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Watchdogs launch review of Boston bombing intelligence

Law enforcement officials stand at the scene on Franklin St. as the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marath
Law enforcement officials stand at the scene on Franklin St. as the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marath

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Official watchdogs for the U.S. intelligence community have launched a review of how information was shared before the Boston Marathon bombing and how it can be improved.

"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," President Barack Obama said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"And we won't know that until that review is completed," Obama said. He added that, based upon what he had seen, both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had done "what (they) were supposed to be doing."

The inspectors general of the FBI, Homeland Security Department and intelligence agencies will carry out the review, said Shawn Turner, chief spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

He said it was "not an investigation" but rather an independent review of information-sharing procedures that will be "limited to the handling of information related to the suspects prior to the attack."

Leaders of the Senate's Homeland Security committee announced that they had requested information from the administration from the Homeland Security Department about "events prior to the bombing" as well as federal agencies' response to the attack.

In a statement, committee chairman Senator Tom Carper and ranking Republican Tom Coburn said that they "fully expect" their panel to hold hearings into the government's performance. The Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives is also looking into the issue.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that in the spring of 2011 Russia's principal spy agency, the FSB, asked the FBI to investigate Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two Chechen immigrant brothers alleged to have carried out the bombing, for possible involvement with Islamic militants.

The information provided at the time to the U.S. agencies by the FSB suggested that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, had become radicalized and that Tamerlan was interested in getting in contact with underground groups.

Officials maintain that the FBI conducted a thorough investigation of the Russian information, which included interviews with both Tsarnaev and his mother, but concluded that there was no evidence they were involved in terrorism.

Turner, the intelligence director's spokesman, said that Clapper rejected suggestions that U.S. agencies might have mishandled clues which in theory might have prevented the Boston attacks.

The national intelligence director's office was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington to ensure greater sharing of sensitive intelligence information between agencies like the CIA and FBI, which historically behaved as rivals at times.

Inspectors general are independent agency watchdogs whose mandates are supposed to empower them launch and conduct investigations of their agency's performance without direction or interference from the agency's principal chain of command.

The intelligence community has its own independent inspector general who is confirmed by the Senate and is authorized by law to review the activities of any of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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