Obama warns of challenge in tracking lone wolf terrorists

President Obama expressed confidence that U.S. intelligence was functioning at a level sufficient to prevent large terrorist attacks, but warned of the difficulty agencies might have in tracking and preventing lone wolf attacks like the one in Boston earlier this month.


“One of the dangers we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in U.S. and, in some cases, might not be part of any network,” Obama said a White House press conference on Tuesday. “Those are in some ways more difficult to prevent.”

Obama said that “the pressure we put on al Qaeda and other networks that are well financed and more sophisticated” has pushed potential terrorists to the margins, where they are forced to plot smaller-level attacks that are tougher to track.

The president said agencies are now looking at what more can be done to prevent potential attacks from self-radicalized individuals acting alone or in small groups already in the United States.

Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (R-S.C.), have been crowing about recent U.S. intelligence failures, saying incidents like the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya and the Boston Marathon bombing show that little progress has been made since 9/11.

“Mr. Graham is not right on this issue although I’m sure it generated some headlines,” Obama said. 

“What we saw in Boston was state, local, and federal officials — every agency — rallying around a city that had been attacked, identifying the perpetrators just hours after the scene had been examined. We now have one individual deceased and one in custody. Charges have been brought. All our law enforcement officials performed in exemplary fashion after the bombing took place.”

Graham immediately shot back with a response to the president.

“With all due respect Mr. President, Benghazi and Boston are compelling examples of how our national security systems have deteriorated on your watch,” he said in a statement. “If Benghazi is not an example of system failure before, during and after the attack what would be? If Boston is not an example of a pre-9/11 stove-piping mentality what would be?”

The deceased Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spent six months in Russia during a 2012 trip during which he may have reached out to a militant Islamic group.

Tsarnaev was placed on a terrorism watch list at the request of the CIA a year before the bombings. Russian intelligence officials also notified the FBI, who investigated and interviewed Tsarnaev but determined he wasn’t a threat.

The Tsarnaev brothers allegedly planned to bomb Times Square in New York City after the attacks in Boston.

Obama said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) thoroughly investigated tips from Russian officials on one of the Boston bombing suspects, but that there are limits to how far agencies can go based on such limited intelligence.

“All of this has to be done in the context of our laws and due process,” Obama said.

The president said that based on what he’s seen, “the FBI performed its duties and the DHS did what it was supposed to be doing, but this was hard stuff.”