Joe Lieberman, the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have a lot to answer for after Boston, giving a boost to a Republican line of attack against the Obama administration for failing to fully investigate and share information that might have prevented the bombings.
At the first congressional hearing examining the April 15 terrorist attack, Lieberman on Thursday emerged as a star witness--sitting beside local Boston authorities who managed the response on the ground--condemning the information sharing and investigation tactics of federal law-enforcement officials.
“To put it bluntly, our homeland-defense system failed in Boston,” Lieberman said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. “An attack like this had been predicted for years, which leads me to conclude that the success of these attacks was the result of errors made within our existing homeland-security system--both public and private--and by a failure to do enough at the federal, state, and local levels to counter homegrown terrorism inspired by violent Islamist extremism in the first place.”
Lieberman raised a litany of sharp questions, which he urged his former colleagues to pursue:
- Why didn’t the FBI consider warnings by Russian authorities about bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s travel and contacts enough of a “red flag” to warrant more attention from homeland-security personnel?
- Was the FBI’s investigation sufficient to determine risks for radicalization?
- Did the FBI do enough to engage support from local law enforcement?
- How much outreach was there to the local Muslim community?
- Why didn’t the Homeland Security Department alert the FBI and Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force when the elder Tsarnaev brother “pinged” the system when he left for Dagestan?
In an exchange with committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said he wished that Boston authorities had been given more information about the FBI investigation into the elder Tsarnaev brother, who was killed after the attack.
Davis said that before the bombings, he was not aware of the Russian warning about Tamerlan Tsarnaev even though one of his detectives was in the joint terrorism task force squad that participated in the investigation, and even though his force had access to the databases. He said he was not aware of the FBI investigation, nor about Tsarnaev’s overseas travel, and would have liked to have known those facts.
But Davis conceded he could not say whether he would have done anything differently than the FBI.
“That’s very hard to say,” he said. “We would certainly have looked at the information. We would certainly have talked to the individual. From the information I can see, the FBI did that and they closed the case up. I can’t say I would have done anything differently based upon the information that was known at that point.”
Democrats tried to maintain a balance between commending first responders’ lifesaving actions, arguing the need to maintain funding for security, and asking questions about where systems broke down.