FBI Is a No-Show at Boston Bombing Hearings

The House Homeland Security Committee's hearing on assessing attacks on the Homeland: From Fort Hood to Boston. The House Homeland Security Committee's hearing on assessing attacks on the Homeland: From Fort Hood to Boston. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The House Homeland Security Committee’s hearing Wednesday on the Boston Marathon bombing will be conspicuously missing a witness from the agency at the center of the investigation—the Federal Bureau of Investigation—and the debate could grow heated over that fact.

The FBI’s absence is striking. Its role in handling warnings from Russian officials about the deceased terrorist suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev—who was investigated and later fell off the radar—has been called into question.

Whether federal law enforcement officials failed to connect the dots that could have prevented the tragedy remains under investigation by the House Homeland Security Committee, and the FBI’s role is an important part of that examination.

Under the leadership of Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the committee is investigating the Boston terrorist attack, with a deep examination into the integrated law enforcement and intelligence communication network that sprang up in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, under the Department of Homeland Security, to prevent continued stove-piping of information.

The committee is comparing the Boston bombing with other terrorist efforts since 9/11 and is keen to answer whether any communication or security breakdowns that occurred in the lead-up to the Boston attack are endemic of systemic problems in need of reform.

The FBI has conducted closed-door briefings for all members of Congress and special ones for Intelligence Committee members, but none specifically related to the Homeland Security Committee investigation. It is refusing to testify publicly on the attack, citing its ongoing investigation and pending prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“As long as the case is open, I don’t see how we can participate in public hearings,” said Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the FBI. “We’ve been providing briefings to Congress on this investigation.”

The FBI said it sent a letter to McCaul on July 3 explaining that it could not testify and has sent other letters arguing its restraints in providing information.

A point of contention is that while the FBI cites the pending case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a reason it cannot comply, the committee is looking for answers about what happened with information known about his brother, Tamerlan.

Other reasons for the lack of cooperation could be that the Homeland Security Committee does not have direct oversight of the FBI, although the committee generally has oversight on the subject of attacks on the homeland.

The FBI might have justifiable reasons for holding back, but its absence is irking committee leaders who feel the agency is hamstringing its investigation.

“The FBI continues to deny the committee’s request for information and documents related to the bombing,” a committee aide said. “We hope that the FBI sends a witness. We think it is important for them to testify.”

There are ways the FBI could work through its conflicts. The committee has announced it could move to hold part of the hearing with federal officials in a closed-door classified setting, and in either an open or closed venue the FBI could refuse to answer any question it felt might jeopardize the pending case.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee also holds a hearing Wednesday focused on lessons learned from Boston.

This article appears in the July 10, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as FBI Is a No-Show at Boston Bombing Hearings.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.