Lawmakers vow bombing investigations
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday promised an exhaustive House inquiry into whether the FBI should have more rigorously investigated terror suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev before last week’s Boston Marathon bombing.
Boehner said the House Judiciary, Intelligence, and Homeland Security committees would all be looking into how closely the FBI investigated Tsarnaev, who was killed Friday after he and his younger brother allegedly carried out a string of bombings and shootings that terrorized Boston.
The committees will investigate “whether the FBI dropped the ball or didn’t drop the ball,” Boehner said on Fox.
Lawmakers in both chambers have begun pointing fingers at the FBI, which interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 in response to Russian concerns that the ethnic Chechen boxer might be a threat.
Tsarnaev was living legally in the United States, and critics argue the FBI did not keep close enough tabs on Tsarnaev after agents interviewed him.
Boehner said the FBI walks a fine line when investigating possible terrorist activity because civil liberty protections limit the extent to which it can monitor the activity of Americans.
“We’re going to have to make a determination how well they walk that line,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is planning to launch a series of hearings to examine how the attack occurred, its implication for the nation’s security, and how law enforcement and lawmakers can prevent future attacks, an aide said.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said that while McCaul will ultimately set the tone and scope of the committee’s hearings, he expects them to examine a wide range of areas.
“We need to get the details of what happened, what weapons were used, what explosives were used, where they got them, did anyone facilitate them, is there any evidence of radical elements in the community that they came into contact with,” King said in a telephone interview on Monday.
“I would also ask whether the FBI shared any information with the Boston Police Department, including the interview in 2011.”
King, the committee’s former chairman, is the only House member who sits on both the Homeland Security and Intelligence panels.
In preparation for the hearings, McCaul and King sent a letter Saturday to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and FBI Director Robert Mueller asking their agencies to turn over every piece of information the government has on Tamerlan Tsarnaev by Friday.
Tamerlan’s brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured on Friday and charged Monday with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in the United States.
King also pointed to a series of hearings he held in the last Congress on radicalization within the Muslim-American community in the United States.
King said the Boston attack was proof that his hearings addressed a key issue in need of lengthy discussion within the country.
Democrats vehemently objected to the hearings, claiming they were derogatory and unproductive.
“I would hope now that people who opposed the hearings, looking back, would realize that I was right and that, if they would pay more attention to what was brought out at the hearing, rather than attacking me, we would be in a better situation today,” King said.
“Clearly I was on the right path, the right target, and the hearings were conducted professionally. And the whole idea of radical Islam taking hold among a small but dangerous minority has been shown again.”
King said the issue of radicalization and extremism within the Chechen-American community will be one component of McCaul’s hearings on the Boston attacks.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Monday also called for Congress to examine the laws governing the FBI’s ability to track Muslim extremist activity within the United States.
“In 2012 and 2013, when he became more radical, when he went on the Internet, when he interacted with this imam in Boston, the FBI tells me there [are] limitations on what they can do in situations like that,” Graham said in an interview on Fox.
“So we need to revisit our laws. What the FBI told me sounded very reasonable. But the FBI’s hands are tied here when it comes to following radical Islamist websites, and we’re at war, folks. And if we don’t realize it, there’s gonna be more of this.”
King said that congressional investigations of the attack should also look at whether Russia had any information on the brothers that could have prepared the United States for a possible attack.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee are both closely monitoring the federal investigation into Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is recovering from serious neck wounds in a Boston hospital.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) has asked for more briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Carper said he “will continue to monitor it to determine if additional investigations are warranted,” according to a committee official.
Language in the continuing resolution passed last month included $500,000 for an outside review of the FBI’s domestic terrorism response efforts and an analysis of the agency’s counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing policies.