Critical Insight after the House “Boston to Austin” Information Sharing Hearing

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Americans are in the dark about information sharing among law enforcement agencies post-9/11.  The Austin to Boston hearing by the Homeland Security Committee is a case in point. The members examined information sharing 5 years after the Boston Bombing. People think everything is great as a result, but critical information sharing on terror cases oftentimes occurs after the fact. Proactive sharing is still not taking place at the level it should.

It’s a dangerous situation.

Subsequent to the House Homeland Security “Boston to Austin” hearing on April 18, 2018, I wanted to share some insight as a former law enforcement executive who has specific details on the event. I’m very pleased Chairman Michael Mc Caul and the Homeland Security Committee is following up on these important matters, but we have way more work to do to keep up with these complex threats.

To keep America safe we need proactive investigative law enforcement prior to the events not after people die.

WHAT WENT RIGHT AND WHAT WENT WRONG

As mentioned in the opening statement at the hearing, the Austin and Boston cases are very different. Following the bombs killing people in Austin, the law enforcement community did an outstanding job working together and were a tremendous force of good to identify and eliminate the suspect quickly.  The leadership of Austin Police Chief Manley was exceptional and the law enforcement agencies demonstrated a great RESPONSE to an actual event that already occurred.

In the Boston case, a specific lead came in 2 years prior to the actual bombing. That’s a huge difference and clearly the Boston example was a huge failure of information sharing in my view based on actual experience as the Director of the Special Operations Division (SOD). We need to review this event closely and make improvements based on lessons learned to maximize our public safety.

The ­­­­Boston case can be looked at as a positive experience in the aspect of how the law enforcement agencies came to together AFTER the bombing. They all did a great job to shut down the terrorist’s ability to do more harm, which was a great accomplishment.

That being stated, for the public’s maximum safety, the agencies must do more BEFORE terrorists events takes place. Even though I don’t have information that anything was done wrong in the Austin case and applaud the law enforcement community, I think comparing the Austin and Boston acts does a disservice and is misleading in many ways.

Yes, we have seen great progress on criminal law enforcement sharing after 911. We have also made great strides in sharing information on potential terror that is developed in criminal cases with the local Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF’s). The FBI has improved substantially on providing threat information to the state and local police and other partners. However, when the JTTF’s are looking into the leads with potential terror links, they should ALWAYS be using Department of Justice resources like Special Operations Division and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Fusion Center to develop possible criminal links to the terror suspects.

If an agency receives intelligence on a potential terrorist, the JTTF’s need to look at all potential crime associated with the target as well. That’s a huge weakness in the U.S.G system. If an agency has intelligence on potential terrorists which JTTFs receive frequently, the concept of the JTTF’s is to use the resources of all the participating agencies to see what intelligence they all have, not just on the terror side.

The JTTF may not have intelligence that shows the subject is a terrorist like in the Tamerlan Tsarnaev matter, but there may be intelligence on the criminal behavior of the subject. The FBI JTTF leadership should then have the law enforcement agencies work together on the criminal matter in an effort to develop evidence on the criminal realm which will neutralize the subject from doing the terror act.

To keep America safe we need proactive investigative law enforcement prior to the events not after people die.

The question should always be, what did law enforcement do in advance to prevent it?  We know the FBI and other agencies are very good at putting together evidence at crime scenes after the fact, and developing evidence to prosecute people. They have great expertise in this area but the fundamental broken piece of the equation is what is not being done in advance using all elements of national power.

As the radical threats grow and the crime and terror walls are still up high, the U.S. is very vulnerable.

At the time of the Boston Bombing, I was the head of SOD working closely with the DOJ’s national OCDETF Fusion Center. Both of those centers were available to the FBI Terrorism agents to use 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 and should have used the federal resource in 2011 when they received the intelligence on Tsarnaev from the Russians.

The JTTF should be coordinating with SOD especially since they have a counter narco-terrorism operations section (CNTOC) at SOD with personnel from FBI criminal and counter terrorism divisions. The counter narco-terrorism center known as the CNTOC at SOD was built to support and de-conflict criminal cases around the globe with a nexus to terrorism and FBI counter terrorism resources were in the unit at the time of the 2011 information.

If the FBI JTTF in Boston would have shared intelligence about Tamerlan in 2011, SOD would have provided 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 and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) major OCDETF marijuana case in Boston, Operation Blackstone.

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 Tsarnaev 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 Tsarnaev 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 and links to significant drug cases from New York City existed.

The concept of a multi agency task force  JTTF must be to use all the expertise and resources of the  JTTF partner agencies. Since FBI counter terrorism had personnel representing them at SOD, they should have checked to ascertain it there was any information on Tsarneav from the criminal investigative side.

