WASHINGTON: The Austin serial bombing in March of 2018 killed two innocents in addition to the bomber. Another five civilians and a police officer were injured. The Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15, 2013 killed three, injuring another 260 people. Sixteen of which lost their legs.
The youngest amputee was a seven-year-old girl. The youngest fatality was an eight-year-old boy.
The Austin and Boston bombing cases are very different.
Subsequent to the bombs in Austin, the law enforcement community did an outstanding job working together. They were a tremendous force of good to identify and eliminate the bomber quickly.
The leadership of Austin Police Chief Manley was exceptional and the law enforcement agencies demonstrated a great response to an event that already occurred.
There was little that could be done to stop the Austin Bombers until the bomber identity was known.
In the Boston case, a specific lead came in 2 years prior to the actual bombing. The FBI knew that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a potential threat. But it was kept close to the chest of the bureau, who failed to proactively share that information with other agencies.
And that is where there is a huge difference between Boston and Austin.
The Boston bombing was the result of a madman on a mission combined with a total failure of information sharingå
Making Boston textbook is how the various law enforcement agencies came together following the bombing shutting down the terrorist’s ability to do more harm. However, to keep the public safe, government agencies must do more. The must share information before the fatal event takes place.
Following 911, there hasn’t been enough done to share critical information from the terror investigations with the criminal law enforcement personnel. When the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) are looking into the leads with potential terror links, they should always be using resources like the Drug Enforcement Agency Special Operations Division (DEA – SOD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Program Fusion Center to identify possible links. These are resources controlled by the Department of Justice and have an abundance of criminal law enforcement intelligence that can enhance the efforts of the JTTF’s.
The FBI dropped the Tsarnaev intelligence warning
Most citizens don’t realize that before the Boston Bombing if the FBI queried their own personnel at SOD and the OCDETF, they would have received intelligence information on the Tsarnaev family. This Information could have been used by the JTTF to possibly avert the attack.
The DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) was never contacted until after the bombing regarding the radical madman Tsarnaev even though the Attorney General recognized SOD as the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) criminal law enforcement synchronization center. SOD has an important role to help put the pieces of the puzzle together using the resources of all the participating agencies.
Keep in mind after 911, there was a coordination section stood up at SOD, known today as the counter-narcoterrorism operations center (CNTOC), that had the primary role of assisting the FBI counterterrorism efforts on these exact type of cases that had a criminal nexus to a terrorist.
The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) never contacted SOD in 2011 to gather intelligence on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Meaning law enforcement didn’t get critical intelligence necessary to stop the Brothers Tsarnaev. To keep America safe we need proactive investigative law enforcement prior to the events not after people die.
We know the FBI and other agencies are outstanding at putting together evidence at crime scenes after the fact. They excel at developing evidence to prosecute people. But the fundamentally broken piece of the equation is what is not being done in advance to stop horrific events using all the tools of national power.
At the time of the Boston Bombing, SOD was working closely with the DOJ’s national OCDETF Fusion Center. Both of those centers were available to the FBI Terrorism agents looking to gather intelligence and to make case connections between terrorism and criminal threats.
Unfortunately, the JTTF in Boston didn’t use these two centers until AFTER the bombing. Had they been using those sources prior to the Boston Bombing, they would have received criminal intelligence on the Tsaernev family.
The importance of intelligence coordination
The JTTF should be coordinating with SOD especially since they have a counter narco-terrorism section at SOD with personnel from FBI criminal and counterterrorism divisions. The section was stood up by the AG, FBI Director and DEA Administrator after 911 to unite the efforts.
The counter narco-terrorism center (CNTOC) at SOD was built to support and de-conflict criminal cases around the globe with a nexus to terrorism and FBI counterterrorism resources were in the unit at the time of the 2011 information.
If the FBI JTTF in Boston had shared intelligence about Tamerlan in 2011, SOD would have provided a drug intelligence linked to Tamerlan and his sister that could have and should have been investigated long before the bombing.
This drug intelligence could have exposed the drug trafficking activities and the associations with one of the murdered subjects in the 9/11/11 triple homicide in Waltham Mass.
One of the deceased in the apartment along with Tamerlan’s gym buddy Brendon Mess, was a target of a joint DEA HSI major OCDETF marijuana case in Boston, Operation Blackstone.
Intelligence gathering – asking the question before you know it
By getting this intelligence in advance, the FBI JTTF could have tasked the DEA and HSI to investigate all the criminal intelligence received from SOD related to Tamerlan and his sister. By doing this in a proactive way using all the tools available to the FBI, the agents may have been able to identify the criminal activities of Tamerlan long before he had a chance to radicalize and plant the bombs in Boston in 2013.
Since the sharing wasn’t done until after the bombing, no one at the FBI JTTF in Boston knew this drug intelligence or that links to significant drug cases from New York City existed.
The concept of a task force multi-agency JTTF must be to use all the expertise and resources of the JTTF partner agencies. Since FBI counterterrorism had personnel representing them at SOD, they should have checked to ascertain it there was any information on Tamerlan Tsaernev from the criminal investigative side.
Robert Mueller? Yes, that Robert Mueller
Interesting to note is that then FBI Director Mueller testified to Congress that the FBI in Boston used all available tools to investigate the information on Tamerlan Tsaernev and that they did a “thorough investigation”.
From my position at SOD I believe Director Mueller never knew some of these important missing details before he testified.
The system failed once again based on the breakdown of information sharing.
Mueller testimony on Boston Bombing:
Lead Image: By Aaron "tango" Tang [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons