Russian intelligence officials told U.S. lawmakers in Moscow that the Boston Marathon attack might have been averted if American authorities had let them know about last year’s visit by one of the Chechen-American brothers blamed for the attack.
“They told us if U.S. agencies had worked more closely with them maybe, just maybe, the bombing might not have happened,” he said.
The older brother, a green card holder who apparently became a follower of violent Islamic extremism, was killed in the Boston area in a shootout with police four days after the bombing. His 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was captured the following day, and faces murder and bombing charges.
Last year, Tamerlan left the United States in January and spent six months in Dagestan, a violence-torn, Muslim-majority Russian republic in the brothers’ native North Caucasus. U.S. investigators and their Russian counterparts have been trying to retrace his steps there.
Mr. Cohen said the FSB officials briefed the congressional delegation over the weekend, the first time U.S. lawmakers had been briefed by representatives of the secretive agency. The FSB is the successor to the KGB.
Six lawmakers who went to Moscow were Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa, and Paul Cook and Dana Rohrabacher of California; Rep. William R. Keating, Massachusetts Democrat; and Mr. Cohen. They were shown a copy of Russia’s March 2011 warning to the CIA and the FBI.
The FSB told the U.S. agencies that Tamerlan and his mother appeared to have become radicalized and seemed interested in taking part in the Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus, an administrative and ethnic patchwork of Muslim-majority republics.
Mr. Cohen said one FSB official suggested the attack might have been averted “if [the U.S. government] had given them more information” after that warning.
The FBI has said it interviewed Tamerlan and other relatives, and reviewed his email and Internet activities, but found no evidence of any violent extremist activity or connections. After unsuccessfully seeking more information from the Russians, the bureau closed his file in June 2011.
Although Tamerlan’s name was still flagged on a U.S. travel watch list, the FBI took no action when he left the country last year because his file was closed, U.S. officials have said.
Russian officials have said they were not independently aware of Tamerlan’s arrival in June because he entered on a passport issued by the independent former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, rather than his Russian passport.
“If they had known he was there he might not have come back,” said Mr. Cohen.
He noted that two extremists with whom Tamerlan had associated while in Dagestan — including William Plotnikov, a Russian-born Canadian who was, like Tamerlan, an amateur boxer — had been killed in what Russian authorities referred to as shootouts shortly before the elder brother returned to the U.S.
“They killed those two; it’s possible they would have killed him too,” Mr. Cohen said. “They sure don’t have the same kind of due process there.”
The European Council on Foreign relations calls the human rights situation in the North Caucasus “dire,” adding that “extra-judicial killings, torture, and abductions continued to be common” last year.
Human rights activists say that security forces often employ “shoot-to-kill” policies, and the council notes that “murdered civilians were often presented as insurgents” by authorities.
“It’s hard to know what to believe,” Mr. Cohen said. “Intelligence agencies aren’t in the truth business.”