FBI failed to thoroughly vet Boston Marathon bombing suspects after Russian lead, report says

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Two years before the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI failed to vet thoroughly information from Russian officials that one of the bombing suspects might have a link to terrorism, according to a recent Justice Department inspector general’s report.

Russian intelligence officials told the FBI in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become radicalized and expressed concern that he might return to Russia and join extremist groups there. The Russians also wrote that Tsarnaev hoped to travel to Palestinian territories and wage jihad but didn’t go because he couldn’t speak Arabic.

An officer with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston opened a case file, conducted database searches, reviewed references to Tsarnaev and his family in closed FBI counterterrorism cases, performed “drive-bys” of his residence, made an on-site visit to his former college, and interviewed Tsarnaev and his parents, according to the report, which was released last week. The agent concluded that Tsarnaev wasn’t a threat and closed the file.

According to the report, the FBI agent failed to notify local police that he was investigating Tsarnaev, didn’t go to his mosque, and failed to interview Tsarnaev’s ex-girlfriend and his wife. Such actions might have alerted the agent to Tsarnaev’s sometimes volatile behavior.

In addition, the agent didn’t attempt to elicit pertinent information in the interviews he did conduct with Tsarnaev and his parents, the report said. The FBI agent didn’t ask Tsarnaev about his plans to travel to Russia, changes in his lifestyle, or his knowledge of or sympathy for militants in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, are accused of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police in a Boston suburb days after the bombings, and Dzhokhar is awaiting trial on terrorism and murder charges.

The FBI agent, in his defense, said not enough derogatory information was uncovered to necessitate a visit to Tsarnaev’s mosque and interviews with his former girlfriend and wife. He said his investigation was the least intrusive and in accordance with FBI protocol. The inspector general agreed.

But when the inspector general asked why the agent asked the relevant questions during his interview of Tsarnaev and his parents, the agent simply said he didn’t know.

Tsarnaev had been arrested for slapping a girlfriend and thrown out of his local mosque several times for getting into shouting matches with preachers because they encouraged worshippers to celebrate American holidays, according to a congressional report released last week. He apparently became self-radicalized in 2011 while he was living in a Boston suburb.

Given the information the FBI had at the time, it’s impossible to know whether additional investigative steps would have changed the outcome of the bombing plot, the report concludes.

The inspector general “determined that the additional database searches would not have revealed any information that was not already known to the Agent conducting the assessment. In addition, the DOJ OIG found that it is impossible to know what the former girlfriend and wife would have told the FBI in 2011 before the Boston Marathon bombings and while Tamerlan Tsarnaev was still alive,” the report states. “Therefore, it cannot be known whether these additional interviews would have yielded additional information relevant to [Russia‘s] FSB lead information.”

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