Lawmakers want to increase the powers of the CIA to track “lone wolf” terrorists, like the two brothers suspected as being responsible for last week’s Boston bombing, but they are wary of treading on the jurisdiction of domestic law enforcement.
A similar dilemma concerning the jurisdictional line between the CIA and other intelligence agencies, on the one hand, and the FBI and Department of Justice, on the other, arose after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
This time, however, the problem involves lone wolf operatives — individuals who have been influenced by but have no direct link to al Qaeda and other terror groups, have long been a concern for lawmakers dealing with intelligence.
“Those of us who’ve been in the Intelligence Committee for a while have always been concerned about the lone wolf,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) told CNN on Tuesday.
“It [is] a small group of people that will come in under the [intelligence] radar. And why there’s a concern about that is that when you’re under the radar, we can’t get the intelligence we would normally get,” he said.
Recent reports claim that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers involved in last week’s terror attack, could have made contact with militant Islamic groups in Russia in 2011.
Tsarnaev died after a violent shootout with federal agents and local police last Friday.
His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill three people and injure more than 200 during the attack at the Boston Marathon.
The notion that the older Tsarnaev may have been radicalized by Islamic militants in Russia and become a lone wolf operative has lawmakers pushing for greater authority for U.S. intelligence agencies to track those kinds of threats.
“I would be willing to consider it … but I would have to know specifically” what kinds of authorities the intelligence community would need, Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (D-Mich.) said Tuesday.
Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks MORE (D-Ill.) also said he would back efforts to allow the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to track potential lone wolf suspects on American soil.
But those abilities would have to be “consistent with some pretty clear law about the role of [intelligence] in domestic situations.”
Such a move could put the intelligence community at odds with the FBI and Justice Department, which have jurisdiction over domestic terrorism threats.
Turf battles between the FBI, CIA and others in the intelligence community contributed to missed intelligence ahead of the 9/11 attacks.
While coordination between the two entities has improved over the years, it remains unclear whether Justice Department officials would back a move to increase the intelligence community’s authority over domestic terrorism investigations.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's year two won't be about bipartisanship Biden: A good coach knows when to change up the team These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters Tuesday that before Congress considered any new authority, U.S. intelligence officials needed to find out what happened to the elder Tsarnaev in Russia.
“I want to know what he did in Russia and how did [he] become radicalized. It didn’t happen in a vacuum,” McCain said.
“I am not drawing any conclusions, but we do need to know what he was doing there … I think it is a very legitimate question,” he added.
Months before the Boston bombing, lawmakers repeatedly pressed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan on their ability to track possible lone wolf attackers on American soil.
“The threat from core al Qaeda and the potential for a massive coordinated attack on the United States is diminished, but the global Jihadist movement is a more diversified, decentralized and persistent threat,” Clapper told the Senate intelligence committee in March.
Weeks before the Boston attack, a top Defense official warned lawmakers that al Qaeda was seeking recruits in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the West to make up the terror group’s “second generation” of Islamic militants.
Al Qaeda recruiters are aggressively seeking second-generation U.S. and European citizens who “may be more receptive to becoming operationalized by the organization,” Michael Sheehan, the DOD’s chief of special operations and low-intensity conflict, told Congress days before the bombing.
But Durbin also noted the budget cutbacks to U.S. intelligence agencies under the White House’s sequestration plan could have created a blind spot in anticipating the Boston attacks.
“There have been substantial cutbacks in [intelligence] personnel, and I am sure that has taken its toll,” Durbin said.
“The intelligence build-up since 9/11 is what has kept us safe,” Durbin said.
Days after the Boston bombing, Sen. Angus KingAngus KingThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden's public moment of frustration Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE (I-Maine) pressed Clapper on whether cuts under sequestration have degraded U.S. intelligence and the ability to pick up on threats such as lone wolf operatives.
“We won’t know what we’ve missed until something blows up?” King asked Clapper during an April 19 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Clapper replied quickly, “Yes, sir.”