Stopping the Boston bombings wouldn't have been "easy," but former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., argued that it was, in fact, "possible to have prevented the terrorist attacks" that killed four people and injured more than 260 last month at the Boston marathon.
Lieberman, speaking Thursday at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing examining the situation surrounding the bombings, acknowledged that "nobody bats 1000 percent" when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks. But he contended that federal intelligence about the suspected perpetrators should have been shared with state and local law enforcement agencies - and that the intelligence community's failure to do so "may be one of the most significant and painful takeaway lessons" from the incident.
"I believe that though it would not have been easy, it was possible to have prevented the terrorist attacks in Boston," said Lieberman, the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who also co-authored the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security. "In a literal sense, the homeland security system, we must acknowledge, that we built after 9 /11 to protect the American people from terrorist attacks, failed to stop the Tsarnaev brothers."
On April 15, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three civilians and injuring hundreds. Two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are believed to have carried out those attacks; they are also suspected of having killed a police officer in an attempted escape. After a shoot-out and subsequent manhunt, the older brother, Tamerlan, is dead, and the younger, Dzhokhar, is in police custody.
In the aftermath of the bombings, it became clear that Russian intelligence agencies had requested the United States look into Tamerlan Tsarnaev for possible terrorist ties; the FBI and CIA both investigated his case, and the CIA ultimately requested that he be put on a terrorist watch list.
It appears, however, that state and local law enforcement and intelligence sharing agencies in Massachusetts were not made aware of this intelligence about the brothers; Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis testified Thursday that the Boston police was not aware of the investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, nor were they aware of any of the various details that were later flagged as suspicious.
"We were not aware of the two brothers," he said. "We were not aware of Tamerlan's activities."
Kurt Schwartz, Massachusetts' undersecretary for homeland security, said neither the state police nor the Homeland Security Fusion centers - which aim to serve as interagency resource sharing points - knew anything about the brothers.
"Why didn't they involve the local law enforcers who could have stayed on this case and picked up signals from some of the students who interacted with him, from the people in the mosque who threw out Tamerlan?" Lieberman wondered. "That could have prevented all this from happening."
In his opening remarks, Davis also stressed the need to better enlist the community in counterterrorism efforts, arguing that even the most advance technology can't pick up on potential red flag behaviors like people can.
"There's no computer that's going to spit out a terrorist name," he said. "It's the community being involved in the conversation and being appropriately open to communicating with law enforcement when something awry is identified. That really needs to happen. And so that should be our first step."
Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also argued that "radical Islamists still threaten our homeland" - and that the "emerging narrative that downplays the spread of the global jihadist movement" is detrimental to American safety.
"You cannot defeat an enemy you refuse to acknowledge," he said.