Tsarnaev Snafus: Nearly 12 Years After 9/11, Boston Bombings Highlight Intelligence Holes

Senators say "stonewalling" and "stovepipes" blocked information sharing between law-enforcement and intelligence agencies

  • Share
  • Read Later
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

The Boston Fire Department hazardous-materials team clean the blast site near the Boston Marathon finish line one week after the FBI handed over Boylston Street back to the city in Boston, on April 22, 2013.

Ten years ago the Department of Homeland Security was created to end the lack of information sharing among U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies that had missed the 9/11 terrorist plot. Now it seems that blockages and miscommunications between and within those agencies caused them to miss the Boston Marathon bomb plot last week that killed three people and wounded 176, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

What “is troubling to me [is] that this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001, that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively not only among agencies but also within the same agency in one case,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a top Republican on the Intelligence Committee.

Investigators are still compiling what various U.S. agencies knew about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the months and years leading up to the bombings. Thus far what’s clear is that some agencies didn’t know what other agencies knew. Indeed teams within agencies seemed to not share information with one another.

In a statement over the weekend, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was informed in March 2011 by Russia’s security agency, known as the FSB, that Tamerlan was becoming radicalized. The FBI followed up, interviewing Tamerlan and his family and speaking to people at his school, Bunker Community College. It found nothing “derogatory,” sent its findings back to Russia and heard nothing back from the FSB, it said.

(MORE: Tread on Me: The Case for Freedom From Terrorist Bombings, School Shootings and Exploding Factories)

But, the FSB had “multiple” contacts with the FBI and at least one was after October 2011, according to Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who sits on the Intelligence Committee. Apparently that information was not shared with the original team that interviewed Tamerlan. Tamerlan, 26, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the marathon attack, was killed in a shootout with police on Thursday.

Then there’s the question of Tamerlan’s travel to Russia last year. The FBI said it did not know that Tamerlan had left the country because he misspelled his name on his exit card. Tamerlan had a U.S. green card and had been applying for U.S. citizenship — a process that had been temporarily blocked because of flags the FBI had placed on his file. (His brother Dzhokhar was granted citizenship on Sept. 11, 2012.)

But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified at an immigration hearing before Congress on Tuesday that her department had been aware of Tsarnaev’s departure. Why this information was not shared with the FBI is an important question, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “Not to mention, was his name misspelled when he came back?”

Graham said Congress would hold multiple hearings into what happened in Boston and how the brothers became militantly radicalized. In the months after Tamerlan’s return in July 2012, he launched a YouTube page on which he posted radical Islamist videos. “Here’s what I can’t get over,” Graham tells TIME, “how did you miss all this radical stuff on videos? But even deeper: when the bomb went off last Monday, wouldn’t the first thing you’d do if you’re the FBI is to go into the files of everyone we’d interviewed in the Boston area regarding terrorism and see what pops up? How could his name not pop up when they had the photo of the guy? How could they not match the two? So clearly there’s a big problem here.”

(MORE: Boston-Bombing Analysis: When Immigrants Don’t ‘Americanize’)

The FBI does have a facial-recognition database of 12 million mug shots, but they have yet to confirm or deny that they ran the images of the Tsarnaev brothers through that database before releasing them on Thursday, asking for the public’s help to identify them. It was the release of their photos that prompted the Tsarnaev brothers’ final bloody rampage that left one police officer dead and another wounded before a manhunt for Dzhokhar that shut down Boston all day on Friday finally ended in his surrender.

Investigators are now not only compiling what various government agencies knew about the brothers, but are also attempting to rebuild both their lives. “They’re leaving no stone unturned,” said Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, emerging from a classified FBI briefing on the bombings. “Anything relative to these individuals and their lives, what they’ve been doing, whether it’s been here or whether it’s been the trip back to Russia … All of [Tamerlan’s] life is being reconstructed literally day by day, hour by hour.”

For all the apparent missteps, Hill figures are not rushing to judgment. While most Republicans expressed concern about the apparent miscommunications, none were willing to say the FBI dropped the ball. “There’s been some stonewalls and some stovepipes that’s been reconstructed that were probably unintentional, but we’ve got to review that issue again and make sure that there’s the free flow of information,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee. “I can’t say the FBI dropped the ball. I don’t see anybody yet who dropped that ball, that may yet develop.”

