Sen. Graham: FBI may need more powers to track terror suspects

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Monday called for Congress to examine the laws governing the FBI’s ability to track Muslim extremist activity within the United States to give the agency more investigative teeth.

“We need to revisit our laws,” said Graham in an interview Monday.

ADVERTISEMENT
Graham said he spoke with the FBI recently about its 2011 probe of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and is assured that agents did not fail to pick up on key signs that he was a potential terror threat.

Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a police shootout Friday, is suspected of planning the Boston Marathon bombing with his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is in police custody.

But the lawmaker warned that the FBI may need more powers to probe suspected individuals and called on Congress to see whether laws need to be updated.


In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was living legally in the United States, at the request of the Russian government, which wanted to know how deep his ties to Chechen terrorists ran.

Graham said that Tsarnaev did not begin to radicalize until after he spoke with the FBI that year.

“In 2012 and 2013, when he became more radical, when he went on the Internet, when he interacted with this imam in Boston, the FBI tells me there is limitations on what they can do in situations like that,” said Graham in an interview on Fox.

“What the FBI told me sounded very reasonable. But the FBI's hands are tied here when it comes to following radical Islamist websites, and we're at war, folks. And if we don't realize it, there's gonna be more of this,” he continued.

The elder Tsarnaev brother took a 2012 trip to Russia, where he spent 6 months in Chechnya and Dagestan, two regions plagued by Islamist violence. Authorities believe he was radicalized during that trip.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Monday that it was too early to tell whether the FBI dropped the ball by not investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev more thoroughly, but that the House Judiciary, Intelligence, and Homeland Security committees would all be probing the matter.

“All of which will play some role here in determining whether the FBI dropped the ball or didn't drop the ball,” said Boehner on Fox, speaking about the committees.

Boehner acknowledged the sensitive nature of the FBI’s job in protecting the civil liberties of Americans while investigating possible terrorist-related activity.

“There's a fine line,” he said. “If you're in America, and you have the legal status, you're protected by American rights.”

“It's a fine line that they have to walk, and we're going to have to make a determination how well they walk that line.”

While much of Tsarnaev’s motivation for the attack is still unknown, Graham said Congress should re-examine the FBI’s investigative authority in light of early evidence that appears to indicate the elder brother was inspired by radical Islamic propaganda.

“The sooner we realize that we're at a war with radical Islam and come up with systems to defend ourselves, the better off we'll be,” said Graham. “I don't want a police state, but I want a nation where the police can protect us.”

“They're trying to recruit American citizens. This idea that if you can find an American to help kill us, they're somehow having legal safe haven [will protect them], is ridiculous.”