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Lynch’s attacks on Markey slightly off target

A week after the Boston Marathon bombings, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch was fired up.

In two separate Democratic Senate primary debates, he repeatedly ­accused US Representative Edward J. Markey of voting against the creation of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI-led interagency group that took command in investigating the ­Marathon bombings

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“I don’t know how you’re going to spin this,’’ Lynch said. “I voted yes. You voted no. It’s just, that’s the fact.”

But Lynch was mistaken. He had his terrorism task forces tangled.

Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was created in 1997, an FBI spokeswoman said. That was four years before Lynch was sworn into ­office. And it was not crafted by ­Congress, said Tom Powers, a former FBI agent who helped create it.

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“I don’t recall any congressional mandate or anything from Congress,” said Powers, who was a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Boston office in 1997. “It was an FBI initiative.”

Federal authorities later established a National Joint Terrorism Task Force, but that was not created by congressional legislation, either.

On Monday, Lynch’s campaign ­attempted to bolster his argument by pointing to a July 2002 vote in which the two candidates parted ways. Lynch voted yes and Markey voted no for a piece of legislation that, when it became law, gave the secretary of homeland security the authority, though not the mandate, to create a Joint Interagency Homeland Security Task Force.

But that Task Force is not Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the group that led the hunt for the Marathon bombers.

Indeed, a Joint Interagency Homeland Security Task Force was never created in Boston, according to a ­Department of Homeland Security ­official who declined to be named, citing departmental policy.

Conor Yunits, a Lynch spokesman, said: “Bottom line: There was a vote to create a task force. Lynch voted yes. Markey voted no.”

The tussle over the vote was not the only Homeland Security issue the Democratic candidates have sparred over in recent days.

Lynch has repeatedly hit Markey in debates for voting against a port security bill. On that vote, Markey was one of two representatives who voted no, an unusual occurrence.

But Markey defends his vote.

“That bill did not screen for nuclear weapons in the Port of Boston,” Markey said.

One issue that was not significantly addressed during the debates was a bill that reauthorized broader procedures by which intelligence is collected from foreign targets overseas.

Markey voted against it, noting in a statement at the time his concern about “the ­extent to which the government conducts surveillance over its own citizens.”

Lynch voted for it, in line with the position of President Obama, who later signed the bill into law.

Yunits said Lynch believed that letting the legislation expire would have been a step backward in the fight against terrorism.

The debate over Homeland Security has also cropped up in the GOP primary contest, but to a lesser degree.

In interviews with the Globe, the three Republicans took an array of positions on whether Marathon attack suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be held as an enemy combatant, from a strong yes to a nuanced no.

The US attorney’s office charged Tsarnaev with crimes in federal court on Monday, and the White House said he will not be held as an enemy combatant, a position with which both Democratic contenders are comfortable.

Gabriel E. Gomez, a private equity investor and former US Navy SEAL, was most clearly at odds with that decision.

“He can have his federal day in court down the road,’’ Gomez said in an interview. “I’m confident of our judicial system. But for right now, he should be an enemy combatant.”

Michael J. Sullivan, a former US attorney, did not take a hard position on whether ­Tsarnaev should be held as an enemy combatant, but he said it should be an option if it could advance national security interests.

Sullivan admitted, however, that the legal authority to hold an Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant was not crystal clear.

State Representative Daniel B. Winslow, Republican of ­Norfolk and a former judge, said, based on the current infor­mation available, that the suspect did not have ties to a foreign organization like Al Qaeda. Winslow was comfortable with the Obama administration’s decision not to classify Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant and to charge him in federal court.

“Times of attack are the times when we should embrace our Constitution more tightly,” Winslow said.

On Homeland Security, there are also areas of agreement. All five candidates said last Friday’s lockdown was the right call. And all five said they thought the death penalty should be an available punishment for those found guilty of terrorism.

The winners of each primary will face off in a June 25 election to replace former Senator John F. Kerry, who resigned to become secretary of state.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. ­Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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