Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Richard Shelby & FBI Director Robert Mueller on May 16, 2013

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). SOURCE: Senate Appropriations Committee

Partial transcript of Q&A with Q&A with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and FBI Director Robert Mueller at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 16, 2013:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
Director Mueller, last month Boston as you well know was the target of a terrorist attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260. I want to first of all commend the work of the FBI and the people of the FBI, the state and local law enforcement, for their response to that incident. They did an exemplary job, I thought.

I’m troubled, however, by reports – and a lot of people have been – that the danger posed by…Tamerlan Tsarnaev…was not identified because the government, again, was unable to connect the dots. We talked about this before in the intel area.

It’s disappoint sometimes that after 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in investments, we’re still discussing the government’s inability at times to connect the dots when it’s very important.

Would you walk us through, what you can here, what the FBI knew about Tsarnaev and what actions it took and why it did not take further action after learning that he had traveled to Russia?

And why the FBI, as I understand, contends that it was not aware that he left the country?

The Boston Globe has reported that the watch list system generated an automatic notification to an officer in the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston. Are you aware of that report?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
Yes, sir.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
And do you agree or disagree with the report?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
If you’re talking about the Boston Globe report? I’m not specifically understand what the Boston Globe report – I understand what they are addressing in terms of the text notification that went out on travel.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
Well, what about if the Joint Terrorism Task Force have received this information, what action could they have taken based on the FBI’s previous inquiry regarding this subject?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
…To a certain extent, I can walk you through maybe 75% of it…

But in 2011, approximately in March, we received notification from the Russian authorities that an individual called Tamerlan – he was the older brother – and his mother had appeared to be very religious, and at least as far as the older brother was concerned, he intent on returning and perhaps participating in jihad in Russia. And passed this information on to us to follow up on.

We initiated an assessment, and an agent was assigned. The agent – a very good agent, I might add – undertook to look into the background on Tamerlan. He went and visited the college where he had been registered for a period of time. Did a thorough background on him, and then interviewed the parents, and finally interviewed Tamerlan himself.

As a result of this, I would say, thorough investigation based on the leads that we’ve got from the Russians, we’ve found no ties to terrorism.

Later that summer, in August, we got back to the Russians and indicated that we did not find any ties. And in October, I think it was, we also went back to the Russian on both occasions and the third occasion we went back to the Russians and asked them if they had any further information that would educate us in terms or elaborate for us their concerns about this individual, and we got no response.

And so that assessment was closed without any further information.

But what you referred to as a travel that Tamerlan took in January through July of 2012, where the Russians had asked to be notified if he were traveling, a text notice had gone to the task force to a very good customs agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And we do not have any action that was taken on that particular notification.

Likewise, when he returned to the United States, there’s an automatic message that’s pushed out and that also came to the task force that way and there was no additional action taken on that. It may well have been because of the numerous inquiries that we handle. That particular Joint Terrorism Task Force in any given year handles hundreds of similar assessments and the leads and the like.

But to the extent that we go back and scrub and see what we could have done better, this is an area where we’re looking at and scrubbing and doing better.

I will tell you, on the other hand, that I do think that we have improved our systems tremendously dramatically since Sept. 11. To the extent that you can almost be assured that in any event there is somebody if they have had some leanings and more than leanings but some participation, discussion, and what have you about participating in terrorist events, they may have well come across our radar screens but we would not have had sufficient information from a variety of sources to be able to confirm that.

You also have occasions where persons who at one point in time appear not to be radicalized but very quickly they’re – after they’re off your radar screen – become radicalized and you could not have anticipated that they would undertake an attack such as we saw in Boston.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
Which we don’t know because some people fall through the cracks. You know, no system’s perfect. Yours or ours or anything. Some people point that out is a lost opportunity. Maybe we’ll learn from it…

In April, the Boston Herald reported that the Commonwealth Fusion Center was unaware that the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev as part of an investigation after the Russian agency that you talked about alerted U.S. officials to his increasing radicalization.

It’s my understanding, Mr. Director, that these entities are supposed to serve as clearing houses for information about potential threats and that the fusion centers contend that they are charged with helping connect the dots.

Given that the FBI is responsible for oversight of fusion centers, how would you characterize their role with respect to intelligence gathering, analysis, and dissemination? And is it their responsibility – the fusion center’s – to connect the dots and, if so, how?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
Let me start by saying, we do not supervise fusion centers.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
You don’t? Who does?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
The Department of Homeland Security. But we work very close – even though we do not –

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
You work with them but you don’t – you’re not their supervisors.

