A vastly expository congressional report released by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security revealed law enforcement agencies dismissed information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a threat to the United States in the years leading up to the bombing.
“Last April, the nation saw terror strike on Boylston Street, and since then we have all witnessed the resilience and strength of the Boston community,” said Committee Chairman Michael McCaul in a Wednesday release. “Over the past year, the Committee has investigated how this could have happened, and what can be done to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”
The report provides a history of Tsarnaev, his travels to Caucasus, his possible connections to terrorist networks and his travels to Russia. It claims this information was known before the bombings, but adequate action was not taken.
According to the report, Russia’s intelligence agency wrote letters to the FBI with biographical information on Tsarnaev and his family and stated he had previously wanted to go to Palestine to wage jihad. The Joint Terrorism Task Force opened an investigation, but due to small complications, it did not result in any extra screening of the suspect.
The report details how closer inspection of this information on Tsarnaev and more careful screening of his travels could have possibly prevented the bombings from ever happening.
“Given his interest in jihadist materials, it is possible [customs] officials might have found something in his possession that would have revealed the threat he posed,” said the report. “This lack of communication represents a failure to proactively share information that could potentially save lives. Indeed, any further scrutiny upon Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s return from Russia might have prevented the bombing if it revealed evidence of his radicalization or of ties to terrorism.”
After highlighting the mistakes law enforcement agencies made, without directly blaming any of them, the report outlines four areas in which these agencies can improve to prevent future terrorist attacks.
The report suggests increasing cooperation between federal and local law enforcers, including granting local law enforcement access to the FBI’s terror database and providing means for easier and more efficient sharing of terrorist information between the federal and local levels, could be one way to prevent a similar situation from occurring.
The policy regarding screening the travel records of suspicious persons needs to be altered so screening is more thorough and the information obtained is shared. Additionally, the public needs to be provided more in-depth information on what is truly going on with terrorism, according the report.
Finally, intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to be continually exploring terrorist threats and actively combating them to ensure the feasibility of prevention.
“This bipartisan report focuses on how evidence of the alleged bombers’ intent to carry out a terrorist act were shared between local, state and federal agencies, and how in certain tragic instances, critical opportunities were overlooked,” McCaul said. “Following through on the report’s recommendations is critical to fixing serious gaps in our counterterrorism efforts.”
Looking back, those signs pointing to Tsarnaev may not have been as obvious before the bombings occurred. Anthony Amore, lecturer of homeland security at Fisher College, insists that the bombings could not have been foreseen.
“The Tsarnaev brothers pulled off their evil attack at an event that is particularly difficult to secure,” he said. “Any time an attack occurs, the instinct is to assess blame. Might there have been better information sharing? Absolutely. But the only parties to blame are Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, those who provided them with the technical knowledge they used to construct their bombs, those who abetted their attempt to flee and those who inspired them to conduct such an atrocity.”
Several residents said continual improvement on counter-terrorism strategies is useful, but blaming people for what happened in the past is not.
“Hindsight is 20/20, so of course it all seems cut and dry when they go back and look at everything,” said Denise Kane, 52, of Boston. “But I’m sure that everything they’re pointing out now wasn’t as obvious before everything happened. They should use this information to be better in the future, but make sure not to blame anyone, that’s not fair.”
Richard Liou, 46, of Brighton, said no one could have known what was going to happen, but said more action should definitely have been taken.
“It’s complicated, because on one hand, we shouldn’t point fingers, but on the other hand we need to learn from the past and make sure to take action no matter how small the evidence is against a person,” he said. “If [the bombings] could have somehow been prevented, we need to make sure to take those steps in the future.”