FBI to Boston: You knew about Tsarnaev from JTTF files

posted at 10:01 am on May 10, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Yesterday, the Boston Chief of Police told the House Homeland Security Committee that the FBI and DHS never warned them about Tamerlan Tsarnaev or informed him of his six-month sojourn to Dagestan, where radical Islamist networks operate. When asked if that information would have been useful, Chief Davis responded affirmatively. The FBI responded by pointing out that Boston PD’s representatives actually did read the file on Tsarnaev:

The FBI’s statement, in full, emphases mine:

“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.”

So, if the JTTF database is correct, then Boston at least learned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had attracted enough interest to warrant an investigation in 2011.  But did that assessment give Boston PD a real sense of the potential threat that Tsarnaev posed?  After all, the FBI didn’t find any reason to keep watching Tsarnaev, and closed the case.  If Boston PD read the file, what action would they have taken?

A source with knowledge of the fusion centers e-mailed me earlier about the issues that keep local PD from getting enough information to act against real threats:

The TIDE database exists on JWICS, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System. This is an encrypted Internet that is rated to handle that TS/SCI (“high side”) information, but JWICS can’t be accessed outside of a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information – that’s the SCI in TS/SCI – facility). Only Feds can build SCIFs.

Now, the FBI have SCIFs, have access to high side information and systems, and actually BPD personnel who, being on the JTTF as task force officers, have access to those systems. However, a peculiarity of the FBI is that they tend to focus on their Secret-level system instead of the TS/SCI one, since most FBI-specific data resides on the Secret-level network.

So, we have these fusion center analysts at the BRIC and whatever homeland security analysts BPD has messing around on DHS’s Secret-level network (called HSDN) and basically finding out nothing you couldn’t find on the open Internet (not really, but close), and therefore spending the majority of their time doing open source research on “threats” like white supremacists, sovereign citizens and militia movement types (the reason all those horrible “homeland security” reports came out on “right wing extremists?” This is why. That’s the only type of thing fusion center or state and local homeland security analysts could focus on with their level of access and their level of security clearances), while you have more threats active in a specific area like the Boston metro area than a typical FBI office can keep tabs on, and because of those poorly written reports and a fear of state and local LE types misusing TS/SCI-level data (which isn’t entirely unfounded), a large reserve of analytical manpower isn’t being utilized in tracking present and emerging threats in a given area.

This is the mess that is America’s current homeland security system. DHS should be building SCIFs, training analysts and clearing them TS/SCI, and in general helping to facilitate a nationwide, distributed intelligence network that’s perfectly geared to help combat a networked opponent. Instead, they feed state and locals watered-down intelligence assessments, and generic warnings, and essentially refuse to treat their state and local counterparts as equals.

And the counterparts? The state and locals? They refuse to recognize the intelligence ghetto they’ve allowed themselves to be put into, and continually exhibit a law enforcement mindset when they need to be worrying about emerging strategic threats. Oh, and the FBI? They don’t talk to anyone, don’t share with anyone, and consider closing a case as being the end of a threat. “We closed the case, we didn’t have any reason to keep investigating.” That’s the excuse I heard for Tsarnaev. Maybe that’s true, but if so, it’s a systemic failure and could be addressed by giving access to people who do not have a criminal case open on the guy, and will only be looking at a subject as an intelligence subject, and thus will have no contact with him, no role in any court case, and no requirement to cease interest in a subject based off of your criminal procedures.

In other words, we’re building new stovepipes in a system that was supposed to eliminate existing ones. Even if Boston PD had Tsarnaev’s name in 2011, what information about Tsarnaev did they get, and how useful was it in threat assessment?

Congress needs to rethink the entire DHS strategy from the beginning.


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Government is never a recipe for efficiency.

beatcanvas on May 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

I don’t know what the BPD would have done. As the story states, if the FBI closed its investigation, doing nothing. Maybe they would have surveyed the guy or something?

