Leading Republican senators briefed Tuesday on the Boston bombings say they are still concerned about problems with the exchange of intelligence information among law enforcement agencies.
According to Politico and The New York Times, the senators emerged from the two-hour closed briefing, apparently with more questions than answers over the handling of early investigative information on bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins told reporters she was “very concerned” about what she thought were “serious problems with sharing information, including critical investigative information.”
“That is troubling to me, that this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001 that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively not only among agencies but also within the same agency, in one case,” Collins told reporters.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, echoed her concerns, telling reporters that after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks “we thought we had created a system that would allow for the free flow of information between agencies.
"I think there has been some stonewalls and some stovepipes reconstructed that probably were unintentional," he continued, adding: “We’ve got to review that issue again and make sure that there is free flow of information."
Chambliss, according to several news reports, said investigators have been able to obtain only “minimal information” so far from Dzokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who has been charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction.” His older brother Tamerlan was killed last Friday during a shootout with police.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, said after the briefing he believes the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized “over a period of time.”
“Radicalized by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists using internet sources,” Rubio told reporters. “Not just the types of philosophical beliefs that radicalized them, but also learning how to do these sorts of things.”
For her part, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein declined to comment on any specifics of the briefing, but the California Democrat appeared to defend federal authorities and their handling of the Boston investigation. Asked if they had "dropped the ball," she said, "No," the Times reported.
Other Intelligence Committee members declined to comment as well on what kind of information they had identified that was not shared properly by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Lawmakers in recent days, though, have been focused on trying to get more information about a six-month trip last year that Tamerlan Tsarnaev took to the Muslim republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia.
According to the Times, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday about the trip, saying Tsarnaev left the U.S. on Jan. 12, 2012 and returned on July 17.
She told the panel that his flight reservation alerted customs officials, based on an investigation of Tsarnaev that the FBI began in 2011 on a tip from Russian authorities. By the time he returned to the states, however, that investigation had apparently been dropped because it had been determined that he posed no threat.
But according to the Times, it's not yet clear whether the FBI was ever alerted by Customs that Tsarnaev had actually traveled to Russia or what, if any, effect that information would have had on the investigation at the time.
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