Why the FBI, White House Will Face Hard Questions About Their Boston Bombing Interviews

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Peter van Agtmael / Magnum for TIME

Bystanders gather as authorities move into the hiding place of Dzhokar Tsarnaev several blocks away on Franklin Street in Watertown, Mass., on April 19, 2013

The FBI and the Obama Administration will face hard questions in coming days over interviews with the alleged perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, one with the surviving suspect now in custody and another with his now deceased older brother that took place two years ago.

After a four-day manhunt that ended with the death overnight Thursday of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture Friday night of his younger brother Dzhokhar, Boston’s relief had not even dissipated before Washington’s debates kicked in. “We remain under threat from radical Islam and we hope the Obama Administration will seriously consider the enemy-combatant option,” said GOP Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, referring to their preference that Dzhokhar, an American citizen, not be read Miranda rights or given the right to counsel.

The Administration has preferred to try terror suspects in civilian, Article 3 courts and abide by their rules, especially when dealing with American citizens. Obama suggested the Justice Department and the FBI would have the lead, rather than the military, in detaining, interrogating and trying Dzhokhar. “It’s important that we do this right,” Obama said in a statement released late Friday. “That’s why we have investigations. That’s why we relentlessly gather facts. That’s why we have courts,” Obama said.

(PHOTOS: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest)

In fact, the FBI doesn’t immediately need to read Dzhokhar his Miranda rights. Under the “public-safety” exception, cops can interrogate a suspect about imminent threats for some time before reading them their rights. One recent precedent came with the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, who was interrogated for several hours without being read his rights. Also, Democrats will no doubt remind their GOP critics that British citizen Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” was tried in Article 3 courts by the Bush Administration.

The bigger problem for the administration comes not from the current interviews with Dzhokhar, but with the interviews conducted two years ago with his now deceased brother, Tamerlan. Since he was identified as a suspect Thursday, there were already indications circulating in the media that Tamerlan had embraced Islamic extremism. But Friday night we learned that the FBI had actually been warned of his increasingly dangerous ideological bent by a foreign government and had investigated the matter.

In a statement released late Friday, the FBI said:

2011 Request for Information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Foreign Government.

The two individuals believed to be responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday have been positively identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, now deceased, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now in custody. These individuals are brothers and residents of Massachusetts. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal permanent resident and Dzhokar Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Charges have not yet been filed against Dzhokar Tsarnaev and he is presumed innocent.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, age 26, was previously designated as Suspect 1, wearing a black hat. Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, age 19, was designated as Suspect 2, wearing a white hat. Both were born in Kyrgyzstan.

Once the FBI learned the identities of the two brothers today, the FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.

There’s a lot of information there that will get sorted through, like the indication of databases kept by the government for the purposes of data mining green-card holders (and American citizens?). But the ultimate fight between the Hill and the FBI, or perhaps the GOP and the White House, will hinge on how and why the FBI decided to conclude from their searches that Tamerlan wasn’t connected to international terrorism.

(VIDEO: President Obama: Bombers’ ‘Hateful Agenda’ Will Not Prevail)

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act, in order to unlock powerful surveillance and investigative tools the FBI must show probable cause that an individual is engaged in international terrorist acts on behalf of a terrorist group. The foreign government seemed to believe that Tamerlan was. Did they supply sufficient evidence for the FBI to meet a FISA court judge’s standard of probable cause? Was the FBI going the extra mile to meet the probable-cause test?

Initially it doesn’t look good for the FBI. The definition under FISA of international terrorist acts is that they must:

… transcend national boundaries, in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the person they appear intended to coerce or intimidate, or the locale in which the perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

The classic example, experts say, of operating internationally is training in an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani hinterlands. To be sure, to get a FISA warrant the standard is higher for American citizens and green-card holders (like Tamerlan) — the FBI has to show the suspect is knowingly engaging in international terrorism or preparing for it on behalf of a terrorist group. If the suspect isn’t a citizen or green-card holder, then you just have to show the suspect is a member of terrorist group.