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
We are not. And we work very closely with them. And I can tell you that in Boston we have, between the Joint Terrorism Task Force and fusion centers and the various state entities, we have a very close sharing relationship. And if you talk to the persons who are participating in this, they would be very vocal in terms of how we well we work together which was exemplified in the response to the bombing on April 15th.

There was a question raised in the testimony by one of the chiefs of police in Boston about his knowledge about the interview with Tamerlan. The fact of the matter is the Joint Terrorism Task Force has state, local law enforcement personnel on every one of those task forces. I think it’s something close to –

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
That makes a lot of sense to have that.

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
And it does. And it’s exactly what we want. And I would say perhaps 40% maybe more of task forces around the country are state and local law enforcement.

Now, what that Joint Terrorism Task Force and fusion center does is take in myriads of threats – hundreds, hundreds over a period of time, particularly a year – and goes through them the same way we went through this particular threat. Others in the task force may participate in some way or shape but because it was closed, it was not serious enough to be taken up to the leadership. In other words, you wouldn’t take it up to the chief of police or the head of the FBI office where you’ve looked at it, where it has been closed with the finding of no association with terrorism.

So to the extent that this is pushed out as being indicative of broken relationships and the like, to the contrary. And I think if you talk to anybody in the Boston task force, fusion center, State Police, Boston Police, I think they would say the relationship is excellent and that the sharing is excellent as well.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
But we still have to continue to work on sharing information with our law enforcement people, don’t we?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
We’ve come a long way since you’ve been the Director. We’ve gone through that in the intel and then this committee for years and years. And I know it’s a challenge for you. It’s a challenge for the CIA. It’s a challenge for the NSA. Everything in homeland security. But the more you can work and fuse and share, the safer we going to be, aren’t we?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
Absolutely and I will tell you that in every one of these incidents we go back and look and say, “What could we have done better?” And this particular incident, handling the text notice is an area that we’re going to do better on the next time.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
Let me get into another area…that’s improvised explosive devices, which we all see so much of because of our troops and so forth. But they’ve come to America.

Now, the Boston bombing highlighted what our troops have been encountering for years overseas: the devastation caused by improved explosive devices or IEDs. The threat from IEDs, Mr. Director and you talked about this here before, is widely recognized and in February the White House released a report on the threat and established a new task force.

In spite of the spotlight the administration placed on understanding and counter IEDs, we know it’s very complicated and challenging. This budget request before us fails to prioritize funding for the terrorist explosive devise…

FBI Director Robert Mueller:
…Let me first talk about TEDAC [Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center] and its relationship and its utility during the Boston crisis.

Immediately upon the explosions, we had in Boston our bomb techs out there with bomb techs from State Police and the others. We thereafter flew down to our laboratory pieces – fragments of the bombs as we picked them up and brought them down to our laboratory in Quantico, where they were analyzed by TEDAC.

Very quickly – and by very quickly I mean within 24, 48 hours – we had identified the mechanisms, the containers, of the kind of black powder and the like that were utilized and were then tracing the various components such as the pressure cookers to determine who had purchased them, where.

The TEDAC bomb technicians served three roles during this period of time. The first one is I think a number of them were on scene. I think there were about five that were on scene that were helping pull together the first fragments. They then put together intelligence bulletins to provide the intelligence to others around the country as to what was seen in hopes that we would not see another one but if we did that somebody would have an understanding of the device that was used here. And then the third area was the examination of the components and the tracing of the particular components. This was done by TEDAC staff.

Now, our future of TEDAC, as you well know, is we have the facility…that is fully financed through next year and at the end of 2014 should house TEDAC. The issues that are outstanding related to ONM and the subsidy for maintaining this capability.

Let me…address one last thing that you mentioned and that is the backlog of reviewing the IEDs that have been forwarded to us from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have a very large database of such IEDs that it provides intelligence to the military day-in and day-out as well as law enforcement and intelligence community around the world.

We have used that backlog to identify individuals by fingerprints or DNA or the method of construction of the bombs who may have been trying to get into the United States or who appear to be terrorists trying to get into other countries, whether it be in Europe or elsewhere.

But we have a backlog of devices that we picked up over the years that we’re trying to run through. But in order to continue that process, we need additional funds to run through that backlog.

We got to prioritize but again this is one of the things where we prioritize with sequestration, with the 2014 budget, is we’ll have to cut back substantially in terms of our ability to address that backlog.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama):
But TEDAC should be a priority considering the threat in this country?

FBI Director Robert Mueller:


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One Comment on “Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Richard Shelby & FBI Director Robert Mueller on May 16, 2013

  1. Pingback: FBI Director Robert Mueller confirms Boston JTTF did receive text alerts of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's travels to and from Russia | What The Folly?!

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