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House bill orders spy agency review

Marathon attack prompted worry

“It’s something that’s plagued us since 9/11, this lack of information sharing,” Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat who wrote the legislation, said in an interview.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

“It’s something that’s plagued us since 9/11, this lack of information sharing,” Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat who wrote the legislation, said in an interview.

WASHINGTON — The US House on Friday approved legislation aimed at fixing the lack of information sharing that may have hindered investigations into Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the months before the Boston Marathon bombings.

The bill, which is the first piece of legislation in response to the bombings, requires several intelligence agencies to review their practices for sharing information. The agencies — the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — are required to report back within 90 days.

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“It’s something that’s plagued us since 9/11, this lack of information sharing,” Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat who wrote the legislation, said in an interview. “This is why we have breakdowns. They’re not talking to each other, they’re not sharing information, they don’t have a prearranged agreement that they will share information.”

Under the legislation, the intelligence agencies would have to review the agreements the agencies have among each other for when, how, and what information can be shared. They would have to examine portions of the agreements that could prohibit information sharing, as well as recommend ways to improve the flow of information.

The provision passed on Friday morning as an amendment to a bill that funds the government’s intelligence agencies. The amendment passed on a voice vote, and the overall bill was approved 345 to 59.

The legislation now heads to the Senate.

Several reviews have been completed on potential intelligence gaps in the lead-up to the Boston Marathon bombings, and several agencies say they have tightened some of their procedures.

But the legislation passed on Friday was the first time Congress sought to respond to the bombing through legislation.

The bill focused on one of the areas that was highlighted in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and one that then-Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said was among the most important holes to plug.

Davis testified that federal agents had not told local officials of their 2011 investigation into Tsarnaev, saying that he was first told about the FBI’s previous interest in the bombing suspect only after the FBI identified his dead body. Davis also said he was not advised of Tsarnaev’s 2012 travel to Russia.

All of that information could have been helpful, Davis said, although he stopped short of saying it could have prevented the bombing. But had local law enforcement in Boston known about the FBI’s interest in Tsarnaev, it could have raised other warnings after a triple homicide in Waltham.

In response to Davis’s testimony, FBI officials said that Massachusetts and city law enforcement officials did have access to a computer database that contained information about the threat reports and investigations, including Tsarnaev. Davis and others said they would have looked for the information, but weren’t aware that it was there.

In theory, all of that information should have been shared and coordinated through the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston, which contains representatives from various state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies. The task force was designed to provide a venue for sharing information.

Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com.
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