The FBI has a lot of explaining to do about what happened in an Orlando apartment five weeks after the Marathon bombing.
But the questions begin in Boston. The April 15 attack occurred in the heart of the city, and the Boston area was home to bombing suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar. The FBI investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 and then lost track of him, allowing him to travel in and out of the country and plan his deadly mission.
A former district attorney, Democratic Representative William R. Keating, said he understands law enforcement’s quest to protect sensitive information. But there’s a way to be transparent and accountable without compromising a criminal investigation, said Keating, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Part of their job is to assure the public . . . to be forthright,” said Keating. “It’s a fine line. I’ve had to toe it. They should too.”
As part of a congressional delegation, Keating recently traveled to Russia to meet with intelligence officials. The trip, he said, raised more questions about what information was conveyed to the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died following a shoot-out with police.
According to Keating, US lawmakers were shown a letter that Russian officials said they sent to the FBI in March 2011. It supposedly contained detailed information about Tsarnaev’s radicalization. Russian officials wouldn’t give Keating a copy, telling him to get one from the FBI.
“They haven’t come forward with it,” said Keating.
So far, FBI officials involved in the Marathon investigation are communicating mainly via official statements posted on the agency website. The FBI was invited, but didn’t participate in Capitol Hill hearings on the Marathon bombings. Behind the scenes, however, FBI representatives reportedly let it be known they were unhappy with questions posed during a May 9 hearing by Representative Michael McCaul to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.
McCaul, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, asked Davis if he knew the FBI “opened an investigation into Tamerlan.” The commissioner’s answer: “We were not aware of that.” The Boston FBI office swiftly posted a statement saying it had shared relevant information with Boston police, although the meaning of “shared” remains open to interpretation.
There have been calls for the FBI to explain how and why an agent shot Ibragim Todashev in his Orlando apartment. Todashev, who lived in the Boston area for a time, was shot May 22 while being questioned about a triple slaying in Waltham, which may be in some way connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The ACLU has joined the clamor for more details about the Todashev shooting, and is also calling for an independent investigation.
What happened in Orlando should be disclosed. So should the FBI’s actions and decisions in Boston, before and after the Marathon bombing.
Keating would still like to know exactly what Russian officials told the FBI about Tsarnaev in early 2011, and who in the FBI handled the communication between the two countries. He would like to compare the correspondence the Russians said they sent with whatever the FBI actually received. His mission isn’t finger-pointing, he said; it’s about improving national security.
The information from the Russians triggered some investigation into Tsarnaev. Who in the FBI conducted it? Why didn’t that agent bring along a Boston police representative who serves on Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force? It would have been another set of eyes and ears.
In 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was free to take a six-month trip to Dagestan, Russia, and then return to the United States. A year later, he bought two large pyrotechnic devices from a fireworks store in Seabrook, N.H.
What happened in Orlando should be disclosed. So should the FBI’s actions before and after the Marathon bombing.
On April 15, two bombs exploded at the Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring scores more. When surveillance photos of Tamerlan Tsarnaev surfaced, why didn’t the FBI agent recognize him from the interview? The photos were released to the public for identification, leading to an intensive manhunt. In the course of it, MIT police officer Sean Collier was killed during an encounter with the Tsarnaev brothers, and a transit police officer almost died from what appears to have been friendly fire during a shoot-out.
There are still so many questions. FBI officials can’t duck them forever.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.