Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis urged Congress to fund more surveillance of public places after the bomb attack on the Boston Marathon that killed three people.
Davis, who helped lead the law enforcement response to the April 15 attack, said investigators had to rely “almost exclusively on the support of our business partners” for the video surveillance that helped identify the suspected bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Davis said law enforcement needs an enhanced ability to monitor public places on its own.
“These efforts are not intended to chill or stifle free speech, but rather to protect the integrity and freedom of speech and to protect the rights of victims and suspects alike,” Davis said in remarks prepared for a House Homeland Security Committee hearing today on the bombing.
In the first congressional hearing on the Boston bombing, lawmakers in both parties questioned whether there were federal communication failures before the attack. Davis, during the question and answer period, said his department was in the dark about an FBI review of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the brothers -- something the FBI pushed back on after the hearing.
Former Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who was head of the Senate’s homeland security panel, said that while it would have been difficult to stop the attacks, it might have been possible.
“To put it bluntly, our homeland-defense system failed in Boston,” Lieberman told the panel. The former Connecticut senator, who didn’t seek re-election in 2012, was among the first congressional backers of creating the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
U.S. lawmakers are in the midst of a review of counterterrorism procedures and laws following the Boston bombing, which injured more than 260 people near the finish line of the marathon. The review has homed in on possible communications failures among federal agencies regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was investigated in 2011 by the FBI.
Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House panel, said the attack highlighted potential gaps in the country’s antiterrorism procedures.
The Russian government flagged the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency in 2011. A three-month FBI probe into Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police in April 19, uncovered no derogatory information, according to the bureau.
Six months after the FBI review, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia. While the trip registered in a Homeland Security Department database, it didn’t set off any red flags in the system, McCaul said.
“What remains unanswered is whether this information was shared between federal agencies and state and local officials,” McCaul said.
Davis, under questioning from McCaul, said the Boston Police officials who served on the Joint Terrorist Task Force weren’t aware of the FBI’s investigation into the older Tsarnaev. They also didn’t know of his travels out of the country, Davis said, adding that it was information he would have liked to have had.
Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said in a statement today that the Boston Police representatives on the JTTF had access to databases that “would allow them to be fully informed of all JTTF activity that may affect Boston.”
DesLauriers said the Boston Police Department “specifically had representatives” assigned to the squad that conducted the 2011 assessment of Tsarnaev.
Davis told reporters during a break in the hearing that the four police department representatives on the joint task force had access to the databases that listed Tsarnaev.
“Their names were in databases and these were databases we had access to, but nobody indicated that there were high-level government sources that were moving information back and forth,” Davis said.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the panel, said during the hearing that Congress “must develop a way to fix and integrate these various databases.”
“We cannot ignore that once again, it has taken a tragedy to reveal problems in our vast, varied and numerous databases,” Thompson said.
U.S. investigators are continuing to probe how and when the brothers became motivated to carry out the attack. No evidence of foreign assistance has been found, according to U.S. officials, though they continue to investigate any potential links.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was apprehended on April 19 after a manhunt that paralyzed the Boston metropolitan area. He has been charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Tsarnaev, who may face the death penalty for his alleged actions, told interrogators that he and his brother acted alone and learned how to build the explosive devices used in the bombing on the Internet, according to officials briefed on his responses.
Worcester, Massachusetts, police said today that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body, which was in a funeral parlor there as towns and cemeteries across the U.S. declined his interment, was buried in an undisclosed location outside the city.
Davis said that while he didn’t have details of the burial, he was pleased to hear that it had finally occurred.
“I’m just very happy that we can move on to other things,” Davis told reporters. “I’d personally like it if we never had to mention these names again.”