Tags: Russia | Boston | bombings | withheld

NYT: Russia Withheld Information on Boston Bomber

By Todd Beamon   |   Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 10:50 PM

Russia withheld critical information from the FBI on one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects' ties to radical Islam two years before the attacks that killed three Americans and injured more than 260 others — and those disclosures most likely would have triggered more investigation by authorities, The New York Times reports.

Russian officials told the FBI in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police after the attacks, "was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer," the Times says, citing a new report on how U.S. agencies could have stopped the bombings.

Moscow also told the agency that Tsarnaev "had changed drastically" as he met up with "unspecified underground groups," during travels to the Dagestan region of Russia, according to the report.

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But Moscow refused to provide any further information to the FBI despite the agency making "several" requests for more data, the Times reports.

"They found that the Russians did not provide all the information that they had on him back then, and based on everything that was available, the FBI did all that it could," a top U.S. official briefed on the report told the Times.

It was only after the attacks that Moscow shared the additional information with the FBI, including the contents of a telephone conversation on Islamic jihad that authorities had intercepted between Tsarnaev and his mother, the Times reports.

Authorities believe Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar, now 20, were the sole perpetrators of the April 15 Boston bombings when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the marathon finish line.

The Justice Department is seeking the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a Chechen native who became a naturalized U.S. citizen the year before the bombings on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Dzhokhar was captured after an extensive police manhunt that shut down the Boston area and followed a bloody night in which a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was shot and killed and a Boston transit police officer was wounded.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in the shootout after he and his younger brother carjacked a vehicle and led police on a high-speed chase. So desperate was Dzhokhar to flee authorities that he floored the vehicle, running over his dying brother.

According to the Times, the new report was produced by the inspector general for the Office of Intelligence Community, which oversees 17 separate agencies. The inspectors general from the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency also were involved.

Members of Congress are expected to be briefed Thursday on the report, the Times reports. It has not been made public, though some findings are expected to be released before next Tuesday — the first anniversary of the bombings.

The Times talked to several senior U.S. officials about the report. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the review, the FBI found little evidence tying Tamerlan Tsarnaev to international terrorists groups — even though agents investigated his 2012 visit to Dagestan, in Russia's North Caucasus region, the Times reports.

But agents found nothing indicating that Tsarnaev had been instructed or supported by terrorists there.

"At this point, it looks like they were homegrown violent extremists," the senior official told the Times. "We certainly aren’t in a position to rule anything out — but at this point, we haven’t found anything substantive that ties them to a terrorist group."

Federal laws and Justice Department guidelines did limit the FBI's ability to fully utilize certain surveillance techniques in their investigation of Tsarnaev early on, the report found.

"Had they known what the Russians knew they probably would have been able to do more under our investigative guidelines, but would they have uncovered the plot?" another senior U.S. official posed to the Times. "That’s very hard to say."

The new report largely exonerates the FBI, the Times reports, but it did note that Boston agents could have conducted more interviews when they examined the Russian data the first received in 2011.

It also included recommendations on how the agency can better share information with state and local authorities.

"It's people like this that you don’t want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake," Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Times in an interview. The South Carolina Republican sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I don’t know if our laws were inefficient or if the FBI failed, but we’re at war with radical Islamists, and we need to up our game," he said.

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