The FBI defended not sharing Russian terror warnings with Boston police before
the marathon bombings, despite Boston police being in an FBI terrorism unit.
The rebuttal came after Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told the House Homeland Security Committee even though he had three detectives and a sergeant on a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI, his department didn't know about a 2011 Russian tip about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings.
His department also didn't know about the FBI's later inquiry into the tip, which included an interview with Tsarnaev and his parents, Davis testified in the first public congressional hearing on the April 15 terrorist attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
If Boston police had been told about the tip, which said Tsarnaev had embraced radical Islam and planned to go to Russia to connect with underground fundamentalist groups, "we would certainly look at the individual," Davis told the panel.
He added he couldn't say if the knowledge would have prevented the bombings, and said the FBI found no evidence of a crime and closed the case.
But Davis said his officers would "absolutely" have taken a second look at Tsarnaev if they had known about the warning.
"My fear is that the Boston bombers succeeded because our system failed," said committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas.
The FBI responded, saying Boston police could have read the information about Tsarnaev as easily as any other Joint Terrorism Task Force member, noting the force "specifically had representatives assigned to the JTTF squad that conducted the 2011 assessment of deceased terrorism suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev."
Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout after the bombings, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, awaits trial on terrorism charges.
"State and local law enforcement personnel, analysts and FBI personnel at fusion centers who have the appropriate security clearances are afforded the same unrestricted access as their FBI colleagues," the FBI said.
Fusion centers are information-sharing centers, created by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, designed to promote the sharing of threat-related information among the FBI, CIA, Justice Department, U.S. military and state and local agencies, as well as "private sector partners," a statement on the Homeland Security website says.
At the same time, the FBI statement noted the Boston task force had conducted some 1,000 assessments in 2011, a workload that made it unlikely each assessment could get close attention from every task force member.
It also noted Tamerlan Tsarnaev lived in Cambridge, not Boston.
The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday an intelligence assessment distributed five days before the race identified the marathon finish line as an "area of increased vulnerability" and warned Boston police extremists might use "small-scale bombings" to attack spectators and runners at the event.
But the April 10 assessment said it had "no credible, specific information indicating an imminent threat" to the race.
"The FBI has not identified any specific lone offender or extremist group who pose a threat to the Boston marathon," the report says.
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