President Barack Obama said his administration’s counter-terrorism bureaucracy “did what it was supposed to” in the Boston bombing investigation.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama offered his support Tuesday for the FBI’s handling of the Russian intelligence tip about a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, but he said the government would determine whether procedures can be improved to prevent future attacks.
Obama rejected criticism that the FBI did not do enough when the Russian government asked it to investigate one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in 2011. The FBI interviewed Tsarnaev at the time but found no evidence that he was involved in radical activities that represented a threat to the United States.
“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing,” Obama said at his first news conference since Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were accused of setting off bombs at the marathon on April 15. “But this is hard stuff.”
Obama said that because of the pressure put on al-Qaida and other networks, the danger to the United States seemed to be shifting more toward individuals who become radical without ties to outside organizations.
“Those are in some ways more difficult to prevent,” he said.
But he said the intelligence agencies were examining what happened in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers to see if changes in policy would make a difference in a future case.
“We want to leave no stone unturned,” he said. “We want to see is there in fact additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that could further improve and enhance our ability to anticipate a potential attack.”
Meeting with reporters in the White House briefing room, Obama also repeated his position that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “game changer” while saying he wanted more information before deciding whether recent attacks were in fact committed by the Syrian government.
“We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them,” he said. “We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making a decision about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapons use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.”
He added: “That’s what the American people expect. If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we could find ourselves in the position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do.”
Obama declined to say whether military action would be among the options he might take should he become convinced that the government was behind the attacks in Syria.
“We would have to rethink the range of options available to us,” he said.
On other topics, the president rejected the suggestion that his influence has waned with his defeat in pushing through the Senate a gun control measure with 90 percent public support.
“Maybe I should just pack up and go home,” the president said sarcastically, when a reporter asked about such assertions. He went on to paraphrase Mark Twain, saying, “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”
He also repeated his support for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in response to a question about a hunger strike by inmates there.
“This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”
Obama also made a point of praising Jason Collins, the NBA player who declared this week that he is gay. The president had finished with his news conference and was walking away from the lectern when a reporter called out a question about Collins. Obama, who usually does not respond after finishing, swiveled around and returned to the microphone.
“I had the chance to talk with him yesterday,” Obama said. “He seems like a terrific young man. I told him I couldn’t be prouder.”
He added that it was inspiring to children struggling with their own sexual orientation to learn that Collins could still be “a great competitor” and be “still 7 foot tall and can bang with Shaq” while being openly gay.
“Everybody’s part of a family and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance and not their sexual orientation,” Obama added. “I’m very proud of him.”
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