Boston chief wants improved surveillance

2013-05-09 20:18
Boston Police Commissioner Edward (Chip Somodevilla, AFP)

Boston Police Commissioner Edward (Chip Somodevilla, AFP)

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Washington - Boston's police commissioner on Thursday, called for heightened security at public events to help thwart terror attacks like the one that hit his city last month, but cautioned against "police-state" tactics.

In the first of a series of congressional hearings on the twin blasts that killed three people and wounded nearly 300 at the Boston Marathon, lawmakers were told that surveillance technology proved crucial to tracking down the attackers.

"Images from cameras do not lie. They do not forget," Commissioner Edward Davis told the House Homeland Security Committee, as he highlighted the role a Boston business's security video played in identifying the Tsarnaev brothers as suspects.

But he warned that the use of increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology should not be "intended to chill or stifle free speech”.

"In the future we will need to deploy more assets including technology, cameras, undercover officers and specialized units," he testified.

"This need, however, must be balanced against the protections of our constitutional liberties. I do not endorse actions that move Boston and our nation into a police state mentality, with surveillance cameras attached to every light pole in the city."

City on lockdown

The north-eastern US city was locked down after the 15 April attack, as authorities launched the largest manhunt in the region's history.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police, while his wounded younger brother Dzhokhar was taken into custody after a tipoff from a resident, who saw something suspicious in a boat parked in his backyard.

Davis said local, regional and federal coordination on security issues was vital, but nothing could replace community action.

"There's no technical means that you can point to... that's going to spit out a terrorist's name," Davis said.

"It's the community, being involved in the conversation... when something awry is identified."

Lawmakers praised the heroics of police and first responders, but also raised questions about the failure to detect Tamerlan Tsarnaev's radicalisation and the threat it posed.

"My fear is that the Boston bombers may have succeeded because our system failed," the House committee chairperson, Republican Michael McCaul, told the hearing.

Davis acknowledged that his police department was not aware of the Tsarnaev's possible radicalisation in Russia, where officials say he travelled in 2012.

"My understanding is that at no time prior to the bombing did any member of Massachusetts State Police or the [intelligence-gathering] fusion centre have any knowledge of the Tsarnaev brothers," Davis said.


McCaul said the revelation was troubling.

"The idea that the feds [FBI] have the information and it's not shared with the state and locals, defies why we created a department of homeland security in the first place."

"We can and must do better," McCaul said.

Former senator Joseph Lieberman, who worked at length on improving US security in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, also highlighted the system's inefficiencies, saying "our homeland defence system failed in Boston”.

But he also urged authorities to more openly acknowledge what he described as a growing threat by Islamic extremists.

"Osama bin Laden is dead, and the rest of the al-Qaeda leadership is on the run, but the ideology of violent Islamic extremism is rapidly spreading," Lieberman said.

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Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  fbi  |  osama bin laden  |  tamerlan tsarnaev  |  dzhokhar tsarnaev  |  us  |  boston explosions
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