story behind the book | kate tuttle

Government’s broken promise to Tamerlan Tsarnaev

david wilson for the boston globe

“It’s still not over,” investigative reporter Michele R. McPhee said. “There are still so many unanswered questions. There are still so many lies.” She’s referring to the case behind “Maximum Harm: The Tsarnaev Brothers, the FBI, and the Road to the Marathon Bombing,” her eighth book. In it, longtime journalist and radio host McPhee describes the horrific bombing scene, where Krystle Marie Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Martin Richard lost their lives; law enforcement’s search for the suspects; and the events of the following days, including the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and the capture of his brother and fellow suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

McPhee alleges that the story began years earlier, with Tamerlan Tsarnaev working as an informant for one or more government agencies investigating terrorism. “In his mind he did his job, he did it right,” she said. “He’s been helping the government; they promised him citizenship, which he was very motivated to obtain.” When his citizenship application was denied, she argues, he sought revenge. As for younger brother Dzhokhar, McPhee doesn’t believe he’s innocent. “The evidence shows he was espousing the same sort of beliefs,” she said, “two years before he ever followed Tamerlan down Boylston Street.”

While stressing that the brothers are the guilty parties, McPhee said that the agencies involved need to be held accountable as well. “I do not believe for a second that anyone in the government knew those bombs were going to be detonated,” she said. “What I do believe though is that he was made a promise. It’s abundantly clear that the FBI knew who the Tsarnaevs were before Sean Collier got killed.”


“Obviously they need these informants,” McPhee said. “But when informants go bad, I think people should be compelled to answer questions. I think Sean Collier’s family deserves it.’’

McPhee will read at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at Barnes & Noble, 1 Worcester Road, Framingham; at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at the Harvard Club of Boston, 374 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; and at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at Tatnuck Bookseller, 18 Lyman St., Westborough.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at