Intelligence Sharing in Wake of Boston Marathon Bombings

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

Intelligence Sharing

Thursday, April 25, 2013

There is a lot of finger pointing going on in Washington in the last two weeks.  It’s a lot like the weeks and months after 9/11.  What warning signs were missed about the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon?  

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies tell conflicting stories.  Bureaucracies are gearing up to do battle over who dropped the ball.  They’re preparing their defenses.  They’re leaking bits and pieces of information favorable to themselves.

Meanwhile, Congress and the public have a growing number of questions.  I have written the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.  Senator Paul and I have written to the FBI.  But, the Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet received clear answers to our questions.  

And, there are very serious questions about whether our government has forgotten the lessons of 9/11.  The most important of those lessons is this:  When extremist fanatics say they want to wage war against us, we should take them seriously.

Our government was reportedly warned on multiple occasions that one of these brothers had become a radical jihadist.  Do we still have agencies failing to follow up, failing to share information, and failing to connect the dots?

In this morning’s Washington Post, the Editorial Board asked, “Is the FBI focused enough on the real bad guys?”  The editorial pointed out that in addition to the older brother in Boston, several people that have been investigated by the FBI have gone on to commit attacks.

The Post cited two examples:

•    The man who shot two soldiers at a Little Rock military recruiting office in 2009, and

•    The man who is accused of shooting and killing 13 people at Fort Hood later that year.

According to the editorial:

“Meanwhile, the FBI has devoted considerable resources to sting operations . . . sometimes on what look like dubious grounds.”

For example, the FBI launched an elaborate sting operation in Boston against a man plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol with a remote-controlled model airplane loaded with grenades.

As the Post concluded:

“In [some cases], it’s not clear that a sometimes far-fetched plot would have gone forward without the encouragement and help of FBI informants.”

That’s a good point.

It may be easier for an FBI informant to draw someone into a far-fetched plan.  But it’s harder to detect a real terrorist plot like the one in Boston.  

Unfortunately, it’s connecting the dots that keeps us safe, not those easy sting operations.  Other warning signs about the older brother may have been missed because tips about him weren’t shared between law enforcement.  The older brother’s best American friend was murdered in an unusual triple homicide.  My office has been told local authorities investigating the murder were unaware of the warnings from Russia about his radicalization.  Thus, those local authorities in turn apparently didn’t know they should make the FBI aware of the murder.

Four months later, the older brother traveled to Russia—just as the Russian government had warned.  The FBI claims it was unaware of the older brother’s trip, even though the Homeland Security Department says its systems alerted them to the travel.

Did the Homeland Security Department fail to share that information with the FBI?

The immigration reform bill, with all its bells and whistles, can’t make agencies share information with each other.  That bill is supposed to require background checks on the 12 million people in our country illegally.  Yet it seems we have a hard time doing successful background checks just on those here legally.

Lack of information-sharing and failure to see real warning signs are probably things that no bill will fix.  What has to change is the culture.  That begins at the top.  It requires true leadership.

At the end of the day, this is about much more than who dropped the ball.  It is about learning from mistakes, and doing a better job next time.  In order to do that, we need real transparency about what happened—not just talking points from agencies tying to deflect the blame.