A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into a Boston police detective I know and, in the midst of a conversation about our kids, asked him if he had seen a recent segment of “60 Minutes” on the Marathon bombings.
“You mean,” he said, “the one where the FBI solved the whole case?”
That would be the one.
It was classic FBI image-making. The former special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston, Rick DesLauriers, and Stephanie Douglas, the FBI’s assistant director in Washington, took turns earnestly explaining how the bureau painstakingly identified the Tsarnaev brothers as the bombers.
There was a little pat on the head for the Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police, who did most of the legwork. But make no mistake about it, the program suggested: This was an FBI operation all the way.
Unfortunately, neither DesLauriers nor Douglas was able to shed any light on what the FBI did when it came to the advance warning they had from Russian authorities about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A “60 Minutes” spokesman said correspondent Scott Pelley asked the question but producers decided the FBI’s answers were, as he put it, “not newsworthy.”
Nothing the FBI has said about this is newsworthy, because they haven’t said anything. It’s standard operating procedure at the FBI. Wednesday’s hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security in Washington raised more questions than answers because the FBI won’t give answers.
“Why would they be accountable to ‘60 Minutes’ or the Globe or whoever when they aren’t even accountable to Congress?” asks Bill Keating, the Massachusetts congressman who sits on that committee.
Keating watched the “60 Minutes” episode, too, and almost fell off his chair because the FBI had been ducking Congress by suggesting they didn’t want to compromise the investigation into the bombing or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s upcoming trial.
“We asked the FBI to come before our committee three times, and they refused,” Keating told me. “And then I see them on TV pointing at one of the Tsarnaev brothers in a surveillance photo . . . So they can go on TV, but they can’t go before Congress?”
Yes, folks, there is something desperately wrong with this picture.
Now, to be fair, it appears the CIA was just as culpable as the FBI in not having Tamerlan Tsarnaev higher up on their radar. The difference is that investigating potential terrorists is the FBI’s purview, and the CIA operates as a clandestine agency. The problem with the FBI is they act as if they’re a clandestine agency when they expressly are not.
Right after 9/11, three very fine police leaders — Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans, Lowell Police Chief Ed Davis, and John Timoney, of the New York, Philadelphia, and Miami police — went to Washington to see FBI Director Bob Mueller. They knew that everything had changed when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania. They wanted assurances that the FBI would change, too, and begin sharing information with local police.
But nothing changed. The FBI doesn’t share information with other agencies. It never did.
I’ve talked to Cambridge police officers who would have been all over Tamerlan Tsarnaev if they had known Russian authorities told the FBI he had extremist leanings. They never got that intelligence because the FBI couldn’t be bothered sharing with local cops.
Nothing will change until the FBI’s internal culture changes. But don’t hold your breath.
As we prepare to formally remember Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, Sean Collier and all the people so grievously wounded last Patriots Day, as painful as those memories are, there is the gnawing reality that, at the end of the day, we will never know for sure whether all that suffering and loss of life could have been prevented.