Senate panel to probe Boston intel issues

The Senate announced plans Tuesday to hold hearings on the Boston Marathon bombings as Republican criticism mounts over the administration’s handling of intelligence leading up to the attack.

The upper chamber’s move came as President Obama defended intelligence and law enforcement agencies and their willingness to share information in the months prior to the bombings.

The Senate has been markedly slower to act than the House in the wake of the bombings, with many senators arguing for more time to gather information about whether intelligence-sharing failures occurred.

But on Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee pledged to investigate the attacks.

Separately, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on Congress to appoint a joint select committee to probe the matter, saying that lawmakers need to probe not just the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but also the CIA and the FBI.

Graham said that the Boston attacks were an example of how, under Obama's presidency, the country has returned to a "pre-9/11 mentality" that is not conducive to sharing information between agencies.

Obama shot back, saying that Graham’s comments made for good sound bites but missed the mark.

“Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although it may have generated some headlines,” said Obama.

“It’s not as if the FBI did nothing. They not only investigated the older brother, they interviewed the older brother. They concluded that there were no signs that he was engaging in extremist activity.

“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff,” Obama said. 

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper pledged to have the intelligence community’s inspector general conduct an in-depth review of the government’s intelligence sharing.

“We want to review every step that was taken,” said Obama. “We want to leave no stone unturned.  We want to see, is there, in fact, additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack?”

Some Republicans have attacked the Obama administration in the aftermath of the bombing, saying that intelligence and law enforcement agencies did not properly react to an alert from Russian intelligence that bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have radical ties.

Tsarnaev's name was entered into a terror watch list database after the FBI interviewed him in 2011, but there is no sign that DHS officials alerted either the CIA or the FBI when Tsarnaev returned to Russia for six months last year — a period during which he is suspected of becoming more radicalized.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed last week to have the lower chamber conduct an exhaustive review of the attacks and possible intelligence shortcomings with the House Homeland Security Committee moving to take the immediate lead on the probe.

While Senate Homeland Security Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said on Tuesday that their panel is still weeding through information it has requested from the DHS, they promised to hold hearings on the attacks when the time was right.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, lauded the DNI probe and said Congress would be able to take any correct actions once it was complete.