Democrats for their part have been even less critical of the FBI. Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said there are always lessons to be learned after this kind of attack, but that the cooperation in the week since has been exemplary. “What was very clear to me is that this is a long, arduous task, and it makes no sense to speak about any specific part of it right now,” Feinstein told reporters. “But what I know is that I have never in my lifetime seen an effort as positive as this one is in terms of the cooperation and communication between law-enforcement and investigative agencies, and I believe that they will get to the bottom of it eventually.”

Given the confusion that has already emerged, that conclusion eventually may be months, or years, away.

85 comments
Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Over a decade without much after 9/11... I for one think they are doing a decent job.


One got through... so what?


ANOTHER WILL GET THROUGH - WE WILL BE BOMBED AGAIN!


you cannot prevent them all... but they have prevented quite a damn bit. so shut your pie holes.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

Pretty obvious FBI dropped the ball.  Sorry.  How many red flags and warnings do you get ?  Consider that the FBI failed to link the Chechen terrorists AFTER the two bombings. ???   FBI didn't even drive a mile or so and knock and talk to the two fine young men on welfare.  The FBI was sleep walking through this.  Actually, the outcome would have been the same without the FBI.  They would not have been able to hog the limelight at press conferences though.  Extremely good at that.  Telling the public: someone out there knows who did this !  Yeah, FBI you do...it was the Chechen terrorist who conned you last year during your ' interview' and who just came back from Terroristan and has been posting love letters to Osama Bin Laden on You Tube...ya think ?

oahumizu
oahumizu

I'm waiting on CNN to report that the bro's "may" have come out of a UFO.

Arimathean
Arimathean

You know, I am loathe to condemn the FBI and Homeland Sec outright, simply because I wholeheartedly believe that they have almost certainly prevented a significant number of attacks in the past twelve years.  At the same time, this is pretty specific evidence that the investigation was mishandled.  I hope that we can productively tweak the system without alienating or lambasting those serving us well in these agencies.

tbbaot
tbbaot

This was not a case of government dropping the ball...this is a documented case of willful neglect by the Obama regime. Saudi Nationals have favored travel status granted by obama in January. 15 of the 19 highjackers on 9/11 were Saudi. A Saudi national was named as a suspect in Boston and a deportation order was prepared instead of investigation. The documents verifying this are in the hands of congress. Janet Reno lied when she denied this.

RickMartin
RickMartin

This article places too much emphasis on "Prevention Measures" -- unfortunately that is not the "real world" -- there is no way anyone could have predicted the future actions of this individual.

curt3rd
curt3rd

What makes me curious is why did Russia want us to check this guy out. What reason did they have for alerting us? He was no longer their problem.  Does this happen a lot where another country warns us about someone living in our country? 

Oh yeah, did you notice the date he became a U.S citizen? 

gysgt213
gysgt213

1969, a Year of Bombings

From 2009 Article.

One night, 40 years ago this month, about 50 typists were on the eighth floor of the Marine Midland Building, keying records on automatic booking machines, when a bomb exploded.

Placed next to a bank of elevators, the bomb — which detonated around 10:50 p.m. on Aug. 20, 1969, with a force equal to about 24 sticks of dynamite — ripped off the elevator doors, blew out windows on three sides of the building and overturned filing cabinets. The blast collapsed the eighth floor into the seventh floor below. The explosion ripped a hole eight feet wide through a 10-foot-thick floor. About 150 late-shift employees were on duty at Marine Midland, at 140 Broadway in the financial district, but only two people had injuries serious enough to require extended medical treatment.

During a period of less than four months in the summer and fall of 1969, eight bombings rocked major institutions in New York City. While no one was killed, the bombings caused several injuries, jolted the city, damaged property and became symbols of the radical movements that were challenging the foundations of American society.

Prof. Jeremy Varon, a historian at the New School and the author of“Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies”(University of California Press, 2004), said that “1969 was the high watermark of anger and frustration in the Vietnam war.”

He added: “The bombings that year were an expression, an act of, if not foolhardy, optimism. They were desperadoes. They had the belief that they could bomb old ideologies out of existence.”

