BOSTON – The chair of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on emerging national security threats said at a hearing Wednesday that much has been learned about enhancing emergency response and counterterrorism efforts in the decade since the Boston Marathon bombing, but more can still be done.
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire used her opening remarks at the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Hearing in Washington to reflect on changes since two pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013.
“I am proud of the rapid response to the horror of the attack on that day, and last week, on the 10th anniversary of the bombing, I was proud to watch joyful crowds urging on determined race participants,” she said. “However, there is still much work to do to strengthen our ability to prevent and respond to emerging threats.”
Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis testified that among the biggest changes since the bombing have been the advances in technology, including social media and artificial intelligence.
“Today’s cameras and coordinated systems have the potential to provide analytics in real time; identify possibly dangerous items, as well as react and pivot based on crowd dynamics such as abnormal movement patterns or gathering,” he said.
But he also urged caution when it comes to using artificial intelligence.
“As artificial intelligence continues to mature, these capabilities grow exponentially more dangerous. AI can now create realistic, false images of people and voice replication,” Davis said. “These deep fakes, when used to interfere or disrupt an investigation pose a distinct challenge to law enforcement that Congress and legislation must anticipate and prepare for.”
Richard Serino, a former Deputy Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and former chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services, told lawmakers that local emergency managers and public health workers are dealing with so many challenges at once.
“It’s not just floods, hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires anymore -- it’s the fentanyl epidemic, it’s homelessness, it’s immigration and terrorism. It’s biosecurity and cyber security threats,” Serino said. “We need to prioritize funding and building stronger public health systems, and stronger emergency management systems.”
Kerry Sleeper, a former deputy assistant director at the FBI, called for a national strategy that involves all enforcement agencies to deal with the evolving threats that range from hate crimes to mass shootings to domestic and international terrorism.
"That plan requires an understanding of the threat through detailed analysis, up-to-date tools ... and the rapid sharing of threat information to prevent an attack once there is evidence of a likely attack," he said. "There needs to be a central focal point for this type of planning and collaboration, but to date, that is not occurring at the national level to the degree we require."
The subcommittee is tasked with examining potential emerging national security threats and bolstering federal preparedness to respond to those threats, including terrorism, disruptive technologies, climate change, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive attacks.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when the pressure-cooker bombs detonated at the marathon finish line in 2013. During a four-day manhunt that followed, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier was shot dead in his car. Boston Police Officer Dennis Simmonds also died a year after being wounded in a confrontation with the bombers.
Police captured a bloodied and wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston suburb of Watertown, where he was hiding, hours after his brother died. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, had been in a gunfight with police and was run over by his brother as he fled.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death and much attention, in recent years, has been focused on his bid to avoid being executed. A federal appeals court is considering Tsarnaev’s latest bid to avoid execution. A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston heard arguments in January in the 29-year-old’s case, but has yet to issue a ruling.