The US Senate held a hearing today on the Boston Marathon bombings to discuss lessons learned and ways to improve communication and intelligence sharing between agencies.
The hearing included testimony from the inspectors general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Intelligence Community Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The inspectors also released an unclassified summary of their findings, which they discussed at the hearing. The report focused on the entities most likely to have had information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the bombings—the CIA, DHS, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
The report aimed to determine: the extent of intelligence information available, where information was shared appropriately across agencies, whether there were breakdowns in protocols, and establish a timeline of events leading up to the bombings.
Here some takeaways from that report:
- Overall, the inspectors found no basis to make broad recommendations for changes to government procedures for information sharing, but noted there were some areas where information sharing could be broader and policies could be clarified. The report found that the FBI, CIA, DHS, and NCTC shared information appropriately and according to procedure.
- The FBI’s investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev before the bombing was based on information known at the time and it’s impossible to know what would have happened if different judgements had been made. However, it is believed Tsarnaev’s travel to Russia in 2012 was significant and warranted further action.
- Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been on the FBI’s radar two years before the bombings based off of information from Russia. In March 2011, the FBI received information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother, Zubeidat, adhered to radical Islam and planned to travel to Russia to join an underground group, but a joint task force found no evidence of a link to terrorism.
- Because of his mother’s involvement in the trip to Russia, the FBI should have given more consideration to assessing her. The inspectors then concluded that it was within the FBI’s discretion to not pursue such an assessment.
- There could have been a more thorough assessment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev through additional investigative steps, such as more database searches, asking different questions to Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his parents, and interviewing his former girlfriend and wife. However, the inspectors determined the additional database searches would not have revealed any new information and noted that it is impossible to know whether the additional interviews would have provided more relevant information.