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The investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings was in full swing Tuesday, as President Obama addressed reporters following briefings by top officials including Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert Mueller III. 

"[G]iven what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror," Obama said. Also on hand was counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, who left recently as head of the U.S. Justice Department’s national security division.

Meanwhile, in Boston, a multi-agency operation was underway. Key players included special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Boston field office Richard DesLauriers and Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz — plus the Boston Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Holder said in a written statement that the Justice Department and FBI are "working tirelessly" to determine who was responsible for the attacks that killed three and injured at least 176, at least 17 of the latter critically.

The FBI has "already begun conducting exhaustive interviews, analyzing evidence recovered from the scene and examining video foot for possible leads," and had brought in members of the "Intelligence Community," Holder said. "This matter is still in the early stages, and it’s important that we let the investigation run its full course."

The Boston U.S. attorney’s office did not respond to requests for information, but former local prosecutors offered educated guesses about investigation tactics. Former Boston U.S. Attorney Donald Stern, now senior counsel in Cooley’s Boston office, said prosecutors largely would play a supportive role at this point — working on search warrants, for example.

"These investigations tend to be very fast-moving and intense. I’m quite sure some investigators and prosecutors are working through the night to collect as much information as they can," Stern said.

K&L Gates Boston partner Michael Ricciuti, who served as the first chief of the antiterrorism and national security unit in the Boston U.S. attorney’s office from 2002 to 2005, said that unit is designed to help investigators gather evidence. That includes seeking subpoenas and search warrants, he said.

"In the antiterrorism section, that’s what they do. They, fortunately, know how to do it really well," Ricciuti said.

Boston’s joint terrorism task force, which includes state, local and federal authorities, has existed since 1997, he noted. "This is going to be a tough job but they’re up to it," Ricciuti said. He described Jim Farmer, Monaco’s replacement at the section, and the FBI’s DesLauriers as tremendously experienced.

Another former prosecutor with counterterrorism experience predicted that overwhelming resources would be brought to bear.

"I would bet the manpower associated with this investigation is incredible — and rightfully so," said Dan Collins, who joined Drinker Biddle & Reath this year as a partner after a decade at the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. He was lead prosecutor in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and a separate planned attack in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In both those cases, Collins and former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald huddled with the FBI every day — "sleeves rolled up, doing what we could do to review information that just came in, sort it out, and give guidance and what we would need to get somebody in custody," he said. "There is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity because there is going to be so much information that comes in at this point."

Among the tools available to prosecutors is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which streamlines the process for obtaining court approvals for searches and other information.

"The tool drawer is open on a case like this," Collind said. "They’re to use anything they possibly can to garner as much information as possible about who might be involved."

Another hot issue in terrorism cases is whether law enforcement authorities must read a suspect his Miranda warning upon arrest, Collins said. Under case law, such a requirement be waived if the public’s safety is at imminent risk.

Any criminal charges could vary depending on the type of explosives used and whether a suspect was provided material support for the bombing, Collins said. Investigators probably are looking for the source of the bomb materials and reviewing public blogs or chat rooms to see if anybody is claiming credit.

Also, because the attack involved bombs, the FBI likely is reaching out to overseas sources in pursuit of any link to organized terrorism, said David Raskin, a partner at New York’s Clifford Chance. He was chief of the terrorism and national security unit in the U.S. attorney’s office in New York and lead prosecutor against September 11 masterminds Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zacarias Moussaoui.

Once a suspect is identified, investigators often scrutinize his or her credit card or other money transactions, since "building bombs is not something that’s done cheaply, and very often there’s a money trail involved — particularly if an overseas group."

And, unlike most of the terrorism cases in the United States since 2001, the Boston attacks resulted in injuries and death, he noted. "I prosecuted people who merely planned terrorist attacks, and they received life sentences," Raskin said. "For something like this, if it is an act of terrorism, you’re usually talking about a life sentence at a minimum."

Back to business

Meanwhile, at the scene of the attacks on Boylston Street, some of the law firms with Back Bay offices made stabs at returning to business as usual. Ropes & Gray and Cooley, both on Boylston Street, were open and operating.

"Authorities continue to work in the adjacent area, but they have encouraged local businesses to reopen and continue with regular activities while remaining vigilant," Eric Larson, administrative director of Cooley’s New York and Boston offices, wrote in an internal firm-wide message on Tuesday morning.

Foley & Lardner’s Boston office in the Prudential Center on nearby Huntington Ave. was closed, said partner Gabor Garai. The firm preferred that the roughly 180 lawyers and staff work from home because of the difficulty getting around. Moreover, it’s a troubling area to walk through at this point," he said.

Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten’s Boylston Street office "is closed for today and probably the rest of the week," said managing partner Rick Brody. "The first bomb went off almost in front of our building."

At the time, the office, which has about 30 lawyers and 16 staffers, was closed for Monday’s Patriot’s Day state holiday. The sole employee inside was unharmed, he said. "The legal community has been helpful; they’ve offered us workstations," Brody said.

Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers name partner Ed Tarlow, whose office is in the Prudential Tower, said his firm has to send someone downstairs to the security desk to clear clients who want to bring briefcases or packages into the building. "So it’s not business as usual here. It’s business, but with a lot of caution and concern," he said.

Sheri Qualters and Amanda Bronstad can be contacted, respectively, at squalters@alm.com and abronstad@alm.com. Also contributing to this report were Michael Scarcella in Washington and Christine Simmons of NLJ affiliate New York Law Journal.

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