WASHINGTON — The nation’s top spy initiated a broad review Monday into “the US government’s handling of intelligence information leading up to the Boston Marathon bombings,” according to an internal memo obtained by the Globe.
The memo is the latest evidence of concern that warning signs may have been missed that could have prevented the terrorist assault.
The review, sought by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, will be overseen by the Intelligence Community Inspector General, which investigates waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct within the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.
The investigation comes amid mounting evidence that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies had information indicating that at least one of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, possessed militant tendencies and traveled to the Russian republic of Dagestan, home to several Islamic terrorist groups.
Tsarnaev and his mother, Zubeidat, were also added to at least two terrorist databases in 2011 at the request of the CIA. But neither received any follow up after an initial FBI investigation months earlier that was conducted at the request of Russia’s Federal Security Service.
The new review of agencies’ handling of information before the attack will be conducted in conjunction with the inspectors general from the CIA, Department of Justice (which oversees the FBI), and the Department of Homeland Security, which “have agreed to conduct coordinated reviews of the intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies involved,” according to the memo.
In Rhode Island on Monday, the bombing investigation took FBI agents to the family home of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow. The agents left that North Kingstown house with several bags.
Authorities have reportedly been interested in talking to Katherine Russell, who married Tsarnaev three years ago, to find out whether she knew anything about the plot to bomb the Marathon on April 15.
“The FBI is there as part of our ongoing investigation, but we aren’t permitted to discuss specific aspects of our case,” the agency said in a statement.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two bombs exploded near the Marathon finish line on Patriots Day.
Tsarnaev, 26, was later killed in a late night shoot-out with police in Watertown, while his younger brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured after a daylong manhunt that shuttered much of Greater Boston.
Two law enforcement officials said Monday that investigators suspect a link exists between the bombing suspects and the Watertown neighborhood where the shoot-out happened, but investigators do not have definitive information about that link. The brothers are ethnic Chechens, and there is a Chechen community in Watertown, the officials said.
The brothers are also suspected in the killing of an MIT police officer shortly before the gunfight in Watertown. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was wounded in the shoot-out, is now in a prison hospital at Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, facing charges related to the bombing.
The Wall Street Journal and CBS News reported that investigators went to Russell’s home to collect a DNA sample from the widow to compare it to female DNA found on fragments from the bombs that exploded at the Marathon, citing unnamed sources. It is also possible the DNA came from a retail clerk who sold some of the materials in the bombs, a Marathon spectator, or some other source, the reports noted.
Russell, originally from Rhode Island, lived with Tsarnaev and their 3-year-old child in Cambridge near Inman Square. Her parents still live in Rhode Island.
Russell’s attorneys could not be reached Monday. But they previously issued a statement saying that their client was “doing everything she can to assist with the investigation” and was struggling to come to terms with the bombing and her husband’s death.
No one has yet claimed Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body, which is in the custody of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, according to Terrel Harris, a Department of Public Safety spokesman. The medical examiner’s officer has determined a cause of death, but will not release that information until the body has been claimed, Harris said.
Tsarnaev’s parents, who now live in Russia, initially indicated they planned to visit the United States to claim the body and visit Dzhokhar Tsarnaev but have since postponed their plans indefinitely.
A federal magistrate Monday provided a boost to the defense team of the younger Tsarnaev by approving the appointment of a death penalty lawyer.
A state legislative committee said Monday that it has embarked on a review of 500 pages of information regarding public assistance received by the Tsarnaev family.
Meanwhile, it appeared that the mysterious “Misha” — a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev described by the suspect’s relatives as a zealous convert to Islam who helped radicalize Tamerlan — has been found in West Warwick, R.I.
But Mikhail “Misha” Allakhverdov told the New York Review of Books on Sunday that he had nothing to do with the bombings, that he did not steer Tamerlan toward violence, and that he had not seen him since moving away from Boston about three years ago.
“I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Allakhverdov, 39, told the publication.
The Review of Books published a brief account of the interview with Allakhverdov on its blog Sunday night, saying the item was part of a longer piece on the Tsarnaev family and Boston’s Russian and Chechen community to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal.
Allakhverdov told the Review he was cooperating fully with law enforcement and that he had nothing to hide.
“I gave them my computer and my phone and everything, I wanted to show I haven’t done anything,” Allakhverdov told the publication. “And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.”
This seems consistent with an Associated Press report Saturday that the FBI, according to two US officials, had found no evidence that the man they believed to be “Misha” was connected to the bombing.
The Review said its interview with Allakhverdov was conducted in Russian at the apartment he shares with his elderly parents. They were present for the interview, the Review said, as was Allakhverdov’s American girlfriend.
Reporters began gathering outside the modest three-story clapboard and brick building hours after the Review posted its report. On Monday morning, no one answered the phone or the door, and thick curtains remained drawn.
A man who identified himself as Richard Nicholson, a Providence attorney, spoke briefly with reporters after visiting the family before noon, staying for about a half-hour. Nicholson said he represents Allakhverdov’s father, Yuri.
“This is a trying time for Yuri and his family,’’ Nicholson said. “Yuri is obviously nervous and his wife is nervous about all the attention that they have been getting.’’
He said he advised the couple to go about their normal daily activities.
“To date they’ve answered all the questions that have been asked of them by the authorities,’’ he said.
A couple whom a neighbor later identified as Mikhail’s parents left out the back door in the early afternoon and quickly departed in an older model red sedan. The father was modestly built, and his wife wore her ash-colored hair swept up. Both looked pained. They declined to speak to the clutch of reporters who came trotting up. They later returned.
A neighbor who declined to give her name said Mikhail Allakhverdov did not seem to live in the apartment with his parents. She said Allakhverdov’s girlfriend does not wear a hijab, or head scarf, something many observant Muslim women wear. She said he used to live in Boston but came back several years ago after a divorce.
A former brother-in-law of the Tsarnaev brothers, in an interview with the AP from Kyrgyzstan last week, described “Misha” as a red-bearded Armenian convert who exerted enormous influence over Tamerlan. Family members told the AP that under Misha’s teaching Tamerlan gave up music, took an interest in conspiratorial websites, and became increasingly opposed to US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The former brother-in-law recalled witnessing a long conversation between Tamerlan and “Misha” that lasted into the night in the Tsarnaev family’s kitchen.
The AP reported that Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, recalled speaking with Tamerlan’s father about his concerns regarding Misha’s influence: “Somehow, he just took his brain,” Tsarni said.
The Review said Allakhverdov’s mother is Ukranian and his father is an Armenian Christian. The publication said the family had been living in Azerbaijan but moved to the United States in the early 1990s to escape the persecution of Armenian Christians there.
But the brief account left many questions unanswered. It said Allakhverdov declined to describe his relationship with Tamerlan or his family, and that he had never met the Tsarnaev relatives who have been speaking about Allakhverdov’s influence. There was no information about Tamerlan’s religious beliefs or politics, nor was there an explanation of why the two men stopped talking.