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House HS Committee’s Follow-Up Report on Boston Bombings Cites Continuing Info-Sharing Problems

The House Committee on Homeland Security Tuesday released a follow-up report to an earlier committee examination of the lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombings which concluded that progress in intelligence sharing is still lacking.

The follow-up report released Tuesday stated that, “While the progress made since the Boston Marathon bombing appears to have had an effect on enhancing collaboration on counterterrorism investigations, the committee  remains concerned about the continuedreliance of personal relationships for  information sharing in the field.”

“Throughout the committee’s follow-up, state and local law enforcement  articulated their concern about the rate of rotational leadership changes at FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) field offices, and the effect  they House HS Committee’s Follow-Up Report on Boston Bombings Cites Continuing Info-Sharing Problems Homeland Security Todaycould have on cooperation in their region. Several of the committee’s additional recommendations seek to institutionalize structures for facilitating information sharing that can serve as a complement to the personal relationships that exist between organizations.”

The new follow-up report, Preventing Another Boston Marathon Bombing: Review the Lessons Learned from the 2013Terror Attack, also stated that “DHS, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) the FBI, and their partners must explore ways to share information with their state and local partners that go beyond traditional  briefings to ensure that pertinent information is disseminated to all  the relevant consumers within the state or local organizations.”

The report added that the committee intends to find ways “to make information from closed threat assessments and preliminary investigations [by DHS, FBI and NCTC] accessible to state and local partners for analysis based on their authorities and investigative priorities.”

The committee’s initial March 2014 report, The Road to Boston: Counterterrorism Challenges and Lessons from the Marathon Bombings, had also stated that, US law enforcement and intelligence agencies failed to effectively communicate and share intelligence on the two brothers who carried out the jihad terror attack on the Boston Marathon.

The highly anticipated report exposed shortcomings in interagency cooperation and information sharing on the brothers between the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and other US agencies leading up to the bombings.

“There were opportunities in which greater sharing of information might have altered the course of events,” the committee’s report concluded, stressing that, “Such failures must not be allowed to persist.”

The challenges addressed by the committee in the initial report echoed similar flaws that were addressed by the 9/11 Commission’s final report released in 2004. In particular, the report critiqued the FBI’s initial reluctance to assist the investigation into the Tsarnaev brothers as indicative of a “pre-911 mindset.”

“This report addresses procedures, personal actions, and a failure of information-sharing that must be changed,” Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass), a committee member who played a key role in crafting the committee’s report, said at the time. “We’ll never really know what may have happened if things were done differently, but as we move forward, implementing these changes is my top priority.”

Released by committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Keating, the follow-up report released Tuesday concluded that, “When properly trained and informed, state and local law enforcement officers, analysts and first responders can be a powerful force multiplier to federal counterterrorism efforts.”

“Now, more than ever, as the threat from terrorism shifts from sophisticated global plots to small groups of Islamist extremists, radicalized on the Internet,  the federal government must find ways to maximize the unique knowledge and relationships that state and local agencies have with their communities, to ensure it has a holistic view of the threat environment,” the report stated.

“The second anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings is not only a day to remember everyone directly impacted when the bombs went off, it is also a day to review the steps taken, and the steps still needed, to close the gaps that allowed this tragic event to occur,” McCaul said in a statement Tuesday. He added, “We must ensure state and local entities have the information they need to be the force multipliers for our nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Closing the gaps in information-sharing is especially important with the recent increase in homegrown terror and the rise of ISIS. While there is more work to be done, today America is safer because of the progress made on all the recommendations from the committee’s initial investigative report on the Boston Marathon Bombings.”

Keating added that, “Two years ago, Chairman McCaul and I set out on a path to identify missteps that led to the Boston Marathon Bombing and work to closethose gaps. We said then that we wouldn’t simply identify lessons learned from yet another tragedy and move on. Today, we stand before you to demonstrate our commitment to the people of Massachusetts and to our law enforcement professionals who work to protect us each and every day. This follow-up report builds upon the information gathered from our fact-finding trips to Russia, Boston and other law enforcement hubs across the US. More specifically, it details follow-up interviews with the heroic first responders of Boston who noted that while great progress has been made in terms of information sharing between federal and local law enforcement, there is still more work to be done.”

The committee completed its investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing in March 2014, releasing the initial report that identified four key areas needing  improvement and issued seven recommendations to help strengthen the federal government’s counterterrorism efforts.

Since the report was released, the committee has continued to monitor the progress of the federal government in closing the gaps that contributed to the tragic events in Boston. The committee pointed out four areas for improvement, which include:

  • Cooperation between federal and local law enforcement can be improved;
  • Policy surrounding the use of travel records and the screening of international travelers can be refined;
  • There is room for more thorough information sharing with regard to various terror/travel watch lists at the federal level;
  • Over the long-term, more sophisticated efforts are required to mitigate terrorist threats;

In its new report, the committee examined the interagency’s efforts to address these issues and detailed “what we have learned with respect to progress made toward several of our specific recommendations.”

The committee stated that it’s “pleased to note that since the [initial] report was released the federal government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and NCTC, have taken specific actions to address each of the four areas outlined in the report, but also stated there are “areas where further improvements can and should be made.”

In November 2013, the results of a DHS funded study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) presented related important policy considerations for law enforcement.

The results of the study “suggest[ed] that public attitudes toward terrorism and government responses to it are fairly stable, even in the face of a highly publicized terrorist event.” At the same time, however, “a highly publicized event appears to increase the willingness of the American public to help the authorities prevent future attacks.”

Homeland Security Today reported at thetime that the policy implications for these two principal findings indicated the need for supporting “increased levels of community engagement between DHS, local law enforcement and local communities, especially following highly publicized terrorist events.”

