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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 29th, 2013
06:17 PM ET

Expert: Intelligence system made ‘mistakes’ ahead of Boston

A former federal official who led information sharing efforts between intelligence agencies after September 11 says that system failed ahead of the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks earlier this month.

"We didn’t connect the dots that we had. Few though they might have been, they were serious enough that they should have been connected,” Ambassador Thomas McNamara said Monday on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

"The state and local police were not informed about what the FBI, the CIA, immigration and customs knew about this case. In other words, they didn’t have any dots and therefore they weren’t able to participate in this,” added McNamara.

McNamara was project manager of the federal intelligence community’s information sharing environment, created by a reform law passed in 2004 and intended to prevent “stovepiping,” where information is shuttled vertically within one agency, but is not shared.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said that was the case ahead of the Boston attacks.

“It's a failure to share information and missing obvious warning signs,” he said on CBS. “We're going back to the pre-9/11 stovepiping.”

Federal authorities did have the older of the two brothers suspected in the April 15 attack on their radar in 2011. A Russian intelligence agency approached the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in March 2011 and again that September, sources have told CNN, which led the FBI to assess him, according to a law enforcement official.

That official said the CIA was aware of the assessment and the federal intelligence community seemed satisfied by that effort.

Graham and other Republican lawmakers have questioned if enough was done.

"Somebody sitting somewhere could have said, 'You know, that name's familiar. I think we did a file on that. Let me check into that,' " Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

McNamara said he “doubts very much” that the intelligence community has stepped backwards, as Graham claimed, pointing to the reform effort in which he was involved.

“That information sharing system is functioning but it’s not functioning as well as we’d like it to and certainly in the case of the Boston tragedy, not as well as it ought to have,” he said. “There were mistakes made, they’re not mistakes of anything along the lines of or of the magnitude of what happened at 9/11, but nonetheless mistakes were made and we suffered for it.”

He said that by January 2012 “there were enough dots that should have been connected. They didn’t get connected.”

If the dots had formed a picture or the intelligence had been shared with other agencies, McNamara suggested law enforcement officials may have taken a second look at the older Tsarnaev, who died after a police shootout days following the attack. His younger brother Dzhokhar is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction for his alleged role in the attack.

“If the FBI decided it wasn’t really worth them following up, it’s very possible - we don’t know now and it’s too late to ever know - that the local police might have felt that this was something,” he said. “One of the advantages of connecting dots and passing that information on is that you get more manpower, more possible options. That wasn’t followed up and therefore those options weren’t followed up.”

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