To me, this is simply CYA posturing and I’m probably reading too much into this, but is skirting awful close to ‘per-crime’ thinking.

catmman on May 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Congress needs to rethink the entire DHS strategy from the beginning.

“”Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps, That’s pretty much true of every government program that’s ever been set up.”

Electrongod on May 10, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Let the finger pointing via government incompetence begin.

MoreLiberty on May 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM

NYPD (in large part because of 9/11) probably is the only local law enforcement agency in the country with enough of an intelligence-gathering wing to go out on its own despite what the FBI does. Other agencies, like Boston PD aren’t going to act like some “doesn’t get along with the brass” detective on some TV crime show or movie and spend a ton of time looking into the Tsarnaevs as a terror threat, if the FBI’s already done so and dropped the case.

This sounds more like buck passing from an agency that was part of a federal department drenched in the administration’s idea that America had to get over its inordinate fear of Islamic domestic terror attacks. And Boston isn’t exactly a place where — pre-Marathon attack — going against those PC ideas would have been smiled upon at the local level.

jon1979 on May 10, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Cue the Benny Hill music.

Bishop on May 10, 2013 at 10:20 AM

They don’t talk to anyone, don’t share with anyone, and consider closing a case as being the end of a threat.

Hell, from personal experience, they don’t talk to anyone about home-grown CRIMINAL cases. Oh, they’ll come in and take any info you have, just don’t expect a return of the favor.

GarandFan on May 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM

And, more to the point, so did the FBI. DHS should have gotten the name, too. Quite a few organizations have proven incredibly stupid in not tracking down someone who the Russians (remember, Putin is not a nice guy to the unfriendly terrorists) wanted pulled over and questioned when he was headed ‘home’ to, strangely enough, get some terrorist training. Plus he attended a Mosque that puts money through from the MB and KSA with a bent towards radical islam and jihad.

So, yeah, Boston should have known about it in the PD and other circles.

That is not letting the feds off the hook for what they did or, more to the point, didn’t do.

ajacksonian on May 10, 2013 at 10:23 AM

If you cannot use the proper language and knowledge to address the threat, how can you expect valid communication? Everything has been compromised by (good) Islam to chase ghosts and whack the odd mole from (bad) Islamysticistcism.

America is now the biggest part of the Islamic problem.

BL@KBIRD on May 10, 2013 at 10:27 AM

After all, the FBI didn’t find any reason to keep watching Tsarnaev, and closed the case.

That’s because the new FBI post-REB guidelines steer them away from muzlims and instead directs their energies at those vicious TEA Party types.

Police departments like NYPD and Boston need to search out their own intelligence on terrorist threats, not because the federal government doesn’t share information, but because their filters have been corrupted by political correctness.

They should establish their own links to organizations like Russian intelligence.

slickwillie2001 on May 10, 2013 at 10:28 AM

slickwillie2001 on May 10, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Somehow, I doubt the PC, lib-minded BPD and Mayor’s office would have approved of anything that smacked of profiling.

“Oh, Tsarnaev? He’s a Muslim? Move on. Now, give me the update on the Pro-life, Tea Party activist in Cambridge…”

Hill60 on May 10, 2013 at 10:38 AM

DHS has no business being in the intel process…nor does ODNI…both need to be abolished.

Let’s get real here.

We are not involved in law enforcement…we are in a war..a war on the United States that started long before 9-11…but is now something we cannot talk about because it is uncomfortable…it “slanders” Mohammedism…it runs contrary to the narrative, which starts at the current White House, and yes, the Bush administration as well, that we somehow are not at war with the very people who have openly declared that they are at war with us…loud, and often.

If we treated this war on us as a real war, a deadly and nasty war…not a law enforcement thing…we’d be a lot better off today…and Speedbump and his little brother, Speed Racer, and their family would never have been granted “temporary tourist visas” to the United States in 2002, let alone be somehow granted assylum….and all this Boston stuff could have easily been avoided.

