As questions about the Boston Marathon bombings continue to unfold, one point seems clear. The bombings have increased national support for the Global War on Terror just as public anxiety was on the wane and questioning by Congress and the mainstream media was on the rise.
Funding for domestic surveillance and counterterrorism will be sacrosanct. Accusations of being “soft on terrorism” will revive their sting. Civil liberties protections will be secondary to ones of security. Surveillance of Islamic communities will deepen.
The paradigm of the Global War on Terror will be reinforced once again, even though the Iraq War is over, Afghanistan is in its final phase, the drone wars are under rising criticism, the CIA’s secret wars are being held up to question, and spending on critical domestic priorities is declining. In recent months, even high administration officials have questioned whether the war on terrorism paradigm continues its overarching importance. Confirmed terrorist attacks have declined, as reported by Scott Shane (“Blast Ends a Decade of Terrorism on the Wane,” New York Times, April 17, 2013)
A decade of significant efforts by peace forces and critics to undermine the facade of the Global War on Terrorism – from the false premise of the Iraq invasion, to the cover-ups of civilian casualties, to the buried secrets of the “dark side” – has been set back significantly.
Not since Lee Harvey Oswald, who once defected to Moscow and took a Russian wife, has there been a case involving murder on American soil combined with a mysterious Russian connection. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “learned something where he went, and came back with a willingness to kill people.” Republican House members suggest that he received foreign training. The Russians evidently warned the US that Tamerlin had become an “Islamic radical.” The FBI denied there was any actionable intelligence. He was not “high on the priority list” when he returned to JFK airport after the Russian trip, says US Customs. Like Oswald’s wife Marina, Tamerlin’s wife Katherine says she knew nothing of his secret life.
Beyond the highly regarded police work that led to the capture of the Tsarnaev brothers, was this all another massive intelligence failure? Does the Intelligence Emperor have no clothes? Did someone in Russia secretly wind the brothers up? Or did the US drop the Tamerlan Tsarnaev case because Tamerlan, after all, was “one of theirs” (the Russians)? Perhaps some American officials thought Tamerlan’s hatred would be channeled into something like another Moscow subway bombing, not a US problem. The forthcoming conversations between Obama and Putin will be charged, with the Russian leader implying “we told you so.” What will Obama say?
Another question looms, why did the Tsarnaev brothers attack the Boston Marathon if their focus was the North Caucasus, where Tamerlan traveled for six months in 2012? Evidently, Tamerlan was a YouTube devotee of Abu Dujana, leader of “Russia’s most feared insurgent group,” who was killed by Russian forces in a firefight last December. (New York Times, April 25, 2013) Did Tamerlan decide to be a soldier in global jihad against the US, despite his having a religious-nationalist hostility toward Moscow? Something is missing in the picture drawn so far.
Much depends on the quality of the testimony of Tamerlan’s younger brother Dzhokhar, now recovering in a Boston hospital. Are there any independent materials – web records, files or diaries – to corroborate whatever he says now? Apparently, Dzhokhar already has criticized the “war on Islam” as well as the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to his interrogators, supporting a thesis that the two brothers supported global jihad from their apartments in Boston, rather than a narrower war against Russia. Nothing is clear so far. But the possible model of an isolated conspiracy by the two brothers is contradicted by the organized and lengthy travel to the heartland of the North Caucasus, and the Russian concerns dating back to 2011. According to Moscow’s message to the FBI, Tamerlan “changed drastically” beginning around 2010 and was planning “to join unspecified underground groups” soon after. (New York Times, April 25, 2013)
Independent investigations are needed urgently. The findings of an agency like the FBI, no matter how comprehensive or revealing, inevitably raise issues of whether bureaucratic self-protection impedes the search for answers. The Senate intelligence committee, by refusing to release its 6,000-page analysis of US torture polices, lacks the credibility to satisfy the public that the full story of Boston will been told. Unless a special investigator is appointed, the challenge will be on journalists to exhaustively investigate.
Politically, peace forces may need to fight against a revival of pro-war, pro-secrecy sentiment. As said before, a Long War requires a long peace movement.