Hearing on bombings expected to focus on US intelligence
WASHINGTON — Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he was satisfied so far with the flow of intelligence tips and terrorist watchlist information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev before the Boston Marathon bombings, a topic that is likely to be a focus of a congressional hearing Thursday.
“There’s a lot of information that still has to come out on this and I’m watching it closely,” Davis said in an interview just before he boarded a plane to Washington. “But right now I don’t have any problem.”
He added, “From the looks of it now, there’s no indication of a huge systematic issue.”
Davis will be testifying at the first congressional hearing dedicated to examining the double bombing April 15 at the Boston Marathon finish line. Members of the House Committee on Homeland Security are expected to focus on a range of topics related to the Boston bombings, including whether the FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA, and counterterrorism agencies properly handled Russian warnings about the growing radicalization of Tsarnaev and his travel to Russia in 2012.
Police say Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar, placed two bombs at the Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
Based on interviews with a half-dozen members of the committee Wednesday, representatives plan to question whether better sharing of information among federal and local agencies could have prevented the attacks. Some have expressed concerns that the Department of Homeland Security — created in response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — is not functioning properly.
“Here we are — we had another terrorist attack,” said Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina. “We understand some signals were missed, and we want to make sure with this huge agency, with 225,000 employees and a $60 billion budget . . . is information-sharing.”
In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev, who died after a gun battle with police on April 19, four days after the bombings. The FBI’s investigation did not reveal that he posed a threat. Officials examining his activity in retrospect have said his radicalization grew in 2012, once he returned to his home in Cambridge from Dagestan, Russia, an restive region that is home to militant Chechen groups.
“One of the questions is, ‘Was there enough data-sharing? How did the brothers get through our law enforcement network?’” asked Representative Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina.
He also wants to probe — with Davis, specifically — whether classified information collected by federal agencies is adequately shared with local officials.
“How much of that information is getting down to the patrol level?” he asked.
“Most of what I’ve seen is that there weren’t cases of gross negligence,” Hudson added. “The larger question is, ‘Are the procedures working? Are there gaps? What are the issues that arose in this case that we never thought about or dealt with before?’”
In a press conference at Logan International Airport, Davis said he was confident his department was properly prepared for the Marathon.
“We would have liked to prevent this,’’ said Davis. “Our job is to prevent these things. When something like this happens, you have to look at every single item of information that we have, everything we did, in preparation to ensure this doesn’t happen again.’’
He said wants to also make sure that lawmakers are given some insight into the four people who were allegedly murdered by the Tsarnaev brothers. “I want to spend some time talking about the victims here as well,’’ Davis said. “Four people were killed in these attacks and hundreds wounded.’’
Some Republicans plan to question whether the country’s visa policies have contributed to the potential terror threats. Some Democrats plan to praise the use of police training and equipment — and question whether those tools will suffer under federal budget cuts.
“In this era of sequester, funding for these programs will be threatened,” said Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, citing a training program that Boston emergency responders have utilized. “Next time, these coordinated efforts may be threatened . . . we may not be as ready.”
In addition to Davis, Kurt N. Schwartz, the Massachusetts undersecretary for homeland security and emergency management, is scheduled to testify. Former senator Joseph Lieberman, who helped establish the homeland security framework a decade ago; and Erroll G. Southers, a counterterrorism expert and professor at the University of Southern California, also are expected to speak.
Southers, who has extensive experience in counterterrorism, said the lesson from the Boston bombings might be a tough one for the public to accept.
“The thing we have to come to grips with here is: these kinds of things — meaning homegrown terrorists — will happen,” he said in an interview. “We should try to resist the urge, when these things happen, to fix something.”
“This is a process of reducing risk,” he added. “We will never be able to eliminate the threat.”
Representative Bill Keating, a Democrat from Bourne who is the only member from Massachusetts on the Homeland Security Committee, said he is considering traveling to Russia to further investigate, following a fact-finding trip by two House staffers. The staffers are preparing a report for release this week.
The staffers discovered — through unofficial, nongovernment sources — that Tamerlan Tsarnaev first came on the radar of the Russian security officials when they started questioning William Plotnikov, a Canadian boxer who was linked with extremist groups in Russia, Keating said.
The Russians then discovered that Tsarnaev was active on a jihadist website and listed his home in the United States. That caused the Russians to ask the FBI for more information.
“I wouldn’t call it warning,” Keating said. “I would call it just an inquiry. ‘What do you know about this guy?’”
Tsarnaev later traveled to Dagestan and he met with both Plotnikov, as well as another extremist, Mansur Mukhamed Nidal, according to Keating’s initial findings.
Plotnikov and Nidal were later killed in separate skirmishes with the Russians. Tsarnaev left Russia shortly after Plotnikov’s death.
Nine months later, authorities say, he built and planted the bombs at the finish line at the Boston Marathon.
“We are now facing a new kind of enemy, these cockroaches,” said Representative Candice Miller, a Republican from Michigan. “For these terrorists, their battle line was the finish line of the Boston Marathon. This is a reality we have. . . . We have to be right 100 percent of the time, terrorists just have to be right once.’’
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .