Top Boston cop: Community key in preventing future attacks

Boston police commissioner testifies at congressional hearing on marathon bombings.

WASHINGTON — Boston's police commissioner told lawmakers conducting the first congressional hearing on the marathon bombings that government should tighten security around celebratory public events and consider using more undercover officers, special police units and technology, including surveillance cameras — but only in ways that don't run afoul of civil 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," Commissioner Edward Davis said in prepared remarks for the House Homeland Security Committee. "We do not and cannot live in a protective enclosure because of the actions of extremists who seek to disrupt our way of life."

Investigators used surveillance video from a restaurant near one of the explosions to help identify Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a police shootout, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, who survived, as the bombing suspects.

But in live testimony, Davis stressed the importance of community vigilance over technical tools.

"There's no computer that's going to spit out a terrorist name. It's the community being involved in the conversation," he said. "That should be our first step."

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"Anyone who thinks they can execute an attack on this country and change our way of life greatly underestimates our spirit and our resolve," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said as the House Committee on Homeland Security hearing opened Thursday. He said it's still unclear whether the Boston bombings were foreign-directed, but he says they were clearly "foreign-inspired."

Davis said that three city police officers were working with the U.S. terrorism task force but did not know about vague warnings by Russia's government about one of the bombing suspects delivered nearly two years before the attacks. He said he would have liked to known that Russian authorities had warned the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a radical extremist before the April 15 attacks.

Former Senator Joseph Lieberman, a national security hawk who pushed for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11,  told lawmakers more threat information should be shared with state and local police, who he called "your first line of defense."

The first congressional inquiry of the attacks started Thursday on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are examining the government's initial response, what authorities knew about the brothers beforehand and whether the deadly attacks could have been avoided.

The hearing comes less than three weeks after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's arrest. McCaul said it will be the first in a series of hearings to review the government's initial response, what information authorities received about the brothers before the bombings and whether they handled it correctly. The FBI and CIA separately received vague warnings from Russia's government in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother were religious militants.

"What we want to know is ... what happened that day, what mistakes may have been made and what we can do in the future to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil," McCaul told the AP.

Thursday's hearing was unlikely to shed much light on those questions. Nobody from the federal government testified.

But in a time of widespread budget cuts, the hearing began laying the groundwork for an expected push for more counterterrorism money. Both Davis and Kurt Schwartz, the Massachusetts homeland security chief, praised federal grants that for years have kept cities flush with money for equipment and manpower.

"People are alive today" because of money for training and equipment, Schwartz said.

McCaul and Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the committee, also spoke of the importance of federal money, as did former Sen. Joe Lieberman, one of the founders of the Department of Homeland Security, who took a new seat as a congressional witness.

The Massachusetts homeland security director, Kurt Schwartz, and Lieberman also gave testimony Thursday.

Lieberman, former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, co-wrote the legislation that created the Homeland Security Department and overhauled the U.S. intelligence system after the Sept. 11 attacks. His committee held hearings examining the threat of radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the U.S. It also issued a report on the government's failure to prevent the deadly 2009 mass shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

MSN News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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