But FISA court judges don’t often reject warrant requests. And if the foreign government thought or knew that Tamerlan was traveling abroad to associate with “underground groups,” that could have been enough. Which raises the question how hard, if at all, the FBI and prosecutors in Boston tried to get a FISA warrant.

Even as he enjoys the cheers of Bostonians for his successful apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, FBI special agent in charge Richard DesLauriers, who took over the Boston office in 2010, may be preparing for tough questions about his past oversight of the Tsarnaev family.

MORE: The Unfolding Boston Marathon Manhunt

242 comments
emptywheel
emptywheel

@normative Apparently the overwhelming majority of pundits believe thoughts never evolve over time.

emptywheel
emptywheel

@normative Pretty stunning, huh? As if the last decade had never happened. Or PATRIOT itself.

TIME_correspondent
TIME_correspondent

Agency as well as the other branches of government has resources/wings dealing with counselling. They call Probation Officers in police who visit the "marked persons". Every alert of such nature should be kept alive for a considerable period of time; even if preliminary report is negative. Periodical interaction must be launched. Not just to prevent violence but to get the person into the mainstream system. He may prove to be an asset to nation. Like recently we have a new practice of recruiting cyber-hijackers in cyber-crime cells of FBI to enhance our capabilities in fighting cyber-crimes as also to use their creativity in right way.

thanatopsy
thanatopsy

How did the FBI drop the ball???

If the Russians suspected that the 2 brothers were terrorists why didn't they issue a warrant for their arrest??

allen_osuno
allen_osuno

@Maliheh_ Why is USA spending billions of $$$ on "Homeland Security" when DHS was unable to track two brothers Russia warned them about?

jrcowboy49
jrcowboy49

The Tsarnaev brothers were double agents who decoyed US into terror trap

The conclusion reached by debkafile’s counterterrorism and intelligence sources is that the brothers were double agents, hired by US and Saudi intelligence to penetrate the Wahhabi jihadist networks which, helped by Saudi financial institutions, had spread across the restive Russian Caucasian. Instead, the two former Chechens betrayed their mission and went secretly over to the radical Islamist networks. By this tortuous path, the brothers earned the dubious distinction of being the first terrorist operatives to import al Qaeda terror to the United States through a winding route outside the Middle East – the Caucasus. This broad region encompasses the autonomous or semi-autonomous Muslim republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, North Ossetia and Karachyevo-Cherkesiya, most of which the West has never heard of.

Moscow however keeps these republics on a tight military and intelligence leash, constantly putting down violent resistance by the Wahhabist cells, which draw support from certain Saudi sources and funds from the Riyadh government for building Wahhabist mosques and schools to disseminate the state religion of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis feared that their convoluted involvement in the Caucasus would come embarrassingly to light when a Saudi student was questioned about his involvement in the bombng attacks while in a Boston hospital with badly burned hands. They were concerned to enough to send Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal to Washington Wednesday, April 17, in the middle of the Boston Marathon bombing crisis, for a private conversation with President Barack Obama and his national security adviser Tom Donilon on how to handle the Saudi angle of the bombing attack.
That day too, official Saudi domestic media launched an extraordinary three-day campaign. National and religious figures stood up and maintained that authentic Saudi Wahhabism does not espouse any form of terrorism or suicide jihadism and the national Saudi religion had nothing to do with the violence in Boston.  “No matter what the nationality and religious of the perpetrators, they are terrorists and deviants who represent no one but themselves.” Prince Saud was on a mission to clear the 30,000 Saudi students in America of suspicion of engaging in terrorism for their country or religion, a taint which still lingers twelve years after 9/11. He was concerned that exposure of the Tsarnaev brothers’ connections with Wahhabist groups in the Caucasus would revive the stigma.

