A friend who spent years working for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in a giant federal department reflects on how the Tsernaevs might have slipped through the cracks:
I wonder if law enforcement management and incentive systems contributed to Tamerlan Tsarnaev being discarded as a risk. At OIG, new cases are entered as “open and assigned” randomly to investigators. It then rewards them for “closing” the most O&As. Assembling a difficult case for prosecution counts the same as classifying a case for no threat-no action. Would such a system subtly encourage rapid closure of low-level cases (and cutting corners on the cases handed to the prosecutors)? Theoretically, random assignment evens out the work load within an office.
I think the FBI used a similar system, since OIG originally borrowed it from them. The FBI may have modified the original system, but OIG continues to use the original.
Note that we don’t know that the FBI made a mistake in this case, because we don’t know how many utterly harmless people the KGB tried to make trouble for. But the question is a sound one: What are the incentives facing officials who get such reports?