Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) re-emerged on the Hill today for the first hearing on the Boston bombings to remind Congress that “the outrageously false narrative of violent Islamist extremism” is a threat to America that is growing unchecked.
“The reality is that three terrorist attacks, all homegrown, have succeeded. Carlos Bledsoe, who killed an Army recruiter in Little Rock in 2009, Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 at Fort Hood later that same year, and now the Tsarnaev brothers who killed four and severely wounded many more in Boston less than a month ago,” Lieberman said before the House Homeland Security Committee.
“The Boston Marathon attacks should again teach us that the enemy we face is violent Islamist extremism, not just al-Qaeda,” he continued. “Osama bin Laden is dead. And the remaining leadership of al Qaida is on the run, but the ideology of violent Islamist extremism is rapidly spreading.”
The longtime legislator who retired at the end of the last Congress said he believes “that, though it would not have been easy, it was possible to have prevented the terrorist attacks in Boston.”
Lieberman also opined that the information-sharing reforms enacted after 9/11 may have made it more difficult “to separate the wheat from the chaff, to identify the most important dots on the board so that they can be connected.”
“We’ve still got to ask, and I hope you will, shouldn’t the fact that the first notice of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible radicalization came to us from a very uncommon source, Russian intelligence, have marked the case for special handling by our government and guaranteed that this file would not be closed? Were the original FBI interviews of Tamerlan Tsarnaev adequate to determine whether he was likely to radicalize to violent Islamist extremism?” he said.
Lieberman also wasn’t so quick to shift some blame away from the Boston mosque that claimed it threw the elder Tsarnaev brother out for radical ranting.
“The leaders and the members of the Boston mosque that threw Tamerlan out because of his extreme views could have said something to the police and even done something to counter his radicalization,” he said. “And even members of the Tsarnaev family, including Tamerlan’s wife, could have saved lives, including Tamerlan’s, if they had said something or asked someone for help.”
Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) noted “he was on our radar screen, and then he was off.”
“What remains unanswered is whether this information was shared between federal agencies and state and local officials,” he added, referencing the timeline of Tsarnaev leaving the country for Dagestan last year after warnings about his radicalization.
“Equally concerning is the emerging narrative which downplays the spread of the global jihadist movement,” McCaul said. “From the attack in Fort Hood to the tragedy at Benghazi, the Boston bombings are our most recent reminder that we all must — we must call terrorism really for what it is in order to confront it. You cannot defeat an enemy you refuse to acknowledge.”
A former federal counterterrorism prosecutor, McCaul said he “was disturbed in the days following the attack to read that some officials had closed the case on whether there was a foreign connection when the FBI had just begun its investigation… this rush to judgment, in my view, was premature and irresponsible.”
Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) chided the committee to “exercise some discretion in our questioning and our statements about these events, the suspects and theories about links to others who may have not be in custody.”
Also, Thompson said, “we must acknowledge that the kind of response that occurred on that day would not have been possible without federal grant funds.”
“So as this Congress continues to cut funding for these programs, I hope my colleagues on the other side, who are members of the committee, will oppose these cuts,” he said. “Refusal to support these funding cuts will be the greatest tribute any of us could make to the people of the Boston area.”
McCaul responded that “as a former federal prosecutor, I always reserve judgment until all the evidence is in on the case.”
“And with respect to grant funding, I met with the Boston fire commissioner yesterday, who told me if it wasn’t for the Department of Homeland Security grant funding that helped them with training exercises and response exercises, that it could have been a different situation and that that helped in saving, I think, many American lives,” he added.
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said the bombings showed “we certainly need to enlist the community better.”
“And the points about identifying radical extremism and ferreting that out, the first thing we need to do is go to the community. We need to explain to the community that they have a responsibility to their community and to their nation and to what’s right to report the kind of activity that these brothers were involved in prior to the incident. And I think that’s the first line of defense,” he said.
“…The truth of the matter is, nobody bats 1,000, and I think that as a nation we need to comes to terms with it and do everything we can to prevent it, but also recognize that fusion centers and intelligence analysis and joint terrorism task forces are part of our future.”
“Before the bombing, were you aware of the Russian intelligence warning regarding Tamerlan and the fact that he may travel overseas to meet with extremists?” McCaul asked Davis.
“We have three detectives and a sergeant who were assigned to the joint terrorism task force. One of my detectives is actually in the squad that investigated that,” Davis said. “We have access to all the databases. But we were not, in fact, informed of that particular development.”
The commissioner said the information about Tsarnaev started to flow into his department the morning after the shootout in Watertown, Mass., in which the suspect was killed.
“In this case, aggravatingly, you have two of our great homeland security agencies that didn’t involve, before the event, the local and state authorities that could have helped us prevent the attack on the marathon,” Lieberman said.
“…We’re in a war. And, as I said, it’s against an ideology that is not receding. It’s spreading. And it’s taking a very difficult turn, which is, as we saw in Boston case, because — the only three attacks against America, terrorist attacks that have succeeded since 9/11, are homegrown terrorists.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) asked Davis if anyone from the local mosque came forward to identify either of the brothers after the photos of the suspects were made public.
“I don’t — I’m not certain of that. I don’t know of anyone that did, but I know that there was some conversation with a group we — that we meet with frequently from the mosques,” Davis responded, promising to check on whether any specific tips were received from the mosque.
The commissioner did know with certainty, though, that no students from UMass Dartmouth came forward to identify Dzohkhar Tsarnaev.
King noted to Lieberman that, unlike anyone in the Obama administration, the former senator freely used the terms “violent Islamist ideology” and “violent Islamist extremism.”
“It was self-evidently and publicly violent Islamist extremism that led to the attacks on us on 9/11/01 and didn’t take detective work. Osama bin Laden and everybody else declared that to be the purpose. They want to bring down America and our civilization. And I — you know, it’s the old Chinese wisdom a millennia ago: The first thing you gotta know in war is your enemy is. And you have to call it by its name,” Lieberman said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked Davis if, at this point, there’s “any mass labeling of the Muslim community in Boston.”
“That’s always a concern of ours. I’ve met with members of that community, and they’re concerned about it. But there have been no incidents reported to me,” he responded.
Jackson Lee chided the committee that “this is not a place to raise a partisan divide between Congress and the administration. This is a place to stand against this ever happening again.”
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) asked Lieberman why he believes this administration is unwilling to use the term “radical Islam” to describe these acts of terror.
“What is gained by the president’s refusal to appropriately describe jihad as expressed by radical Islamist extremists as their motivation for attacking the United States and other free nations?” Perry said.
“Well, I don’t know. In other words, this is a debate that I had over the years in my time in the Senate and particularly with this administration,” Lieberman responded.
“The sad fact is today that most terrorists that we’re dealing with in America are inspired by this violent Islamic extremist ideology,” he added. “You have to recognize that to deal with them.”