JUNE 17, 2014
Nearly 13 years after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, it’s pathetic that Congress actually had to create a law to force the nation’s intelligence agencies to once and for all share valuable information that can help foil a repeat.
It took another deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil—the Boston Marathon bombings—more than a decade later to push Congress to finally take action. It may seem inconceivable that little has been done over the years to improve the fragmented intelligence bureaucracy that essentially permitted Islamic jihadists to plan 9/11 from inside the United States.
When Chechen terrorists set off bombs at last year’s Boston Marathon, it jolted some lawmakers into making changes. The story was all too familiar; Homeland Security officials missed a number of opportunities to stop the attack—carried out by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—because they failed to properly investigate, coordinate and communicate. In fact the monstrous failure is documented in a congressional report issued earlier this year.
It reveals that the FBI and Customs and Border Protection (CPB), both Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies, could have intercepted at least one of the Boston Marathon bombers if they had done their job! A big part of this includes sharing information with other law enforcement agencies, including local police. The older Tsarnaev brother had quite an intel file, but the feds didn’t share the alarming details with local law enforcement officials.
A decade earlier we had heard a similar story involving 9/11. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the agency responsible for protecting the United States against foreign threats, also missed many opportunities to stop the 9/11 hijackers and failed to uncover important intelligence about the Islamic terrorists that murdered thousands of innocent Americans. It’s as if the Three Stooges are in charge of national security. For decades the various intelligence agencies simply don’t communicate with each other.
Now Congress has finally stepped in to try to force the various agencies to collaborate. The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that aims to repair the lack of information sharing that crippled investigations into Tamerlan Tsarnaev months before he detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and hundreds were seriously wounded by the blasts. Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating authored the bill in response to the bombings and it requires several intelligence agencies to review their practices for sharing information and report back to Congress within 90 days.
“It’s something that’s plagued us since 9/11, this lack of information sharing,” Congressman Keating, a Democrat, said in a Boston newspaper story on the measure. “This is why we have breakdowns. They’re not talking to each other, they’re not sharing information, they don’t have a prearranged agreement that they will share information.” Keating’s law has strong bipartisan support and has been co-sponsored by two Republicans, Tom Rooney of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York.
If the Senate approves the measure the FBI, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) must conduct a thorough assessment on the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) signed between federal, state, and local law enforcement entities. MOUs serve as the foundation for Joint Terrorism Task Forces and other cooperative information-sharing structures associated with law enforcement. They assign appropriate roles and responsibilities to the officers operating within these structures, as well as provide the regulations governing the individual structures.
This didn’t occur in the months leading up to the Boston Marathon bombings, where intelligence gaps have been blamed for missing opportunities to foil the attack. Boston’s police commissioner at the time testified that federal agents kept local officials in the dark about their 2011 investigation into Tsarnaev or that the terrorist had traveled to Russia in 2012. Similar failures occurred before 9/11. In fact, a Justice Department Inspector General report disclosed that the FBI missed at least five opportunities before the 2001 terrorist attacks to uncover crucial intelligence about the perpetrators. The watchdog blamed the FBI for not knowing that two of the 9/11 hijackers lived in the U.S. and for failing to follow up on an agent’s theory that Osama bin Laden sending students to American flight schools.
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