The debate has begun over the interrogation of the captured Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarmayev when he is fit for questioning after surgery for two bullet wounds and loss of blood. The first was inflicted during the police chase in which his brother Tamerlan was killed. An ordinary suspect would be read his rights (Miranda) and be permitted a lawyer. In his case, the “public safety exemption” option may be invoked, permitting him to be questioned without those rights, provided the interrogation is restricted to immediate public safety concerns. President Barack Obama is also entitled to rule him an “enemy combatant” and so refer him to a military tribunal and unrestricted grilling. According to debkafile’s counter terror sources, four questions should top the interrogators' agenda:

a) At what date did the Tsarnaev brothers turn coat and decide to work for Caucasian Wahhabi networks?

b) Did they round up recruits for those networks in the United States - particularly, among the Caucasian and Saudi communities?
c)  What was the exact purpose of the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath at MIT in Watertown?
d) Are any more terrorist attacks in the works in other American cities?

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

Could someone point out to me, in the Constitution, the "enemy combatant" clause?  I must've overlooked it.

mauisunset
mauisunset

Obama get a "hard question" from the Lamestream Press?

Yea - "Mr. President, how was your last golf game?"......................

tpaine
tpaine

Why does the word "inept" keep coming up when it involves this Administration? 

ichabodcrane
ichabodcrane

The US government also knows the US military is allowing rape and sexual assault and is allowing it.  Of course they knew about the bombs and these kids, they want to claim Marshall Law, this was a test.

theusmarinesrapecom

JohnBrown
JohnBrown

The Ft Hood shooter was yelling Allahu Akbar when he murdered all of those people, and lots of people knew long before he murdered those people that he was making Extreme Islamic statements, and corresponding via email with terrorists.  Nobody did anything because our Politically correct President would have destroyed the career of anyone voicing conerns about Islamic Extremism.  So when the Russians told the FBI, and the Obama administration that the older brother was an Islamic Extremists with ties to Islamic Terror did anybody do anything?  Of course not.  They all knew that Obama refuses to call what happened at Ft Hood Islamic Terror.  It was a workplace incident according to Obama.  So the FBI, and everyone who knew about the older brother being an Islamic Extremist with ties to Islamic Terror did nothing because they knew if they did Obama would destroy them.  The day after the bombing Obama refused to call it a terror attack, and even now he's never uttered the words Islamic Terror Attack.  Just like with Ft Hood the alarm bells were ringing and red lights were flashing, but nobody did anything because they knew Obama would punish them and destroy their carreers for warning about Islamic Extremism and Terror.  We know the result!  As for hard questions?  See Benghazi, and don't expect any answers that make sense.  There are none,, just lies and cover up.

chupkar
chupkar

I see this must have been on Drudge. Loooots of trolls.

chupkar
chupkar

Boston’s relief had not even dissipated before Washington’s debates kicked in.

That kind of says it all. Sure. Investigate. But, if there was not activity of that time, what, are we going to start arresting or detaining people for thoughts?

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

The FBI botched it.  They botched 9-11 too.  Hard to believe the Chechens never came up as likely suspects considering all the FBI knew and they were local too.  The FBI has great pr but they were feeble in this case.  Just about anyone would have asked "Hey do we have any local Jihadis ?'  FBI :  Yeah but they convinced us they were OK guys so lets not even look at their photos or go ask them about all the terrorist postings they have made.  We just talked to them a little while ago and they promised us they wouldn't blow anybody up.  We forgave the older one his domestic violence charge too and wished him luck in his career as a pressure-cooker salesman.

AndujarCedeno
AndujarCedeno

Richard Reid wasn't successful. There is a difference between trying to commit a terrorist act of war and committing a terrorist act of war. 

chrislee.va
chrislee.va

The real question is why did the FBI need assistance identifying the suspects when they had already interviewed him at least twice?  

saloonite
saloonite

@TIME what about thr backpack pics that show him walking from the scene with it still on yet another guy didnt and his was identical 2 wreck

WhitneySands
WhitneySands

This is typical of a top heavy over managed organization like the FBI and all government organizations, until we clean out our systems of the fat this type of mistake will continue to happen. 

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

how about we start with why the actions of a terrorist in an Army uniform are being designated "workplace violence" and why a sitting US President had ANY connections with a known US Terrorist who used the same tactics  ie Bill Ayers. Those answers might help with these questions about the Boston Bombers....

SquarePeg_Dem
SquarePeg_Dem

@TIME In hindsight, a FBI sting operation like the one in the Fort Dix (NJ) case might have been wise.

