As Republicans continue to raise questions regarding the Obama administration’s handling of intelligence leading up to the Boston bombings, the House this week will hold the first of what is expected to be many congressional hearings on the issue.
Three high-profile witnesses are scheduled to testify Thursday at the GOP-controlled House Homeland Security Committee’s hearing: Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, Massachusetts Undersecretary for Homeland Security Director Kurt Schwartz and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who served as chairman of the Senate homeland security panel from 2007 until his retirement in January.
“Two weeks ago, our country was attacked by radical Islamist terrorists. Four lives were lost and hundreds of others were forever changed,” Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, said last week. “As our nation recovers, it is imperative that we understand what happened, what signs may have been missed and what we can improve.”
Mr. McCaul said his hearing will focus on how law enforcement addressed the bombing area after the attack, and how federal, state and local agencies shared information on the suspects leading up to — and after — the two bombings at the Boston Marathon.
The hearing, which the chairman promised will be part of a broader investigation into the bombings, also will look at security challenges since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.
“Ultimately, the investigation will assess how our efforts have evolved to meet the dynamic terrorist threat of foreign-inspired attacks on our soil and what changes may be necessary to protect the homeland,” Mr. McCaul said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in custody, charged with setting off the bombs April 15 with his elder brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police during the manhunt for the two. The brothers, born of Chechen origin in areas of the former Soviet Union, immigrated to the United States as children with their family.
Many Capitol Republicans have accused U.S. intelligence agencies of failing to follow up on warnings from Russian officials in recent years that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had radical ties. U.S. officials have countered that, after initially checking the tips, Moscow failed to cooperate.
Democrats generally have been less critical of the U.S. intelligence community. But Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Thomas R. Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said he has asked the Homeland Security Department for information regarding the federal government’s role in the events before and after the attack. He said he also expects to hold hearings on the matter once his panel has reviewed the information.
“It is critical that we conduct a proper examination of the actions of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and its interactions with state and local government partners, so that we as a nation are better able to anticipate, prevent, or if necessary respond to, the next terrorist threat,” Mr. Carper and the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, said in a joint statement last week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has called for a congressional joint select committee to look at the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security’s roles in the lead-up and aftermath of the Boston bombings.
“It’s not so much about blaming people as to get it right,” Mr. Graham told CNN last week.
Mr. Graham said he is particularly upset over reports that the Homeland Security Department didn’t share information with the FBI and CIA during Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s six-month visit to southern Russia last year.
“Clearly to me the systems did not work the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “I’m shocked this happened after 9/11 where people no longer talk to each other. I thought we’d gotten over that.”
President Obama has defended the nation’s intelligence network, saying last week that it “did what it was supposed to be doing” before the Boston attack.
Mr. Obama said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is conducting “standard procedure” review into the government’s handling of intelligence information leading up to the Boston Marathon bombings.
“We want to go back and we want to review every step that was taken,” the president said. “We want to leave no stone unturned.”