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Boston police chief urges heightened surveillance

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 9, 2013
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Capitol Hill on May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. Davis called for heightened security at public events to help thwart terror attacks like the one

Boston's police commissioner 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."

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

Suspect 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 back yard.

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 radicalization and the threat it posed.

Massachusetts Undersecretary for Homeland Security Director Kurt Schwartz testifies on May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC
Massachusetts Undersecretary for Homeland Security Director Kurt Schwartz testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Capitol Hill on May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC.

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

Davis acknowledged that his police department was not aware of the Tsarnaev's possible radicalization in Russia, where officials say he traveled 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 center have any knowledge of the Tsarnaev brothers," Davis said.

McCaul said the revelation was troubling. "The idea that the feds 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 September 11, 2001 attacks, also highlighted the system's inefficiencies, saying "our homeland defense 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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