Sheesh, by today’s standards, the Honolulu police department would have been in charge of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet…in the middle of a war…this is what our President says…and believes?

coldwarrior on May 10, 2013 at 10:43 AM

In other words, we’re building new stovepipes in a system that was supposed to eliminate existing ones

In short, as in most of our bulked up, top heavy government…TOO BIG to SUCCEED?

What a farce.

marybel on May 10, 2013 at 10:56 AM

“Oh, Tsarnaev? He’s a Muslim? Move on. Now, give me the update on the Pro-life, Tea Party activist in Cambridge…”

Hill60 on May 10, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Nailed it. That is probably word for word what was said. It probably is word for word what they are saying today.

oldroy on May 10, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Hell, from personal experience, they don’t talk to anyone about home-grown CRIMINAL cases. Oh, they’ll come in and take any info you have, just don’t expect a return of the favor.

GarandFan on May 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM

+1000

People on the outside of law enforcement have no idea how full of themselves Federal agencies are, with the possible exception of the U.S. Marshal’s Service. In my experience, they are overcome with layers and layers of bureaucracy, ass- covering policies and procedures, and institutional groupthink to the point of near paralysis. Their personnel, particularly the FBI, are trained to rely too much on their status as FBI agents and the mythical fear and dread that status is supposed to instill in suspects.

I never met an FBI agent who could interrogate a suspect worth a damn. They all relied too heavily on the “Lying to a Federal officer about anything is a crime in and of itself” statute and could not get around the simple idea that people might still be lying to them, especially someone looking to be an Islamic martyr like Tsarneav. I wasn’t there, but I can pretty much assure you that after the Feebie sent to interview Tsarneav finished warning him not to lie to the FBI, he then sat down and took everything that Tsarneav subsequently told him at face value, with no or minimal challenge or skepticism. The idea that Tsarneav saw himself answering to a Higher Power and was therfore unafraid of anything the U.S. Attorney’s office might threaten him with probably never crossed the Feebie’s mind.

There’s a reason why us lowly local yokels often refer to the FBI as Famous, But Ignorant behind agents’ backs.

It is something you have to be in the business of law enforcement to truly understand. The difference between a real cop and the prima donnas of our federal agencies is something I can’t even explain to you. It’s something you have to experience to understand.

But back to the point Garandfan and Ed’s source were making: the Feds absolutely do not share their best intelligence on anything with state or local law enforcement. If you thought 9/11 changed everything, well, maybe the CIA and the FBI cooperate more than the did on 9/10. The most vital information still very rarely, if ever, gets to state and local first responders.

Dukeboy01 on May 10, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Congress need to not just “rethink DHS” but fire the Secretary and reorganize! Probably too late anyway.

karlinsync on May 10, 2013 at 11:07 AM

“The system worked.”
Mr. Napolitano

jukin3 on May 10, 2013 at 11:07 AM

“The system worked.”
Mr. Napolitano

jukin3 on May 10, 2013 at 11:07 AM

But, for whom?

coldwarrior on May 10, 2013 at 11:13 AM

This what you get when you treat acts of war like crimes. You become so worried about “evidence” that you are afraid to share info that could prevent acts of war.

We have an intelligence community who has the job of preventing the enemy from attacking us. We have a law enforcement community designed to REACT to crimes already committed. Why would they be in charge of preventing acts of war?

Classic Lib-think.

goflyers on May 10, 2013 at 11:22 AM

NYPD (in large part because of 9/11) probably is the only local law enforcement agency in the country with enough of an intelligence-gathering wing to go out on its own …

Naw, they’re tied up in the schools checking for smuggled butter.

Don L on May 10, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Government is never a recipe for efficiency.

beatcanvas on May 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

In many ways it is useful to have an inefficient government. The less mischief they can induce.

Dasher on May 10, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Congress needs to rethink the entire DHS strategy from the beginning

This agency isn’t working out. We need another agency STAT!

