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FBI Says Data About Probe Of Bombing Suspect Was Shared

FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers (at the microphones), Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis (standing, at far left) and other authorities briefing the news media on April 19. That's the day Boston bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother, Dzhokhar, was captured.
Neal Hamberg
Reuters /Landov
FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers (at the microphones), Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis (standing, at far left) and other authorities briefing the news media on April 19. That's the day Boston bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother, Dzhokhar, was captured.

Boston Police Chief Edward Davis told Congress on Thursday that before the Boston Marathon bombings, his department wasn't aware the FBI had questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev in recent years about whether he had been in contact with Muslim extremists in Dagestan.

As far as he knew, Davis said, the FBI did not share that information with local authorities.

The chief conceded that even if his department had known, that might not have prevented the April 15 blasts at the Boston Marathon — which the now-deceased Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzohkhar, are accused of carrying out.

Later on Thursday, the FBI's Boston Division released a statement from Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers in which he says the bureau's "assessment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev" was entered into a database which representatives of the Boston Police can access.

Here's the full statement:

"Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTFs) members, including the state and local members, are responsible for maintaining awareness of possible threats to their respective jurisdictions. To manage and provide accessibility to the significant number of assessments conducted by the JTTF, each task force member has access to Guardian, a web-based counterterrorism incident management application that was launched in July 2004.

"In Guardian, threat and suspicious activity incidents are entered, assigned and managed in a paperless environment and allows terrorist threats and suspicious activities to be viewed instantaneously by all system users. The primary purpose of Guardian is to make immediately available threat and suspicious activity information to all system users and to provide all users with the capability to search all incidents for threat trend analysis.

"Further, all JTTF members are able to perform customized key word searches of Guardian to identify relevant Assessment activity. Boston JTTF members, including representatives from the Boston Police Department (BPD), were provided instruction on using Guardian, including suggestions on methods for proactively reviewing and establishing customized searches, which would allow them to be fully informed of all JTTF activity that may affect Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Guardian allows for the necessary accessibility and awareness that otherwise would be unfeasible given the number of Assessments that are conducted by the JTTF on a regular basis.

"Many state and local departments, including the BPD, have representatives who are full-time members of the JTTF, and specifically had representatives assigned to the JTTF squad that conducted the 2011 Assessment of deceased terrorism suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As set forth by law and policy, assessments may be carried out to detect, obtain information about, or prevent or protect against federal crimes or threats to the national security or to collect foreign intelligence when the information provided to the FBI does not rise to a level that would allow for the opening of a predicated investigation. By their very nature, and in accordance with U.S. Constitutional restrictions, JTTF members are limited in the types of investigative methods that can be utilized in an Assessment.

"In 2011 alone, the Boston JTTF conducted approximately 1,000 assessments, including the assessment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which was documented in the Guardian database. The Tsarnaev assessment was thorough, comprehensive and fully compliant with law and policy.

"While sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are composed of federal, state, local and tribal personnel and are based in more than 100 cities nationwide, including Boston. The JTTF is a collaborative environment that allows for the completely unrestricted flow of investigative information among task force members.

"Importantly, the purpose of sharing information freely is to create a force multiplier by enabling state, local and federal officials to participate in the intelligence cycle by gaining awareness of activity that may affect their respective jurisdictions and then providing any information from their own records that might assist in the further analysis and investigation of potential terrorists. Further, Fusion Centers, entities separate and apart from JTTFs, are designed to provide terrorism-related information to the JTTFs for possible investigative purposes. State and local law enforcement personnel, analysts and FBI personnel at Fusion Centers who have the appropriate security clearances are afforded the same unrestricted access as their FBI colleagues."

From 'Morning Edition': Brian Naylor reports

As NPR's Brian Naylor reported on Morning Edition, members of Congress want to know much more about the information that was collected about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, how it was or was not shared, and whether any of the clues might have prevented the bombings. The explosions killed three people and injured more than 250.

Also Friday morning, The New York Times reported that the elder Tsarnaev brother expressed an "avid interest in waging jihad" during a 2012 trip to Russia, according to two of his acquaintances.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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