FINALLY, THERE’S bipartisan agreement in Washington.
Republicans and Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee are mutually unhappy about the FBI’s refusal to tell the public what it knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the Boston Marathon bombings. They should be.
There are tantalizing questions about whether there was any way to stop Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar, before the deadly attack they allegedly carried out. And the answers begin with the FBI.
As Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said at last week’s hearing: “The information requested by this committee belongs to the American people. It does not belong solely to the FBI.”
Echoed Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who sits on the committee: “I think the FBI has a lot to explain for here.”
At the same hearing, Representative William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat, reiterated his frustration over the FBI’s unwillingness to share critical information about what they knew about Tsarnaev and when they knew it.
“What I want ultimately is a timeline — a very distinct timeline — of everything that happened,” said Keating, who traveled to Russia on a fact-finding mission that still lacks critical facts.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead, killed in the aftermath of a firefight with police in Watertown. Last week, his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, pleaded innocent to charges of using weapons of mass destruction to kill four people and injure more than 260 others.
The Russians say they warned the United States in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev might be planning to travel to Chechnya to meet with Islamist radicals. The FBI insists the warning was vague, but won’t produce it.
The FBI contends its requests for more information from the Russians went unanswered. Who made them? To whom were they sent? The FBI won’t say, and the Russians told Keating they have no record of such follow-up inquiries.
The FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the spring and summer of 2011, but concluded he wasn’t a threat. His case was closed and stayed that way — despite, as the Globe reported, more Russian warnings; a CIA decision to add Tsarnaev to a database of potential suspects; and a tip in 2012 from the Department of Homeland Security that he traveled to Russia. The FBI declines to say why it closed the book on the case.
The murders of three Waltham men, whose bodies were discovered on Sept. 12, 2011, provide another possible link to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A recent New York Times report renewed speculation that the Marathon bombings might never have happened if that murder investigation by local police “had been more vigorous.”
A definite connection between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the grisly Waltham murders might have been ascertained after the Marathon bombings. But just when Ibragim Todashev was allegedly about to implicate Tsarnaev in the murders, he was killed in May during an FBI interrogation. His death unfolded in a mysterious way that has yet to be officially addressed.
The quest for answers should not evolve into an exercise in blame-shifting between federal and local law enforcement authorities. It should be, as McCaul said, about finding out “what happened, what went wrong, and how to fix it.”
The FBI should not be able to hide behind the veil of ongoing criminal investigation. Indeed, Keating, a former prosecutor, bluntly said he believes the FBI is using the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an excuse to stonewall the Homeland Security Committee.
How often does it happen that Republicans like McCaul and King agree with a Massachusetts Democrat like Keating? For once, these representatives are on the same page — the people’s page.
Count Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis among those who believe the FBI should share more information about potential terror threats with local police departments, and that should be a potent enough mix to shake answers out of the FBI.
But the bureau arrogantly refused to provide a witness for last week’s Homeland Security Committee hearing. Instead, as the Globe reported, the bureau sent a letter saying it would not be responding to all the requests for information.
The FBI closed the case on Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Now they want to close the case on the consequences. They shouldn’t get away with it.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.