IGs: Intel Sharing Largely Up to Par in Run-Up to Boston Bombing

Medical workers aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following two bomb explosions in 2013. Medical workers aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following two bomb explosions in 2013. Charles Krupa/AP File Photo

The government’s post-9/11 bid for better intelligence sharing was for the most part well-executed in the case of last April’s fatal bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, according to a look-back released Thursday by four inspectors general.

The unclassified, redacted version of a 168-page report highlighted a few instances in which the CIA and the FBI, for example, “did not coordinate” as called for in a memorandum of understanding in the two years preceding the April 15, 2013, attack, in processing leads about the eventually named killer, the now deceased Tamerlan Tsarnaev. But none of the missed opportunities, the report concluded, would likely have headed off the terrorist plan carried out with home-made pressure-cooker bombs.

The jointly published review includes separate findings on agency performance as evaluated by the inspectors general for the Intelligence Community, CIA and the Justice and Homeland Security departments. “The federal agencies that handled information concerning relevant individuals and events prior to the bombings frequently have intersecting and sometimes overlapping responsibilities in conducting counterterrorism activities,” the IGs said in a joint statement.

“Of particular relevance to this review are the relationships between the FBI, CIA and DHS, as well as the relationship between the FBI” and the National Security Agency, as well as the National Counterterrorism Center’s relationships throughout the Intelligence Community.

A second instance in which things might have been done differently had to do with a January 2012 trip to Russia made by Tsarnaev, a native Chechen living in Boston as a permanent legal resident. He had come to the attention of U.S. authorities, but after a review, his file was rendered inactive. The report stated that the assistant special agent in charge of the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force told Justice IG interviewers that if someone had “pinged” the lead counterterrorism agency about Tsarnaev’s travel, it would have “changed everything.”

The Homeland Security IG determined that Customs and Border Protection “properly vetted Tsarnaev when he reentered the United States from Russia in July 2012, fingerprinting and photographing him, checking his identity and verifying his legal resident status. But a counterterrorism supervisor in retrospect said, “There is a very good chance” that the FBI would have interviewed Tsarnaev again upon his return from Russia had it known about the travel, but that this would have depended on what was learned from the Russians and from any secondary inspection during Tsarnaev’s travel.”

The report added that the FBI’s decision to open the investigation at the assessment level was an application of the “least intrusive method” principle set forth in the Attorney General Guidelines and FBI policy within its investigative discretion.

The report made two recommendations. The FBI and DHS, their IGs said, should “clarify the circumstances under which JTTF personnel may change the display status” of a record in Homeland Security’s TECS system of screening priorities used by border agents -- “particularly in closed cases.”

The Justice IG recommended that “the FBI consider sharing threat information with state and local partners more proactively and uniformly by establishing a procedure for notifying state and local representatives on JTTFs when it conducts a counterterrorism assessment of a subject residing in or having a nexus to a representative’s area of responsibility.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans a hearing on the look-back. “Just as we did in the aftermath of 9/11, we must learn from the attack on Boston to make the rest of our nation and communities stronger,” he said in a Thursday statement. The report “helps answer some of the critical questions about what could have been done differently, what worked well in our prevention and response efforts, and what more we can do. As I often like to say, the road to improvement is always under construction.”

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