Jack Kelly: Federal goverment is ponderous and slow

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Evidence mounts in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing that the people whose job it is to protect us from acts of terror haven't been doing as good a job as they should.

• Russian authorities expressed concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev to U.S. officials "multiple times," at least once after the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan and (apparently) concluded he was not a threat, the Boston Globe reported.

The Russians didn't tell us that, the FBI claims. Which could be true. The Russian warnings could have been delivered to other agencies. They're supposed to share information, but evidently don't.

"You get one story from the FBI and another story from DHS (Department of Homeland Security), and that's a major problem -- the same problem we had between the FBI and the CIA before 9/11," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

• Tamerlan's listing on the FBI's watch list "expired" while he was on a lengthy visit to Dagestan last year, where authorities are trying to determine whether he met with terrorist leaders or received some instruction on bomb-making. The FBI was unaware of the trip because Tsarnaev's name was misspelled on the passenger manifest, FBI officials said.

He doesn't buy the FBI's story, Notre Dame law professor Jimmy Gurule, a former undersecretary for enforcement at Treasury, told the Los Angeles Times.

"Just one letter that's misspelled and the system breaks down and we can't track him?" Mr. Gurule said. "What about his passport number or his date of birth?"

• When he flew into New York's John F. Kennedy airport on his return from Russia, Tamerlan Tsarnaev's name -- despite the misspelling of it -- was flagged in a DHS database that matches names on passenger manifests with lists of suspected terrorists. But ICE agents didn't interview him and search him.

• He and Tamerlan acted alone, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told the FBI before he clammed up after having been read his Miranda rights. But the sophistication of the triggering device for their bombs suggested a broader conspiracy, according to some experts. Three additional suspects were taken into custody Wednesday, accused of trying to get rid of evidence. Boston has been a hub of jihadi activity since 1993, said terrorism expert Robin Simcox of the Henry Jackson Society. At least 26 residents have had ties to al-Qaida, he said.

We can't say for sure greater vigilance would have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing. But if the authorities had been on the ball, they'd have been all over the Tsarnaevs before they murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier.

This isn't the first time bureaucratic ineptitude, political correctness run amok, or a combination of both has resulted in needless tragedy. The Army had plenty of warning Maj. Nidal Hasan was an Islamist, and unstable, but took no action until after he had murdered 13 and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood.

Despite a larger budget, and the lessons supposedly learned from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's heavily criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2007, FEMA's response to Hurricane Sandy last year was no better.

Conservatives are anti-government, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week. That's a liberal canard, said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in an important speech at the Heritage Foundation on "What Conservatives are For." Conservatives are for liberty, which means they are for strong and effective government, because strong and effective government is essential to the preservation of liberty.

Liberals conflate strong and effective government with big government. They view Uncle Sam as a muscular athlete, prepared at a moment's notice to act swiftly and decisively on behalf of the needy.

But the federal government today is obese. Its movements are ponderous and slow. Obese government tries to do too much -- and winds up doing too little.

"We should not be surprised that as Washington has assumed greater control over transportation, education, labor, welfare, health care, home mortgage lending, and so much else ... all of those increasingly centralized systems are failing," Mr. Lee said.

For government to be strong and effective, it must be limited, and it must be federal.

"The biggest reason the federal government makes too many mistakes is that it makes too many decisions," Mr. Lee said. "Most of these are decisions the federal government doesn't have to make -- and therefore shouldn't.

"Once the federal government stops doing things it shouldn't, it can start doing the things it should, better," he said.

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Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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