Transcript: Q&A with Rep. Bennie Thompson on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security – May 9, 2013

Partial transcript of Q&A with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security on May 9, 2013:

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi):
…Commissioner Davis, one of the other responsibilities we have as a committee is to look at what actually happened. If in fact the monies we have provided to your department were not available and the training that went with the money as well as the equipment, how would you have been able to respond to that situation?

Ed Davis, Boston Police Commissioner:
Our response would have been much less comprehensive than it was. We have received, just in the area of ordinance disposal, we’ve received funding to put trucks and equipments – protective equipment for our officers. Sergeant Chris Connolly was there. He had just done something called ‘cut and tags’ on a bunch of parcels that have been left by people running away from the incident and it was very dangerous work. And I got to talk to him when he was putting his equipment on. He was clearing literally hundreds of potential bombs. Very dangerous work that could not have been done safely without the fundings we’ve received from the federal government.

The training that we’ve received has given us an opportunity to test our systems and we have discovered gaps in radio communications, for instance, that were closed because of the training. And those gaps being closed caused us to be able to communicate with fire and other responding agencies inter-operably that was not – we were not even aware that we had the problem until we did the scenario training.

So the answer to your question is the response would have been much less than it was.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi):
…And those funds have been an integral part of your department’s ability to respond like it has been?

Ed Davis, Boston Police Commissioner:
Right. That funding has not only set up the response on the street but has also put our fusion center, called the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, that operation has been put together with federal funding. It helps us not only with the threat of terrorism, but also with the threat of homicide and other things that we deal with in an urban environment. That money is critical to the operation of our police department.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi):
…Professor Southers, you were a former FBI agent. The commissioner talked about the need to engage immigrant communities regardless of who they are in this total process for identifying potential terrorists in our communities. Can you share with me your experience on the community engagement aspect of what we’re talking about?

Erroll Southers, Professor at the University of Southern California and Associate Director of Research Transition at the DHS National Center for Risk & Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events:
Yes, sir, I can. The Commissioner is absolutely right that with all due respect to intelligence that comes in, the most valuable information that you’re going to obtain are from those community members, those family members, in this case perhaps those members of the mosque who could share some information that the Joint Terrorism Task Force could have worked on.

We’ve seen in the past where on a number of instances we’re working with the community although it didn’t stop people from leaving this country and engaging elsewhere, we were aware of activities that were going on.

To name a few, Adam Gadahn, who is with Al Qaeda and still outstanding possibly in Yemen, was thrown out of a mosque in Orange County, California but not before the people in the JTTF and FBI were aware of the fact of what was going on down there.

Samir Khan – and I know that Inspire Magazine has been referred to a number of times since the incident – Samir Khan is an American. He was the editor-in-chief of Inspire Magazine. He was in North Carolina and engaged by his family and members of the mosque and unfortunately was able to leave the country before that information became known. It would have been very valuable.

And last but not least Omar Hammami, who’s from Alabama and has left the country, but again, was engaged by his family and members of the community about the fact he was taking on a form of Islam that was not appropriate and is now engaged in Al-Shabaab, which is now an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.

So that kind of information coming from the communities that we need to help us is critical. And it’s important that we don’t engage in any activities that would compromise that relationship and, in fact, stigmatize that community from coming forward to let the appropriate authorities know what was going on.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi):
…We have invested significant resources in getting communities and states where they can respond and as the Commissioner said. But also I heard you overtime express concern that the government’s proposal to eliminate grants to state and localities is probably not what we ought to be doing. Can you share your thoughts on that?

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.):
…We’re in a war, and, as I said, it’s against an ideology that is not receding. It’s spreading and it’s taken a very difficult turn, which as you saw in the Boston case, the only three attacks against America – terrorist attacks that have succeeded since 9/11 are homegrown terrorists.

You can’t fight this war without resources. I mean, the homeland security front is no different than the Department of Defense. And the grants that we have created and funded have been critically important in this battle.

And again, I come back to the fact that particularly with homegrown terrorists, state and local law enforcers are in the best position to create the relationships within the communities that will allow them and have allowed them in numerous cases to stop terrorist attacks before they occur, and they’re simply not going to do it without funding. Every level of government is pinched.

There are a couple of police departments in our country – notably New York, Los Angeles – that spend a lot of money funding counter-terrorism programs and a lot of those programs are outreach to the community and as part of the reason why they’ve been so effective. In a way, part of what we’re all saying here is that we have to rely more in this phase – new phase in this war with terrorism – on the state and locals and they can’t do it without financial help from the federal government.


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