Charlie Rose Talks to Philip Mudd

Following the Boston bombings, the former deputy director of counterterrorism at the CIA breaks down the Tsarnaev brothers' motives
“I don’t necessarily think these are real jihadi terrorists. I think they’re angry kids” Photograph by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

What’s your initial take on these two brothers, what they did, the connection to where they came from?
I take the younger kid’s word [that they acted alone], not because of what he says but because I look at the characteristics of the event, where you have a kid who didn’t try to hide himself in front of surveillance cameras. They didn’t seem to have an after-action plan. They picked about the softest target you could find in Boston. If they had an operational linkage back home, I can’t figure out what kind of capabilities it offered them. The other thing is, if you bookend this from where we started 12 years ago, you had 19 guys and an organization that had ideology. It had fundraisers. It had trainers. It had bin Laden. It had three years of planning to take down all those aircraft.
What does that tell you? What’s between those bookends?
It’s telling us that we went from ideologically motivated people who had a whole architecture to build global terrorism to two brothers who could do a basic attack and then went to a party afterwards.
And told people they’d done it.
That wasn’t surprising. That is, both with formal terrorist organizations and with youth like this, it’s almost like the event is the thing. It’s not what happens after the event. In other words, once you pop the bubble, it’s sort of, “All right, we did our thing. Where do we go next?” They often—and it’s not just kids who are unorganized—don’t know what to do afterwards. That was sort of emblematic of what we’ve seen in terrorism elsewhere.
What’s your judgment on motive?
My judgment is, what they say is not necessarily what I believe. They’re going to talk about a broader jihadi goal, which is evidently what the younger brother says. I’m suspicious about this. The reason is, first, he doesn’t have much of an ideological background. Second, these kids know they’ve done something heinous. They want to explain that they did it for a higher good. I think in some ways the explanation is much simpler, especially if you contrast it to what we saw with ideologically motivated terrorists 12 years ago. And that is, two kids are pissed off. They may be disenfranchised. They may have had a bad experience at school. They may not have friends, and they say, “Look, we want to do something.” This tactic of terrorism is a tactic of the 21st century. I don’t necessarily think these are real jihadi terrorists. I think they’re angry kids.
Angry at what?
Angry, for example, at their inability to find a place in American culture. Angry maybe that they don’t have great friends. They may have some vague religious notions. Psychologically, this has characteristics of Columbine as much as characteristics of al-Qaeda. One quick point on that: The first al-Qaeda guys we had at CIA detention centers were ideologues. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, they were very smart guys who had built up an understanding of what they wanted to do that was intellectual. And they were flavored with emotion. Over the course of 12 years, with homegrowns like these kids, you have emotionally driven kids who have just a flavor of ideology. That really is a fundamental shift in the war on terror.
So what’s more dangerous for us: people who are organized or those like these two brothers?
Al-Qaeda’s more dangerous strategically … because of that massive organization. It also gives you a tremendous vulnerability. By contrast, these guys, like we saw in Boston, are less of a strategic threat, but think about the challenges for somebody like me in finding vulnerabilities between two brothers who are talking in one apartment. Where am I supposed to find an edge that will allow me to identify them? That’s pretty tough.
But there were warnings here, right?
You’ve got to do an after-action. Regardless of what Congress says, was there an intelligence failure? Any professional is going to sit down and say, “OK, I want to see this charted on a timeline from A to Z. In a reasonable world, where we have limited resources, was there something different to do?”
What’s your response to those saying that the war on terror has recruited more jihadists than it’s stopped?
Let me ask them one question: If that’s the case, where are all these dudes? Sept. 12, 2001, you sit down and say, “The most significant attacks in the next 12 years are two young people in Boston who don’t have an al-Qaeda affiliation, and one shooter, Major Hasan in Texas at a military base, who had an episodic e-mail contact with a radicalizer in Yemen.” I’d say, “Are you kidding me? No way.”


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