The same FBI that was accused of being overzealous in the Portland Christmas tree-lighting bomb plot of 2010 is now facing questions about whether it was aggressive enough in preventing the Boston Marathon bombings last week.

From our viewpoint, it appears Portland FBI agents should feel vindicated for the tactics they used in the case of Mohamed O. Mohamud, who was convicted in February for conspiring to set off a bomb at Pioneer Courthouse Square in November 2010.

Mohamud shared a few similarities with the two men who are alleged to have planted bombs in Boston. He was a young immigrant — just 19 when arrested — who apparently had become radicalized and was willing to pursue acts of terror. In Mohamud’s case, undercover FBI agents set up a sting operation to investigate him after they received a tip about his extremist leanings.

Some people — including Mohamud’s defense attorney — have argued that the FBI’s actions in Portland amounted to entrapment, but that line of reasoning is weakened when you compare what happened here to the deadly outcome in Boston.

The Boston bombings also allegedly involved a 19-year-old man who had become radicalized. However, it was his older brother and alleged co-conspirator, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was interviewed by the FBI in 2011 regarding possible terrorist ties. The FBI was warned about Tsarnaev by Russian authorities, who claimed he had dealings with radical Chechen groups.

When it investigated the older Tsarnaev, the FBI found no terrorist activity. Now, politicians and commenators are wondering if the FBI missed something.

Whether Tsarnaev, who died in a gunfight with police last week, developed his terrorist ideas before or after the FBI interviews is unclear, but he obviously did evolve into a terrorist who influenced his younger brother. His case demonstrates the difficulty of determining the difference between an otherwise benign person who harbors extreme views and someone who is bent on killing others based on his twisted beliefs.

In the Portland case, FBI agents enticed Mohamud to prove that he fell into the latter category, but they also kept a close enough eye on him to ensure he didn’t kill anyone in the process. Still, some Portlanders insisted the FBI should simply have let Mohamad know they were aware of him, reasoning that he wouldn’t attempt anything if he knew he was under scrutiny.

The tragic outcome in Boston proves otherwise — Tsarnaev was well aware he had gotten the FBI’s attention and he continued his path toward destruction. Based on the information coming out of Boston at this point, the handling of the Portland bomb plot looks more prudent all the time.

Contract Publishing

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