“A highly publicized event appears to increase the willingness of the American public to help authorities prevent future attacks,” said Gary LaFree, START director and lead author of the study. “The results of the study also underscore a long understood characteristic of policing in general: that to be effective, policing requires direct citizen engagement and cooperation.”

Both before and after the Boston Marathon bombings, START found about 60 percent of respondents expressed a willingness to meet with DHS officials or local police about terrorism. Furthermore, the study found that “the proportion of respondents who said they had heard about DHS’s ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign remained consistent before (26.3 percent) and after (27.6 percent) the bombings. Of these people, roughly 4 out of 5 thought the campaign would be somewhat or very effective.”

A START survey that was released only hours before the Boston Marathon bombings had found more than 56 percent of Americans said they’d never heard anything about DHS’s If You See Something, Say Something campaign.

And while an additional 20 percent said they were not sure whether they had heard anything about it, “clear majorities of respondents said they would be willing to meet with DHS (57 percent) or local police (58 percent) to talk about terrorism,” the study found.

Referring to the START study, LaFree said it was not surprising that after the bombings Americans were less likely to say the government was effective in preventing terrorism in the United States. The survey showed that before the bombings, 86.9 percent of respondents viewed the government as very or somewhat effective, compared with 78.5 percent after.

Both before and after, roughly 3 out of 4 people said that “terrorists will always find a way to carry out major domestic attacks,” while 1 in 4 said that “the government can eventually prevent all major attacks in the United States,” START said.

By comparing survey responses of American adults before and after the Boston Marathon Bombings, START researchers evaluated how US attitudes about terrorism and counterterrorism changed.

“After the bombings, Americans perceived higher probabilities of a terrorist attack occurring in the United States — 26 percent saying they viewed an attack as somewhat, very, or extremely likely after the bombings compared with about 13 percent before the bombings,” START said. “However, there was no change in respondents’ views regarding the probability of a terrorist attack happening in their community.”

START also found that there was no difference in the proportion of respondents who said they had thought about the possibility of a terrorist attack during the previous week, and no difference in the proportion of people who said they had changed their behaviors due to the possibility of attack.

“After the bombings, there was an increase in the proportion of respondents saying they would be very or somewhat likely to call the police if they became aware of various terrorism-related scenarios,” START said.

According to a national poll that was conducted in September by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (UMass Lowell), not only do more Americans believe that the threat of terrorism has increased over the last decade, but since the Boston Marathon bombings in April, nearly two-thirds of Americans said they are more concerned about a terrorist attack on US soil.

Counterterrorism and law enforcement authorities have repeatedly told Homeland Security Today that local intelligence is critical to connecting the dots in terrorism investigations.

"Fifty percent of the ‘dots’ that prevent the next 9/11 will come from bottom-up [local] level observation” and unconventional intelligence from “private sector parties,” said veteran intelligence officer Robert David Steele.

A Duke University Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS) April 2011 survey of public attitudes, Building on Clues: Methods to Help State and Local Law Enforcement Detect and Characterize Terrorist Activity, stated 80 percent of foiled terrorist plots were discovered as a result of tips and clues from law enforcement or the general public, and documented the key role that state and local law enforcement play in preventing terrorist attacks.

“The terrorist and criminal alike are constrained by the laws of physics that we all are … they both operate in the city streets and towns, committing non-terrorist crimes that if caught by a trained officer could lead to a much bigger crime picture,” said former Oklahoma City-based Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Executive Director David Cid, a formerFBI counterterrorism specialist.

MIPT, which had been funded by DHS, had developed a DHS-funded training program for law enforcement called Information Collection on Patrol (InCOP), the goal of which was to improve the quantity and detail of observation and reporting of suspicious activity by street cops.

InCOP was the nation’s only program to train front line law enforcement officers on how to spot potential terrorist activity, recognize signs of possible threats and how to effectively gather crucial intelligence that possibly could result in actionable intelligence to be shared with other state and federal agencies.

InCOP was designed to improve the fundamental and essential skills of information collection for uniformed officers. InCOP concepts were reinforced by the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI), which MIPT was an official training provider for the Nationwide SAR Initiative.

It was because the majority of police departments lack the funding for this sort of very specific training that DHS funded the InCOP program to begin with, which, by all accounts, produced results in a number of large metropolitan cities whose police officers MIPT trained, including one rookie street cop who, using his training, identified and helped thwart an individual who was making and selling IEDs to Central American-based gang members in the United States.

InCOP suggested that “all crime is local” and improves the quantity and qualityHouse HS Committee’s Follow-Up Report on Boston Bombings Cites Continuing Info-Sharing Problems Homeland Security Today of reporting by the line officer, a methodology that is supported by the IHSS report that examined open-source material on foiled and executed plots against US targets to determine the types of information and activities that led to or could have led to their discovery.

The IHSS study concluded “that law enforcement, assisted by the public, is generally the first line of defense in detecting terrorist plots. In over 80 percent of the foiled plots in our dataset, the initial clue came from law enforcement (20 federal cases and 15 state/local cases) or from public reporting (20 cases)."

MIPT, though, was recently defunded by DHS, effectively shutting down the admittedly successful InCOP training program, which the Boston Police Department, incidentally, had been trained in.

Under its DHS funding of InCOP, MIPT was supposed to eventually train 850,000 law enforcement officers throughout the United States.

DHS claimed that necessary budget cuts “require[d] difficult choices to align resources to address the greatest needs of the department.” Using the excuse of sequestration, DHS abruptly eliminated funding for InCOP, effectively shutting down MIPT — never mind that DHS continued to frivolously waste, abuse and questionably spend hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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