By Peter Cooney
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A congressional report issued on Wednesday on the Boston Marathon bombings urges more cooperation among law enforcement agencies, saying a “greater sharing of information might have altered the course of events.”
The report by the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee outlined what it called “missed opportunities” that potentially could have prevented the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
Two Chechen brothers who lived in the Boston area, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are suspected of carrying out the bombings last April 15 at the Boston Marathon. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 23, died after a gunfight with police while he and his brother were trying to flee Boston several days after the attack.
The younger Tsarnaev was wounded and later arrested and is awaiting trial in November on charges that could result in the death penalty if he is convicted.
The report investigated the U.S. probe of Tamerlan Tsarnaev following a warning to the FBI by Russian authorities in 2011 that he had become radicalized and might return to Russia to join extremist groups there.
After the Russian warning, a task force of federal, state and local authorities launched an investigation that included checks of government databases and interviews with Tsarnaev and his parents. It found no evidence of terrorist activity.
A memo was also sent to the Customs and Border Protection database called TECS that would trigger an alert whenever he left or re-entered the United States.
But when Tsarnaev went to New York’s JFK airport in New York in January 2012 to board a flight to Moscow, he did not receive the requested screening. The report said there was no evidence that Customs and Border Protection officials at the airport examined Tsarnaev’s TECS record. Tsarnaev was not on a No Fly list.
After spending six months in the Russian region of Dagestan, an experience U.S. investigators suspect played an important role in his radicalization, Tsarnaev flew back to JFK airport on July 17, 2012. The report said there was no record that information was passed along among federal agencies, and he was not detained or questioned after his flight landed.
The report added that Tsarnaev’s name on one of the alerts was misspelled “Tsarnayev.”
Noting that after his return from Dagestan, Tsarnaev began to post “extremist-themed videos” and disrupted services at his mosque, the report said a second FBI assessment “or even the decision to expand into a preliminary investigation after Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s return could potentially have yielded evidence to suggest that he had been radicalized.”
“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,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said in a statement.
“Following through on the report’s recommendations is critical to fixing serious gaps in our counterterrorism efforts.”
(This story was refiled to fix a typographical error in paragraph 9)
(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)