PLauren
PLauren

This time Obama has no video to shop around for excuses.

Maliheh_
Maliheh_

@allen_osuno Good question,i'm still puzzled why the fbi let these terrorist go 2 years ago.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@mauisunset Here is a question the LameStream Press needs to ask of McCain, Graham and Fox News. Why were they covering up the fact that Bush ignored 9/11 warnings and bleating that it was immoral to question a sitting president during war time, only to turn around and do the same to Obama over Benghazi?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@tpaine Why does the word inept not used with the previous administration who knew a month in advance of 9/11 that attacks were coming but chose to ignore the warnings, as they were to busy planning how they could justify an invasion of Iraq?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@JohnBrown See Benghazi? See 9/11. Where were the hard questions when memos came up from Early August 2011 that GWB and Condi Rice were warned and ignored the warnings letting 3000 civilians die on US soil?

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @mauisunset Gee and why didn't they beat up Clinton over the rape of Juanita Broaddrick? 

Damn...need to clean up the mess currently in the White House don't you think? Can't change the past now. Might as well try to deal with the present. Got to start somewhere. 

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @tpaine My guy sucks but that is ok because your guy did too. Nah na na na nah. Sheesh. Amazing that the fallback for defense for Obama continues to be "but Bush did it too".  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @mantisdragon91 @mauisunset And the ultimate boss has done a nice over all job. We can't every attack from happening. The one sad rule of law enforcement is that the authorities can stop thousands of attacks and get no credit, the perpetrators only have to be successful once and the finger pointing begins,

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @manapp99 @mauisunset The story is about the FBI possibly botching the case. Just like the CIA botched the intel about WMD in Iraq. The constant here is the federal government not living up to the job they are tasked with. The press should indeed have tough questions for the FBI and their ultimate bosses the FBI. I agree with that premise. Will some in the press go soft for the President because they support the Dems? Probably. Should they? No. Should they for any President? No. The last administration is over. Can't change the problems the press had with W. Got to look at what can be done going forward. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @mantisdragon91 @mauisunset And I agree. I just offended when the original poster claimed the press is some how covering up for Obama. When was the last time anyone asked any tough questions from the previous administration about why we invaded Iraq or where are the WMDs.

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @manapp99 @mauisunset I think we all could agree that the press could be a lot more helpful if they did not chose political sides and become, in effect, cheerleaders for one or the other. And we could all dig on getting a million dollar check from our Uncle Sam. But then there is reality. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @mantisdragon91 @mauisunset The press needs to clean up the mess in congress first. When you have an active supporter of the IRA(when they were setting off bombs in the UK and Northern Ireland) in Peter King grandstanding about the need to crack down on Muslim terrorists you know we have hypocrisy running wild.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @evil.aaronm I think the guys that went easy on Bush did so for political reasons and nothing more, the same political reasons as are motivating them to create mountains over molehills with Benghazi and possibly Boston.

manapp99
manapp99

@evil.aaronm @manapp99 So even if you are correct and the press went easy on Bush after 9/11, do you think that it was the right thing for the press to do? Do you think the answer is to go easy on the this or the next or the next President? 

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@manapp99 My memory is fine.  I vividly recall the question, "Why do you hate America?" when anyone brought up the possibility that Bush was less than diligent in handling the 9/11 threat.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @mantisdragon91 @tpaine Please demonstrate where there was anywhere near the amount of grandstanding  after 9/11 as there was after Benghazi. If I remember correctly no one in the mainstream media or the Democratic politicans asked questions about it for months if not years, while Romney went on the attack before all the facts that night were even in.

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @manapp99 @tpaine Like there is/was not false outrage by the left in the past. What difference does it make now? You must be new to politics if you think political posturing, rhetoric and hypocrisy are something new. 

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@tpaine I think the point is that if you weren't complaining when Bush did it, you shouldn't be complaining, now.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99 @mantisdragon91 @tpaine Not exactly. I'm just tired of this false outrage from the right. The same people that were crying that its unpatriotic to question a sitting US president during war time after 9/11 are now attempting to nit pick every decision in events that didn't even claim a 10th of the casualties of 9/11.