At Boston Marathon hearing, Austin Rep. Michael McCaul warns of missed signals and global jihad

May 9, 2013 Issues: Counterterrorism

WASHINGTON – The House Homeland Security opened its first hearing into the Boston Marathon bombing Thursday with Chairman Michael McCaul suggesting that U.S. intelligence failures let the bomb plot play out unimpeded.

“While we don’t know if this attack was foreign-directed, we certainly know it was foreign-inspired,” McCaul, an Austin Republican and former federal prosecutor, said at the outset of the hearing. “Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to the Chechen region; the radical videos proclaiming the Caliphate that he posted when he returned;  and the type of bombs he and his younger brother used all signal an al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attack.”

The chairman said he sees the April 15 Boston bombing as part of a pattern of global jihad that includes the 2009 attack by Army Maj. Nidal Hassan at Fort Hood, Texas.  As troubling, he said, is that federal authorities had ample warning that the Boston bombers could pose a threat.

“We know that Russian intelligence warned the FBI about Tamerlan…. We know he was then investigated and interviewed by the FBI, but when he traveled to the Chechen region in 2012, the FBI was unaware. The CIA also received an alert from Russian intelligence,” McCaul said. “… DHS was alerted to his trip overseas, but nothing was done. In other words, he was on our radar screen, and then he was off.”

“My fear is that the Boston bombers succeeded because our system failed,” McCaul said.

Joe Lieberman, the former Connecticut senator and former chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, was among the witnesses. He noted that the Boston Marathon attack was the first successful attack on U.S. civilians since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Boston attack, he said, should teach us that the enemy is “violent Islamic extremism.” With al Qaeda badly degraded, he said, a connection with that particular entity isn’t necessarily the most important dot to connect; the dangerous ideology persists regardless of any connection to al Qaeda.

Lieberman also raised the possibility of a failure to adequately share information between the DHS and FBI. The fact that Russian intelligence – a rare source of tips – flagged Tsarnaev for U.S. authorities should have ensured tireless follow-up by the FBI well before the bomb plot, he said.