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National Journal: Homeland Security Panel Targets Boston Bombing Security Breakdowns

By Stacy Kaper -- National Journal


The House Homeland Security Committee, still digging for solutions that could have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing, will haul federal authorities up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for another hearing on the attack.

Though it began its investigation just five days after the April 15 bombings, the committee still hasn't received full written responses to the considerable number of questions it has for federal authorities, one committee aide said.

Though the committee remains hopeful responses may yet be coming, representatives of those authorities—the Homeland Security Department, the director of National Intelligence, and the FBI—have nevertheless been invited to testify, as has former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The panel, led by Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is examining how leads about the suspected terrorists were handled and whether red tape, negligence, or any other avoidable obstacles prevented investigators from putting together puzzle pieces that could have prevented the tragedy, which left more than 260 injured and four dead, including a police officer who was slain after the bombings.

The committee's investigation involves examing systems set up in the wake of 9/11 designed to share information across law-enforcement agencies to ensure that intelligence efforts and resources are coordinated and not lost in the ether of bureaucracy.

The investigation involves a deep look into how and why red flags about the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which were pointed out by Russian authorities to the FBI and the CIA, were treated and whether American authorities closed their case on him prematurely. Another question they are asking is how the Homeland Security Department could have been alerted about Tsarnaev's trip to the Chechen region, but not the FBI.

The panel is particularly interested in comparing the case to other recent terrorist attacks to gauge whether the events in Boston were unique or part of a broader systemic failure.

Federal officials are expected to face tough questioning about their communication, coordination, and commitment to running down potential leads.

In a letter to the head of the agencies, McCaul flagged concerns about repetitive security breaches since 9/11.

"Tsarnaev appears to be the fifth person since Sept. 11, 2001, to participate in terror attacks despite being under investigation by the FBI," and the sixth when including the CIA, he wrote. McCaul cited the underwear bomber; the Times Square car-bombing attempt; the Little Rock, Ark., military recruiting office shooting; and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting.

McCaul has also expressed concern that the system built to respond to Sept. 11 and prevent future attacks might not be working.

"My fear is that the Boston bombers may have succeeded because our system failed," he said at the committee's first hearing on the topic in May.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee plans to hold its own hearing on the same day on lessons learned from the attack.

This article appears in the July 3, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily.