OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Boston bombing report avoids blaming agencies

The Topline: report from the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General found that the U.S.'s various anti-terrorism agencies generally acted properly in handling and sharing information with one another regarding Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev after Russia warned the U.S. about him, but also failed to better vet him prior to the bombing.

The main shortcoming of the investigation, the report found, was in the FBI's failure to notify the CIA after it was first contacted by Russia's security agency in March 2011 with the information that Tsarnaev was an adherent of radical Islam and planned to travel to Russia to join underground groups in Chechnya and Dagestan.

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While the FBI erred in not contacting the CIA, the report says, the CIA's involvement was not likely to have added any additional information to the FBI's investigation and thus likely would not have prevented the bombings.

While restrained in its criticism of U.S. security agencies, the report does mention several pieces of valuable information that could have been found out before the bombings but were not. 

For example, government agents never noticed a YouTube account created by Tamerlan that began posting jihad-related videos in October 2012, six months before the bombing, and despite being warned by Russia that Tsarnaev was planning to travel to Russia to join underground groups, the FBI's counterterrorism agent failed to make inquiries regarding such a trip.

The report said none of the errors were important enough to justify "broad recommendations" for changes to how security agencies handle and share information. The only notable recommendation was that the FBI created procedures to be more proactive in notifying state and local authorities about individuals who are subjects of counterterrorism assessments.

More money won’t save the A-10: Even modest increases to the Air Force budget wouldn't save the A-10 Thunderbolt II from retirement, Air Force officials said Thursday. 

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that even if the Air Force had an extra $4 billion — which is how much cutting the A-10 fleet is estimated to save — other service’ commanders would say they would rather have intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, as well as airborne command and control assets. 

Earlier in the day, Gen. Larry Spencer, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness that if the Air Force received a small boost to its 2015 budget, it would divert the funds to other priorities.

"If you're asking me that if you gave us money back, is the A-10 our first priority, the answer is no," Spencer said. "As an example, we're having to reduce our [airborne warning and control system] fleet by seven airplanes, just to take the money to upgrade the remaining airplanes. That's a higher priority than the A-10."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) vowed to work with her colleagues on the Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee to save the A-10. 

“Listen, I’m in for this fight and I want to make sure we preserve the A-10. I will do what I need to do as a legislator,” said Ayotte.

Lawmakers call for mental health screening for military recruits: A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill calling for mental health screening for recruits before they can join the military, which it says could help prevent future shootings on military bases.

"While the military performs comprehensive physical and medical evaluations, no similar examination for mental health exists," said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), a co-sponsor of the bill.

"The Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members Act will institute a preliminary mental health assessment at the time recruits are first joining the military," he said.

According to his statement, nearly one in five Army soldiers enters the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting.

On Wednesday, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

"Too many of our men and women in uniform still suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and behavioral health conditions," Portman said in a statement.

McKeon sits down with reporters: After promising reporters to host a roundtable session, the House Armed Services Committee chairman sat down this morning with members of the media, answering questions on the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, the ENLIST Act, and Benghazi. 

In response to a question on what he felt were the most important defense assets to preserve, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) assets, as well as nuclear deterrent forces. 

He also said he was concerned about several decisions the services were taking to meet the 2015 defense budget, which is about $497 billion.

“I’m concerned about the aircraft carrier refueling, I’m concerned about the A-10s, I’m concerned about the U-2s.”

McKeon said media reports suggesting he was going to slip fellow Republican Rep. Jeff Denham’s bill into the NDAA were false, and that he wasn’t sure if his committee even had jurisdiction over the bill, which would provide legal status to young illegal immigrants who serve in the military. 

“My understanding right now is that we don’t have the jurisdiction,” he said. 

Armed Services members met with Gen. Carter Ham for more than seven hours on Wednesday, McKeon said, but no new information was gained from the interview.

"I think I've pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn't have done more than we did," he said.  

 

In Case You Missed It:

—Ayotte plans financial sanctions bill against Russia

—US officials object to French arms sales with Russia

—House Dems urge Obama to quickly declassify CIA report

—NATO releases satellite photos of Russian troops

—Generals: Two-war strategy in jeopardy under sequester

 

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