Opinion

The Great Debate

Terrorism, Putin and the Cold War legacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 11, 2013 REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

Terrorism always complicates diplomatic relations.

Since the Boston Marathon bombing, the suspected handiwork of two brothers of Chechen background, Russian and American security officials have focused on a blame game.

Could better cooperation between the FBI and the FSB (successor to the KGB) have averted this bombing? Which country is responsible for the carnage? The United States, which Russia warned in 2011 about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed in the police shootout a few days after the bombing? Or Moscow, which gave Washington scant evidence to pursue in that query?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States regarded each other with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. This continuing legacy may be the reason for the two intelligence services’ failure to communicate here.

The Americans, convinced the other side was withholding information, appear to have mistrusted the inexact Russian data. So the FBI may have decided to do the bare minimum. Even Boston’s police department was reportedly not informed of what we now read was a cursory investigation by the FBI of the elder Tsarnaev in 2011.

The FBI-Russia connection

Suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing April 15 in handout photo released on the FBI website, April 18, 2013. REUTERS/FBI/Handout

When the Russian security service in 2011 asked the FBI to check up on Tamerlan Tsarnaev – one of two brothers now suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing – the request would have come as no surprise to a quiet, former FBI special agent in northern California.

Michael di Pretoro had been sent to Moscow in 1994 as the FBI’s first legal attaché, or “legat,” in Russia. He had a daunting task: to establish formal cooperation between the FBI and the Russian police and security services.

from David Rohde:

How to respond to a terrorist attack

BOSTON – There is no right way to react to a terrorist attack.

Oklahoma City rebuilt after Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack on the federal government. Atlanta moved on following anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph’s 1996 bombing of the Olympics. New York displayed staggering resiliency after the September 11 attacks.

Boston, though, may have set a new standard.

Customers swarmed restaurants and businesses on Boylston Street, the site of the marathon bombings, after police reopened the area on Wednesday. There is overwhelming pride here in the public institutions – police, hospitals, government officials and news outlets (forgive my bias) – that responded so swiftly to the bombing. And there has been no major backlash against the city’s Muslim community since two Chechen-American brothers were identified as the prime suspects.

There have been missteps, of course. The FBI apparently failed to follow up aggressively enough on warnings from Russian officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother accused in the attack. Police fired on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his younger brother, when he was unarmed, wounded and hiding in a boat. And a transit police officer, who was gravely wounded in a firefight with the brothers, may have been mistakenly shot by a fellow officer.

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