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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Accused Boston Bomber Was Low on U.S. Radar

(CN) - The FBI investigated the suspected Boston Marathon bomber a year before the fatal incident, but closed the case after finding he had no links to terrorism, a redacted report from inspectors general of U.S. intelligence agencies shows.

The 32-page unclassified version of the report published Thursday gives a retrospective into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old ethnic Chechen whom police shot to death several days after two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, killed three and injuring more than 200 others.

Tsarnaev's younger brother, Dzokhar, was arrested on April 19 and faces the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of various charges related to the terrorist act.

A letter attached to report from the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) says that the "review did not reveal any information that would have led to the discovery of the marathon plotting or attacks prior to their occurrence."

Authors of the report are credited as the Intelligence Community, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

They said Russia's Federal Security Service had prompted the FBI's investigation of Tamerlan in March 2011 by giving the FBI Legal Attache (LEGAT) in Moscow a memorandum that described Tamerlan as an adherent of radical Islam. Russia's information also included two incorrect dates of birth for Tamerlan, however, and misspelled his name.

The 2011 memorandum said Tamerlan, a Kyrgyzstan national, had been planning a trip to Russia to "join unspecified 'bandit underground groups' in Dagetstan and Chechnya, Russia," the report says.

Russia relayed such information to the CIA around the same time, leading the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to put Tamerlan on the terrorist watch list in fall 2011.

"The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston conducted an assessment of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to determine whether he posed a threat to national security and closed the assessment three months later [on June 24, 2011,] having found no link or 'nexus' to terrorism," the report states.

On the issue of agency cooperation, the report notes that revelation of the closed FBI assessment "may have led to Tsarnaev's removal from the watchlist" if it had been shared with NCTC.

Tamerlan's trip to Russia ultimately occurred in January 2012, and he did not face secondary inspection upon his return that June.

The FBI special agent who handled Tamerlan's assessment said he would not have done anything differently had he learned of the trip at the time, investigators found. That agent's supervisor said, however, that, "had he known about the travel, he probably would have reopened the assessment, interviewed Tsarnaev upon his departure from the United States, informed the LEGAT of the travel so that a determination could have been made about notifying the Russian government, and worked with the LEGAT to request information from the Russian government about Tsarnaev's activities in Russia," according to the report.

The assistant special agent in charge (ASAC) in charge of the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force likewise emphasized for investigators that they would have deemed it relevant that Tsarnaev had gone to "an area known to be a training ground for extremists," according to the report.

The LEGAT characterized Tsarnaev's travel, having learned after the fact, as "huge," and said their procedures would have led to the reopening of his assessment.

Among chastisements of the FBI, the report addresses the failyure to take "additional investigative steps" that "would have resulted in a more thorough assessment," including performing additional database searches and interviewing Tsarnaev's, wife and a former girlfriend, who had claimed in 2009 that Tsarnaev assaulted her.

The letter from NCTC director that closes the report speaks of having learned "actions and enhancements that will refine our current and future capabilities, processes, and procedures."

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