Because when we added another agency on top of two agencies who weren’t getting the job done it wasn’t enough. So, clearly, adding another agency to tell the other three agencies how to do their jobs will be just the ticket to fix this whole problem.

Mark my words, someone in power will propose this.

Lily on May 10, 2013 at 11:56 AM

…each task force member has access to Guardian, a web-based counterterrorism incident management application that was launched in July 2004.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for ‘crowd-sourcing’.

socalcon on May 10, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Let the finger pointing via government incompetence begin.

MoreLiberty on May 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Sure, And Govt agencies can handle healthcare delivery and implement cost savings.

#PixieDust
#RainbowUnicorns
#MagicWands

socalcon on May 10, 2013 at 12:02 PM

So we’ve spent billions on new security appartus since 2001 and it failed miserably.

In a sane world this would lead to the end of DHS.

As a more practical point, I’d like to see Republicans specifically asking how Obama could allow this to happen. Fair? Not entirely – but if we learned anything from 2001-9, the president is responsible for any failures by any government employees while he is president…

18-1 on May 10, 2013 at 12:05 PM

I don’t know why, but I’m seeing something really “meta” going on, between this and the new revelation about the IRS leaning on conservative NFP groups. These two stories exemplify the state of absolute corruption and incompetence at the core of our government.

Let. It. Burn.

nukemhill on May 10, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Congress needs to rethink …

Ed you are presuming that Congress did some thinking in the first place, a doubtful assumption at best.

UnrepentantCurmudgeon on May 10, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Only Feds can build SCIFs.

That is totally false: there are many scifs in the private sector. Scifs are expensive and very expensive to operate. More scifs will be a sourse of security problems. Boston/Mass. dosen’t need a scif. What they need is one person or a very small group of people cleared to access of the FBI’s scif to see only information appropriate for their needs. Nothing in this post tells me whether they have such access. It is probable they have it.

burt on May 10, 2013 at 1:55 PM

Congress needs to rethink the entire DHS strategy from the beginning.

Shut it down.

Instead Napolitano will get powers as great as Sibelius once the amnesty passes.

America is cooked, done, over.

Schadenfreude on May 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM

It doesn’t matter what strategy DHS has as long as political leaders are incompetent like Napalitano, Holder, and Obama.

philrat on May 10, 2013 at 3:18 PM

I’ve said this from the beginning. It is the pissed off Boston PD JTTF members getting the truth out. I cannot imagine how upset they are, and I spent a generation plus in the law enforcement business.

The JTTF was supposed to act outside the bureaucracy, streamlining intelligence. However, in reality several things have occurred.

1. JTTF does not get all the information nor handles it correctly. It is still managed, controlled and run by the feds. I have a friend who spent time with them. After a bit, he asked to be transferred back because of the madness they consider SOP. I won’t go into great detail, but you can be assured it was nightmarish. It does not surprise me the Boston PD member didn’t catch the lead. How many do they get? How are they vetted and categorized? Did the FBI complete the investigation, find no issue (per DOJ standards) close file then send it to JTTF as a closed file?

2. Unlike 24, mixed agencies efforts are not always manned with the top notch police. Depending on how serious the PD takes the task force it could send the people want to get rid of, or want time off from their duties in the PD, or want to check off their “fed experience” on their resume.

The ass-kickers you see on TV just don’t exist in large numbers in real life. Often if one is found and is very good at what he or she does, the Chief makes sure that guy/gal stays close to handle his problems in his city.

I was on a task force where the local sheriff sent over two agents. The first two were top notch, the second set rotated in were just a little lower, the third set couldn’t get out of their own way.

It just is.

archer52 on May 10, 2013 at 4:23 PM

This comment (archer52 on May 10, 2013 at 4:23 PM ) supports my earlier comment (burt on May 10, 2013 at 1:55 PM ) suggesting that the police probably had access and blew it.

burt on May 11, 2013 at 4:19 PM