Obama: Government didn't drop the ball on Boston

Members of law enforcement agencies, survey the perimeter near the home of Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev in Watertown, Mass., April 19, 2013.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

President Obama on Friday once again defended the federal government's handling of the Boston bombing suspects prior to last month's attacks at the Boston Marathon, saying in an interview with Univision, "I don't think it's fair to say...that law enforcement quote-unquote 'dropped the ball.'"

In the wake of the April 15 bombings that killed 3 and injured over 250 more, some lawmakers expressed concern that federal law enforcement agencies ignored critical red flags about the two suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, allowing the two men to slip through the cracks of the nation's counterterrorism and intelligence networks.

The president explained that there are limits to what federal law enforcement agencies are able to investigate. "I think this is a very difficult challenge when you have individuals who are self-radicalizing. They're not part of some massive conspiracy or network," Mr. Obama said from Mexico, where he was on the second day of his three-day trip in Latin America. "The FBI followed up on them, but the FBI can't arrest someone just because of a rumor. That's part of our system of law."

"One of the challenges if we're going to be an open society," Mr. Obama continued, "is that there are going to be times when individuals decide they're going to cause harm."

What we can do, the president said, is learn from our mistakes: "I think we can continue to improve and refine how we're engaging in countering terrorist activity. As I said, we're seeing a review of everything that happened. I will be making sure that we' re following follow up on any additional improvements that can be made."

In the interview, the president also addressed border security, touching on efforts to combat drug trafficking and the ongoing congressional push for comprehensive immigration reform.

The U.S. and Mexico, the president said, "are committed to [working] together to make sure that we are building the infrastructure and the systems that allow for a well-regulated border."

"If we do that, that's going to be good for our economy and it's also going to be good for stemming illegal immigration," the president added, "and it's also going to be good for us catching and apprehending criminals, whether they're smuggling people or they're smuggling drugs or they're smuggling weapons."