As important background, after September 11, 2001, the FBI Director, DEA Administrator and Attorney General agreed to stand up a special coordination unit at SOD to help identify case overlaps between drugs and terror and also conduct more efficient and timely coordination with the FBI Counter Terrorism Section.

This unit later expanded into the CNTOC within SOD. It grew based on the identification of the global connectivity between the drug and terrorism networks. Sadly, this post 911 section was not used to help the FBI JTTF gather additional information on Tsarnaev.

The FBI Boston JTTF apparently only looked for terrorism information on Tsarneav after they received the intelligence from Russia. They conducted some basic reviews and ultimately interviewed Tamerlan. They closed it out before checking with their partners on the criminal side they would have provided valuable drug intelligence.

If terrorists are increasingly turning to crime and criminal networks for funding, the U.S.G. must have seamless sharing of intelligence between those investigating criminal networks and those trying to prevent terrorism. This is imperative and 16 years after 911, it’s not happening. The Boston Bombing is a classic example of how the system failed!

Based on my experience and knowledge as the Agent in Charge of SOD from 2005-2014, I have some detailed insight into a variety of issues related to information sharing and coordination of effort that impact our country’s national security. We must make some critical adjustments to the process.

September 11, 2001 highlighted a substantial breakdown in information sharing in the U.S. After the tragic aftermath of “9/11”, the USG established the Director of National Intelligence to oversee many of the failures identified by the 9/11 Commission. Although there has been some progress, from my perspective there are huge gaps. Our system is still set up with stove pipes between the personnel working on terrorism and the criminal investigators all over the U.S.A. This is a recipe for another disaster.

I would highly recommend that this case be studied for lessons learned. You will clearly see that some basic corrections to the system need to be made.

THE INFORMATION WE NEVER SHARED

We all heard the Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis testify before Congress that his department never received information on the terrorist in his community. We also heard members of other departments in the area say they never had the opportunity to run the intelligence through some of the State Intelligence Fusion Centers.

Bottom line is the system broke. I the system was set up correctly in advance, this act of terror could have possibly been prevented in my view with the case facts. I have firsthand knowledge and shared my details with the DOJ Inspector General during the investigation.

It should be noted that the Attorney General and his Executive team have previously designated SOD as the U.S. government’s criminal law enforcement center for de-confliction and to support the agents around the globe looking at Transnational Organized Crime (TOC). The TOC Strategy was a “priority” for the Obama administration, but no one ever contacted the FBI personnel at SOD when the Russians provided the intelligence to the FBI in Boston on Tamerlan.

If the current administration wants to be successful carrying out President’ Trump’s Transnational Crime Executive order, this is a key area that needs to be addressed.

In the Boston example, if FBI Boston would have alerted the police officials in the Boston area and SOD of the Russian intelligence, the JTTF would have received significant criminal investigative intelligence on Tsarnaev and his family, and could have known there was a large scale marijuana investigation being conducted in Boston by the DEA/HSI during a large scale OCDETF investigation. If these facts were known in early 2011, working together as the tax payers expect, the agencies could have realized that Tsarnaev was actually engaging in substantial criminal activity and could have used the JTTF member agencies to look closer at his organization.

When the triple homicide took place on the 10th anniversary of 911 in the Waltham, MA, investigators should have known that one of the deceased victims in the house was Tamerlan’ s good friend, Brendan Mess, from the gym and the other was a target identified on the OCDETF pot case being conducted by the DEA and HSI in Boston. They didn’t know since they didn’t share with key agencies and centers during the relevant time frame.

The other failure in this matter is then FBI Director Mueller testified to Congress in 2013 that the FBI in Boston used all available tools to investigate the information on Tsarnaev, and that they did a “thorough investigation”. 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.

Here is a link to Mueller testimony on Boston Bombing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVoBLvBJpbY

www.youtube.com
Mix of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDQEZbSM1P0 ABC News Published on Mar 30, 2015 Subscribe Subscribed Unsubscribe Several jurors brought to tears as they heard …

 

How many failures of information sharing and death of innocent Americans do we need before someone in the U.S.G. Leadership engages on this very basic issue that has been largely ignored?

I share this information as a concerned citizen with experience and background on these information sharing matters. I also lost my brother during Operation Enduring Freedom and care deeply about the U.S.A. National Security and the safety of our citizens.

LINKS ON TRIPLE HOMICIDE IN WALTHAM, MASS

https://www.thedailybeast.com/tamerlan-tsarnaevs-best-friend-brendan-mess-an-unsolved-killing

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/05/23/stark-overtones-waltham-triple-homicide/ho0xNuDSCGdQsRNZI30QHK/story.html