A skirmish between the FBI and the Boston police erupted into public view after the bureau sought to rebut a claim that police weren’t aware of a federal probe of the alleged mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombing.
At a congressional hearing this morning in Washington, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said police who served on Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, or JTTF, weren’t made aware of the 2011 FBI investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, or of the suspect’s six-month trip to Russia last year.
In response, the FBI issued a statement today saying police members of the JTTF had complete access to all information compiled by the agency related to potential terrorist suspects through Guardian, software that manages the database.
“Boston JTTF members, including representatives from the Boston Police Department (BPD), were provided instruction on using Guardian, including suggestions on methods for proactively reviewing and establishing customized searches, which would allow them to be fully informed of all JTTF activity that may affect Boston,” the FBI said in an e-mailed statement.
The unusual back-and-forth between police and the FBI comes a week after the Boston Police Department proved itself more adept at announcing marathon-related news via Twitter.
Lack of coordination between BPD and federal law enforcement occurred on May 1 when the BPD’s public information office wrote on Twitter just after 11 a.m. that three additional suspects in the bombing investigation had been taken into custody.
Camera crews and reporters flocked to the federal courthouse and the office of Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz found itself besieged for several hours by reporters seeking the identities of the three men. The complaints against the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were still under seal when the BPD tweet went out.
The April 15 attack killed three people and injured more than 200 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police on April 19. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in federal custody facing capital charges in the bombing.
In testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington, Davis was asked by Mike McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee, about 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 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 testified that Boston Police officials who served on the JTTF weren’t aware of the FBI’s investigation into the elder Tsarnaev brother. 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.
Davis said during a break in the hearing that the four police department representatives on the JTTF had access to the databases listing Tsarnaev. Those databases included the so- called TIDE, or Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, a database maintained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“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.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-mj-02106, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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