Obama administration initiates review of intelligence-gathering prior to the Boston Marathon bombings

Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper. SOURCE: Office of the Director of National Intelligence via Flickr

Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper has ordered a broad review of the intelligence community’s handling of information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev leading up to the Boston Marathon bombings.

“The Director of National Intelligence supports the review, which will examine the information available to the U.S. Government before the bombings and the information sharing protocols and procedures followed between and among the intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” according a declassified statement released on Tuesday.

The statement was signed by Charles McCullough, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community; Michael Horowitz, Inspector General for the Justice Department; David Buckley, Inspector General for the Central Intelligence Agency; and Charles Edwards, Deputy Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security.

Read more: FBI investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev for link to radical Islam in 2011

The review was initiated after reports surfaced that Russia had shared information with the FBI in 2011 indicating that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had links to radical Islam. The FBI investigated Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who became a legal permanent resident in the U.S., but “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign,” according to the bureau.

Shortly after the investigation was closed, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia, where he spent 6 months in 2012. FBI officials told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that the bureau was not aware of Tsarnaev’s travel to Russia due to a misspelling on his flight documents.

However, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano contradicted the FBI’s account when she testified that the DHS’s system did “ping” when Tamerlan Tsarnaev left the United States in 2012 because the redundancies in place were designed to catch misspellings of names.

This revelation prompted Graham to criticize the Obama administration, saying that the marathon attack was an “example of a pre-9/11 stove piping mentality” that failed to prevent two terrorists from killing 3 and wounding more than 280 people. Graham also said the Boston attack was a “compelling” example of how the U.S. “national security systems have deteriorated” under the Obama administration.

“In Boston, both the FBI and CIA were warned by the Russians about a radical Islamist in our midst. Once enrolled in the system as a potential terror suspect, the older brother was able to travel back to Russia unimpeded by DHS or any of our intelligence agencies. Agencies under [Obama’s] control were unable to coordinate the information they received on the Boston terrorists,” said Graham.

Obama defended his administration’s handling of the intelligence gathered on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

“Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure generated some headlines,” said Obama. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing.”

Obama said the review would help shed light on whether more could have been done to stop Tsarnaev’s radicalization and prevent similar attacks in the future.

“When an event like this happens we want to go back and we want to review every step that was taken. We want to leave no stone unturned. We want to see, is there, in fact, additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack?” said Obama. “And we won’t know that until that review is completed. We won’t know that until the investigation of the actual crime is fully completed.”

Federal investigators are trying to piece together Tsarnaev’s activities during his stay in Russia, particularly whether he had any contacts with radical Islamists or received any assistance such as funding or training on how to build a bomb.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, is being investigated “a person of interest” in the Boston bombings.

“We’re looking to see if she helped radicalize her son or had contacts with other people and other terrorist groups,” said Ruppersberger after a classified briefing on the matter. “We really have to focus on what happened with him in Russia and get as much information as we can about terrorists in that region…Was he radicalized? I mean, did he get training in how to build a bomb? You know, it’s not always easy to say you’re going to build a bomb based on the instructions you had in Inspire Magazine.”

Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin has committed to “cooperating fully” with the U.S. on the Boston bombing investigation and on counter-terrorism matters in general.

Obama noted that even as the U.S. puts more pressure on Al Qaeda’s core leadership overseas, the country could be dealing with more threats from home-grown terrorists, such as the Tsarnaev brothers and Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, who appeared to have radicalized themselves with literature and recordings available online. Detecting and combatting self-radicalization that could lead to violent extremism “in the context of our laws, due process” is extremely difficult.

“One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States — in some cases, may not be part of any kind of network, but because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have, may decide to carry out an attack. And those are in some ways more difficult to prevent,” said Obama. “This is hard stuff.”

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