Failure to Communicate

Intelligence sharing could have helped prevent Boston Marathon bombing

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and former Sen. Lieberman / AP
May 9, 2013

Boston law enforcement and counterterrorism officials testified Thursday that the FBI and federal authorities failed to share critical intelligence information about the Boston marathon bombers that could have helped prevent last month’s deadly terror attack.

Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis said that he and other state law enforcement officials were never told that the Tsarnaev brothers had been cited as a potential radical threat, nor that they had been investigated by the FBI in 2011, long before the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and wounded hundreds more.

"Were you aware of the Russian intelligence warnings regarding" Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two radicalized ethnic Chechen brothers believed to have carried out the attack, asked House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas).

"We were not in fact informed of that particular development," responded Davis, who admitted that he has at least four officials posted to a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) who were not given information by federal authorities until days after the attack

The JTTF was specifically created in 2002 to facilitate information sharing between federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and local law enforcement.

Davis went on to explain that he and his chief officers were kept in the dark when the Tsarnaev brothers were described as potential threats by various federal agencies, including DHS, the FBI, and the CIA.

Boston law enforcement also was not told that the FBI has launched an investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the attacks. They also were not informed that Tamerlan had posted radical jihadi videos to his YouTube account.

Davis and his colleagues additionally did not know until days after the attack that Tamerlan has travelled to a radicalized region of Russia known for its ties to al Qaeda.

Asked by McCaul if he would have liked to know this information "in hindsight," Davis responded, "certainly."

"We didn’t look at the brothers until after the shootout," Davis said, explaining that the FBI and other federal authorities only informed him and his crew about the Tsarnaev brothers three days after the shootout that claimed Tamerlan’s life.

Davis said it would have been helpful to know this information beforehand.

"Would [all of this information] have caused you to give the individuals another look" had it been made known to them?

"Absolutely," Davis responded.

Kurt Schwartz, undersecretary of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, testified that while he had seven of his officials on the JTTF, "at no time prior to the bombing did any member of the Massachusetts police" or any other state agency "have any info about the Tsarnaev brothers."

"The idea the feds have this information and isn’t shared with the state and locals defies why we created [DHS] in the first case," McCaul said.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) said earlier in the hearing that "it was possible to have prevented terror attacks in Boston" last month, and cited the nation’s post-9/11 security infrastructure for failing to piece together the warning signs ahead of time.

"I believe that though it would not have been easy, it was possible to have prevented the terrorist attacks in Boston," said Lieberman, who helped create the Homeland Security Committee and DHS in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"The homeland security system we built after 9/11 ... failed to stop the Tsarnaev brothers," Lieberman said. "We must figure out why and fix it."

"The Boston marathon attacks should against each us the enemy we face is violent Islamist extremism not just al Qaeda," Lieberman said. "Osama bin laden is dead and the remaining leadership is on the run but the ideology… is rapidly spreading."

While it remains unclear if the Tsarnaev brothers were acting under direction of a larger terror group, it is apparent that "they adopted the outrageously false narrative of violent extremism," Lieberman said, noting that the last three successful domestic terrorist attacks were carried out by radicalized so-called lone-wolfs.

Lieberman said that the FBI and other federal agencies might not have paid enough attention to the warnings from Russian intelligence services.

"Shouldn’t the fact that the first notice … came to us from a very uncommon source, Russian intelligence, have marked the case for special handling from our government and guaranteed this file wasn’t closed?" Lieberman asked.

"Why didn’t the Department of Homeland Security notify the FBI and Boston JTTF when its system pinged that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had returned from" Russia, Lieberman asked.

McCaul said that the hearing raises questions about "whether the dots were connected" in a manner that could have prevented the bombings.

"This demonstrates the radical jihad movement is alive and well around the world and in the homelands," McCaul said. "My fear is that the Boston bombers may have succeeded because the system failed. We can and must do better."