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Setbacks and Confusion Have Hit the Boston Marathon Bombing Investigation-- Here's What Comes Next


It's still relatively early in the investigative process, but the urgency could not be higher.



We've learned about the bombs, but not yet about the bombers. Pressure cookers have joined a post-9/11 lexicon that includes IED, suicide vest, and ANFO. And the date 4/15 will be added to an odious list that includes 9/11, 7/7 (London tube bombings), and 11-M (Madrid train bombings).

That's the summation so far of the Boston Marathon attack investigation. Over 48 hours have passed, and authorities still haven't figured out definitively whether it was multiple bombers, though that seems very likely. They don't know-- or at least have not publicized-- a profile of the attackers. And a motivation for the mass murder, beyond obvious nihilism and disregard for humanity, remains uncertain.

There are many indicators and theories about the perpetrators of the attacks, but few conclusions-- yet.

Pictures of the explosive devices have made the rounds in the press. They were indeed packed with ball bearings and nails to increase their shrapnel output. There are hopes that the devices will yield a breakthrough clue, but that would require a stroke of luck.

Comparing the device to others is a long shot that requires the bomb maker to have an established history. If this was a first attempt for the terrorist, there will be no way to check his design against previous devices. And despite what the public sees on television shows, pulling biometric data like a fingerprint off of IED residue isn't as simple as flashing a backlight on it.

There are, however, still some reasons to be optimistic that the 4/15 marathon terrorists will be found in the days ahead.

There are reports that the FBI has focused in on two Persons of Interest. This would be consistent with an emerging narrative of multiple bombers working together to plant the two devices. Beyond that, details are scarce.

If we are to be optimistic, it is possible that the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and other law enforcement agencies are holding back info from the public so as to keep it actionable. We could be hours away from a major turning point-- or the trail could go cold and the investigation drags on for weeks. As of this morning, a majority of news reports say the FBI will soon be releasing photos of two suspects and requesting the public's assistance in tracking them down.

This would be more encouraging, however, if there weren't already a numbers missteps and false positives in the investigation. Several cable news outlets announced an arrest in the case yesterday, only to issue a complete retraction minutes later. This suggests there are leaks below the command level, and people who are not unofficially authorized to speak with the media are passing along details that have not been vetted. This has to stop.

Even if the identification of bombing suspects is imminent, many unanswered questions and troubling signs remain.

Identification of a suspect and effecting an arrest are very different things. Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber of 2010, was arrested within 53 hours. Yet he was caught boarding a plane at JFK airport for Pakistan despite the fact that a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) order had been issued for him. The 4/15 attackers may have gone to ground, hoping to evade authorities within the U.S. Or their first move after the bombings may have been to an international airport. We just don't know at this point.

It's still relatively early in the investigative process, but the urgency could not be higher. Three innocent bystanders were murdered and many more lost limbs because of a sadistic terror ambush. We cannot allow this to go unpunished. Those were our people, our brothers and sisters. Their loss is a loss for us all, and we grieve for their loved ones.

This feels deeply personal for all Americans, but for those charged with protecting us from terror,  there is no rest until anyone with any responsibility for the attack feels the full weight of U.S. justice. Nobody messes with Boston and gets away with it.

And somewhere, most likely but not necessarily in Boston, an FBI agent, DHS analyst, or Boston Police Officer could be combing through a photo or cell phone record right now that  breaks this case wide open.

Hopefully it is only a matter of hours until we have resolution.

But no matter what happens in the investigation over the next few days, we have already rallied around each other, and let the world know that, once again, resilience is a trait that defines the American spirit.

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