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/1969-a-year-of-bombings/



breindrein
breindrein

I cant believe that the intelligence agencies will automaticlly know who will kill next, even from a list of suspicious people that all agencies know of. You know there are current suspicious people, but you cant just bust down doors and arrest them all, just in case. Try and think about those bombs that didnt go off because of the intel agencies stopping it early. Nobody talks about those. The intel guys would also not say precisely which plots were stopped since it might have been cells and the investigation is still ongoing to get to the core. Based on all the people that are really pissed at the US, I think it could have been way worse.

rogercottonsr
rogercottonsr

The problem then and now is...we don't know who is in our country. There are terrorists running amok all over the US and Canada. Maybe even in Mexico. At least if we had a National Identity Card like in Europe, we could keep track of ALL of our lawful residents and it wouldn't bother me a bit! I am not a crook and no one is looking for me. If there were, then let them have me, I'm not gonna run and hide and change my name like millions are doing right now. Hey, we have at least 11-20 million illegal Mexicans in this country running all over the place, using fake names, stolen social security numbers etc.and others from all over the world who overstay their visas and what have you. Until we can figure out who is here and WHAT KIND of individuals they are, ie; criminals, perverts, rapists, robbers, murderers, or decent law abiding, tax-paying people, WE WILL NOT BE SAFE. I don't care what the government spins (says).

dctiger
dctiger

It's amazing to me that a senator is questioning why the FBI didn't immediately try to run thru the Boston database for suspicious people connected to terrorism. The Boston Marathon is a global attraction and brings people from all over the world. It's a coincidence that the perpetrators lived just outside of Boston. These guys were on no one's radar because they were independent radicals. It's a tragedy but I don't believe the FBI could've done anything to prevent it. There was nothing found on the individuals when Russia asked them to look into them.

In the days following the attack, law enforcement and the security agencies worked amazingly well to track down the terrorists. They deserve praise and just have to accept that someone slipped under the radar. It's scary but it's true.

eric.casto12
eric.casto12

Easy for these agencies to cooperate when the spotlight is on and the world is watching for the post-tragedy love fest. I believe that they should in the least be held strictly accountable for all breaches of oversight, at worst, be held partially culpable for the original attack and largely culpable for the ambush of the police officer. Oh, by the way - I vote democrat. This has nothing to do with politics, but everything to do with egos and incompetence.

firmsoil
firmsoil

Trust us, we are from the government, we know what we are doing.

swagger
swagger

the critics are republicans.  imagine that.  so obama's to blame or we need to spend more money on already bloated security agencies because we need to cut spending.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

ANOTHER THING!


Mistakes were made! They will happen again! more mistakes and more American deaths will HAPPEN....

We CAN NOT PREVENT ALL BOMBINGS.... there will be mistakes, and holes, and missed chances.... but it was BOUND TO HAPPEN EVENTUALLY.

gysgt213
gysgt213

@Arimathean I agree with you about condemning the FBI, but I'm not so sure there was at the time specific evidence.  There appears evidence in hindsight, but I would want to see a complete  investigation of the FBI handling of this first.  Too many things coming out of politicians mouths right now are just plain wrong.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@tbbaot 



really son? You are so misinformed you should be forced to have the avatar of a dunce hat.


can you really be that damned ignorant?

jason024
jason024

@tbbaot Funny because so far the only two suspects in the Boston  attack WERE NOT Saudi. So this is Obama's fault..how?

You are all over the place son...try sticking to one event and one Administration (Reno was NOT in the Obama administration).  

 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@bharv9941 


It was a mistake... these happen and another planet will blow up again someday.


you learn from them and that is it... you do not prevent them from ever happening again unless you live in a fairy tale.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@paulejb 



Religion spawns rot and death and covers it up with tales of love and drilling wells in Africa while spending more money printing Bible filth.... religion is the breeding ground of all that is sick about the human race.

jason024
jason024

@paulejb They did come to the US legally and by all accounts paid their taxes. Let alone they were not "radicals" until AFTER they came to America.  

Arimathean
Arimathean

@curt3rd From what I have read in the past, it is common for intelligence services to share information and sources even when their governments are on iffy terms.  The reciprocation comes in handy.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

@breindrein 

Tamerlan was NOT a US citizen.  I can guarantee you if the FBI had tried very hard they could have legally got him deported back to the terror Disneyland he hailed from.

jason024
jason024

@rogercottonsr If only there a way to track guns and who bought them through some national database....wait we can't. 


BTW:...these guys came into the country LEGALLY long before they were "radicalized."

