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August 23, 2014

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Lawmakers ask if intel blocked before Boston bombs

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are again asking whether a failure to share intelligence contributed to a deadly attack on U.S. soil, after senior officials briefed them Tuesday on the investigation into last week's bombings at the Boston Marathon.

None of the lawmakers are saying — yet— that better sharing could have stopped the bombings, as Congress did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that prompted an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence system.

But they are asking hard questions about which federal agency was tracking alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he traveled to Russia last year, what they knew when, and what they did about it.

"There still seem to be serious problems with sharing information, including critical investigative information ... not only among agencies but also within the same agency in one case," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said after the Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed by FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce.

"I don't see anybody yet that dropped the ball," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the committee's vice chairman. But he added that he was asking all the federal agencies involved for more information to make sure enough information was shared.

"If it wasn't, we've got to fix this," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration legislation, that her agency knew of the suspect's trip to Russia even though his name was misspelled on a travel document. A key lawmaker had said the misspelling caused the FBI to miss the trip.

Napolitano's disclosure came as news to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who told the secretary that it contradicted what he'd been told by the FBI.

"They told me that they had no knowledge of him leaving or coming back, so I would like to talk to you more about this case," Graham told Napolitano. She said that even though Tsarnaev's name was misspelled, redundancies in the system allowed his departure to be captured by U.S. authorities in January 2012.

But she said that by the time he came back six months later, an FBI alert on him had expired and so his re-entry was not noted.

Investigators have concluded based on preliminary evidence that the Russia trip may have helped radicalize Tsarnaev, the older of the two bomber suspects, who died in a firefight with police.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was investigated by the FBI at Russia's request and his name was included in a federal government travel-screening database after that, law enforcement officials have told The Associated Press. One official told the AP that by the time of the flight Tsarnaev would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting him to terrorism.

Investigators are still searching for that kind of information, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "What did he do when he went to Dagestan? Did he sit in his family's house for six months or was he ... talking with people? What happened to him when he came back? Was he radicalized? If so, how?" she said, describing a litany of questions FBI investigators were still trying to answer.

She too conceded something likely would need to be changed about how the information was shared between the agencies.

"After every one of these incidents problems are found and then studied and corrected," she said.

There are "lessons to be learned ... not necessarily failures," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "But certainly gaps I think can be closed."