Officials blast FBI on information sharing

Jul 10, 2013 Issues: Counterterrorism

The Justice Department and the FBI must share more information with local law enforcement if the United States has any hope of thwarting another bombing like the one that occurred in Boston, officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We can no longer deal with this by not sharing information. We’re going to miss other Bostons if the federal government doesn’t engage the local police department in a very, very big way,” said Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City during the 9/11 attacks.

“They’re our only asset to finding these isolated single individuals and small groups,” Giuliani said.

As Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston bomber, had his first day in court on Wednesday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) held his second hearing to attempt to understand how the alleged attackers — Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a post-attack gunfight with police — escaped notice and bombed the Boston marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 250 others.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty Wednesday to multiple terrorism charges.

McCaul slammed the FBI for not being more cooperative in the wake of the attack, saying that the bureau is coming dangerously close to stonewalling the committee’s investigation.

“The FBI has refused to appear, and continues to refuse this committee’s appropriate requests for information and documents crucial to our investigation into what happened in Boston,” McCaul said.

“The information requested by this committee belongs to the American people. It does not belong solely to the FBI, and I sincerely hope they do not intend to stonewall our inquiry into how this happened.”

 The thrust of Wednesday’s House hearing, and a simultaneous Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, revolved around trying to determine why the communication and interoperability breakdown occurred in the lead-up to the attack.

The FBI failed to inform the Boston Police Department about its investigation of the elder of the two accused bombers, Tamerlan, who resided in the Boston area.

Ed Davis, the Boston police commissioner, told senators that federal law enforcement should be required to inform local officials about investigations or threats that pertain to their particular city of jurisdiction.

“There should be a mandate somewhere that the federal authorities have to share that with us, so that we can properly defend our community,” Davis said.

“If we’re aware of what the potential threat is, we can make our own decisions as to what we would do with the information, which might be slightly different.”

 Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) agreed, saying that the local law enforcement could potentially pick up crucial information that the FBI could not, either because of civil liberty concerns or lack of manpower.

“The FBI, they work very hard, they do a good job, but they’re not on the streets every day. You are,” Ayotte said. “And you’re likely to encounter that person first.”

 Giuliani said that, in his experience working with federal and local law enforcement organizations, there is an air of distrust between the two .

“The breakdown comes about — if you really ask the FBI, they’ll say, ‘We can’t trust the local police ... they’re going to leak the information, maybe even inadvertently because they’re not as professional as we are,’ ” Giuliani said.

“Even the FBI has occasionally had leaks, so nobody can be holier than thou on this.”

“If you go back to the earlier era of law enforcement, the FBI was probably correct in many cases, that you couldn’t share information with some local police departments because they were unprofessional, they were corrupt,” the former mayor added. “That’s largely not true today.”

Davis said the Boston Police Department had four officers assigned to a Massachusetts-based Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), of which the FBI was a leading component. Acting on information from the Russian government, the FBI was responsible for investigating Tamerlan out of a suspicion that he was engaging in radical behavior that held the potential to turn into violent activism.

But when the FBI concluded its investigation — after interviewing Tamerlan and people close to him, and having found no reason to keep the inquiry open — it failed to alert the four Boston police JTTF members or any of the local Boston authorities to the possible threat.

Michael Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, the intelligence hub created after 9/11, told the House panel on Wednesday that lawmakers should focus their attention on requiring proper information-sharing, even after cases are closed.

“We need to make sure that every JTTF, when an investigation is concluded, that that information is effectively shared back with the host department so the department can decide whether, using its own police powers, it really should be concluded or whether or not they can do more where the FBI can’t,” he said.

“The committee’s pressure needs to be on ensuring that people are sharing more information that they collect from the very start even if there’s no indication that it’s relevant to an individual investigation.”