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

@dctiger 

Yep, dude the FBI missed more red flags than their ever going to get again.  In fact, every dau we get more info and the CIA and Ruskies kept telling FBI 'watch out." They went through the motions...like they did for info prior to 911 that might have stopped that.  The deaths of the bombing victims are probably on their hands and how could they NOT have Tamerlan on a short list AFTER the bombing...that murdered police officer 5 days later is 100% on the FBI.

donatoadc
donatoadc

@dctiger On no one's radar?  Thank goodness our security doesn't depend on you.  If you can't see that the FBI missed telltale signs in the lead up to 9/11 and has now failed again to follow-up on multiple alerts they received about the older brother in this tragedy then you're not too bright or maybe your daddy's the Director of the FBI.   The older bro was interviewed in 2011 but the FBI didn't even know he went to Chechnya for 6 months last year and then the feds can't even flag him in face recognition database.  Pathetic that our security is in hapless hands.  If I lost someone in this tragedy I'd be demanding the FBI answer for its incompetence.    

donatoadc
donatoadc

@eric.casto12 Completely agree, the FBI needs to be held accountable for failing to follow-up on information in its possession that could have prevented this.  

curt3rd
curt3rd

I didnt see where anyone was blaming Obama.  They are concerned about info being shared between agencies.  Obama didnt blame this on  youtube video this time so he should have nothing to worry about.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

@jason024 @paulejb 

Last time I checked welfare dead-beats don't pay taxes.  Zero mention that either of these clowns did much in the way of working...unless you call working the system working and maybe you do.  Did you think Tamerlan was a door to door pressure-cooker salesman ?

curt3rd
curt3rd

You dont know when they became radicals. You might be right but no one knows yet.

rogercottonsr
rogercottonsr

@jason024 @rogercottonsr right, so we need to get rid of the "radicalizers" the fbi needs to find out who they are in the mosques and shut them down. "freedom of religion" does not include subversion of our country.

rogercottonsr
rogercottonsr

@jason024 @rogercottonsr yes, thanks. what i'm saying is we need a national id card biometric to keep track of every resident at all times. this would prevent illegals or legals who run afoul of the law not to escape detection. remember, the fbi did not find the guy, a smoker just happened to see him in the boat. if you couldn't do anything without a valid national id card, (like a drivers license, but a lot of folks don't drive) then it would cut all crime significantly and we would solve this problem.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Do we need a national database for pressure cookers?  Also, I have not seen anythng in the news on where they got their gun so if it was illegally obtain a database would not help.

Arimathean
Arimathean

@donatoadc @eric.casto12 Be careful.  There is a fine line between asking for care and asking for clairvoyance.  If you cross that line, you alienate the guards who, most of the time, guard us quite effectively.  I suggest that language demanding that we "hold them accountable" also acknowledge that they have likely protected us from much we never knew threatened us.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

@jason024 @paulejb 

They come from a small region famed for the ruthless terrorists it produces.  They are of a religion that has been associated with most of the recent terrorist attacks in this country.  We learn the father couldn't hold a job and mom was a thief with radical islamic ideology.  Why would we want them here ?

jason024
jason024

@paulejb @jason024 And in all of your wisdom...if they were not radicals when they came to America (by most accounts THEY WERE NOT)...how do you propose we stop this when there were few if any indications they had radical ties before coming to America? 

Again.... Legally...paule...legally giving them money (they fell within the welfare standards) and  at this point they could have gotten their nefarious money from their jobs. Please describe how you can separate the two to determine what directly funded their nefarious activities.

jason024
jason024

@paulejb legally....so what is your problem again? It is not like they were illegal immigrants.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

@Arimathean @donatoadc @eric.casto12 

They get BILLIONS and have over ten thousand agents and many more local terror JTTF associates...but they can't check web postings ?  Ask at local mosque ?  Talk to all his family ?  Catch ole Tamerlan in lie ?  what about after his return from Terroristan ?  They could work him if they had done the background and follow-up info and suspensed the file.  Too many red flags.

donatoadc
donatoadc

@Arimathean @donatoadc @eric.casto12 I don't deny that we never hear of the threats the Feds do act on and protect us from.  However, the evidence we've been told on this bombing just makes one wonder if we are repeating the intelligence lapses and sharing that contributed to the failure in putting the pieces together leading up to 9/11.