Boston Response Praised, But Intelligence-Sharing Questioned Law enforcement officials have been given high marks for their response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. But at the same time, questions are being raised about the coordination among federal agencies handling intelligence about the suspects in the months before the attack.
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Boston Response Praised, But Intelligence-Sharing Questioned

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Boston Response Praised, But Intelligence-Sharing Questioned

Boston Response Praised, But Intelligence-Sharing Questioned

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour with Boston and the lessons of 9/11. In the days since last week's marathon bombing, local police have earned high marks for their response to the attack, especially their ability to work well with federal, state and other local agencies. But it's a different story when it comes to coordination among federal agencies that handled intelligence about the suspects months before the attack. NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: At a Senate hearing yesterday, there was nothing but praise for the actions of responders to the Boston Marathon bombings. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island captured the tone of many lawmakers as he addressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: I'm sure you saw with the same pride that I did the way people pulled together, the lack of turfiness(ph) and the very impressive deployment of a wide range of local, state and federal capabilities very rapidly, very comprehensively and very smoothly.

NAYLOR: That lack of turfiness, as Whitehouse put it, was no accident. One of the lessons of 9/11 and subsequent disasters - natural and manmade - was the need for communication and cooperation among responders, says Carie Lemack. She's director of the Homeland Security Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

CARIE LEMACK: These are people who had gotten to know each other over the last decade because they had practiced before. Before 9/11, we hadn't seen that kind of coordination, so that when you had law enforcement agencies come together, oftentimes they couldn't communicate with each other. They had never met each other before. This was different in Boston.

NAYLOR: The Massachusetts National Guard was one of those agencies that played a big role in the bombing's aftermath. A guard unit was at the finish line helping provide security when the blasts occurred and quickly began clearing debris and providing medical assistance. Brigadier General Paul G. Smith says the guard was well trained for its role.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL G. SMITH: And that means putting your ego on hold and recognizing that we support elected officials, civil authorities and we take our directions from them.

NAYLOR: Boston responders have also had recent practice working together, with mass casualty drills and dealing with severe weather, ranging from tornadoes to blizzards. Smith says all of that experience was put to use after the bombings.

SMITH: We have worked very closely with city officials, local police departments, state police, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. So there's a history. We know each other, and I think, most importantly, we trust each other.

NAYLOR: Still, if the lessons of how to respond to a terrorist attack seem to have been learned well, critics say law enforcement agencies still have a ways to go when it comes to sharing information that could help prevent an attack, or at least in identifying potential terrorists. The criticism centers on the trip to Russia of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old suspect killed in a shootout with police Friday.

Tsarnaev traveled to an area of southern Russia near Chechnya in January of 2012. Russia had requested a background check from the FBI on Tsarnaev before he left the U.S. And Napolitano told lawmakers yesterday Homeland Security was aware that Tsarnaev left the country, but he returned to the U.S. some six months later unnoticed.

SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: The system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned, all investigations had been - the matter had been closed.

NAYLOR: After a closed-door briefing to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said intelligence agencies had reverted to their old pre-9/11 ways, citing the practice of stove-piping, or failing to share their information with each other.

SENATOR CLARENCE SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Post 9/11, we thought we had created a system that would allow for the free flow of information between agencies, and I think there's been some stonewalls and some stovepipes reconstructed that were probably unintentional, but we've got to review that issue again.

NAYLOR: It's not clear what the FBI or anyone else might have done with more information about Tsarnaev. But it seems equally clear that he fell through the cracks prior to planting his bomb on Boylston Street last week. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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