President Barack Obama said “we want to leave no stone unturned” in a review to determine whether warning signs were missed by U.S. authorities before the Boston bombings.
“We won’t know that until that review is completed,” Obama said during a news conference today at the White House. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties. Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing.”
Members of Congress have questioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to close a 2011 inquiry into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who later became a suspect in the bombings. Russian intelligence agencies had told the FBI that he had become radical and asked for information about him. The Central Intelligence Agency also was provided with the information and alerted other U.S. agencies.
The FBI searched U.S. terrorism and crime databases, conducted interviews and found nothing incriminating, and the Russians didn’t respond to requests for more information, according to U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing intelligence matters.
While Obama described the review as being conducted by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, it was initiated and is being performed by inspectors general for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, according to Clapper’s spokesman.
“This is not an investigation,” spokesman Shawn Turner said today in an e-mailed statement. “This is an independent review of information-sharing procedures. It is limited to the handling of information related to the suspects prior to the attack.”
Clapper “believes that every agency involved in collecting and sharing information prior to the attack took all the appropriate steps,” according to Turner.
The watchdog offices for the intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are conducting the review, he said.
U.S. authorities have said Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19, detonated two homemade bombs near the marathon’s finish line on April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 200. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a shootout with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with two capital counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Obama said tracking terrorists in the U.S. who “may not be part of any kind of network” is “hard stuff.”
“One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States,” Obama said.
The president also reiterated at the news conference his position that more investigation is needed on whether chemical weapons have been used by the regime in Syria. He also said he would push anew to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and called on Congress to negotiate with him on a long- term deficit reduction deal.
Obama repeated his previous praise of how law enforcement agencies performed after the Boston bombing, and he said Russia has been “very cooperative” since the attack.
“There are still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back 10, 20, 30 years, back to the Cold War,” Obama said. “But they’re continually improving.”
Members of Congress say they want to know what happened when Tamerlan Tsarnaev boarded a flight to Russia from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in January 2012.
Because of the FBI investigation, Tamerlan was listed in a government database called the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, maintained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security Department. That system alerted Customs to the trip, according to two people briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified because the bombing investigation continues.
At issue is what Customs and Border Protection officials did with that information. Ultimately, the FBI agent who investigated Tamerlan should have been alerted, the two people said. It’s not clear whether the information would have caused the FBI to renew its inquiry.
One of the people said a Homeland Security official who’s part of an FBI-led terrorism task force -- created after the 2001 attacks so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies could share information -- was informed. Lawmakers are looking into whether that official communicated the information to the FBI.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina faulted the Obama administration over its handling of the information from Russia.
“Both the FBI and CIA were warned by the Russians about a radical Islamist in our midsts,” Graham said today in a statement. “Once enrolled in the system as a potential terror suspect, the older brother was able to travel back to Russia unimpeded by DHS or any of our intelligence agencies.”
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