluded that they found nothing to support the Russian concerns. The FBI asked Russian authorities three separate times to provide any additional information related to Tsarnaev or the family, and the government did not respond.
The same concerns were presented to the CIA in September 2011, resulting in Tsarnaev’s inclusion on terror watch-lists. Tsarnaev, however, was not continually monitored because the FBI inquiry found nothing wrong with his activities.
Obama said aides are looking at ways to stop “self-radical individuals” who are not part of a terrorist network, but “because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have,” they may decide to carry out an attack. “And those are in some way more difficult to prevent,” he said.
The president added: “Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties. Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff.”
David Jackson reports for USA Today. Kevin Johnson contributed.