The FBI could have done little to prevent the Boston Marathon bombings, law enforcement officials said on Thursday, rejecting criticism that agents could have better monitored one of the suspects before the attack.
The agency reached the conclusion after several internal reviews of how the FBI responded to requests from Russian officials in 2011 to investigate whether one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been radicalized since coming to the U.S.,The New York Times
Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a fierce shootout with police four days after he and his brother, Dzhokhar, who is now 20, detonated two bombs at the finish line of the marathon on April 15, authorities said.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured in the blasts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces 30 counts stemming from the bombings, including 17 charges punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The brothers came to the United States about a decade ago from the Russian republic of Dagestan.
Members of Congress have contended that the FBI could have investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev more thoroughly in response to the Russian request, the Times reports.
They also have said that the agency should have followed up with Tsarnaev after he returned from a trip to Russia in 2012.
But FBI officials have concluded that the agents who conducted the investigation and ultimately told the Russians that there was no evidence that Tsarnaev had become radicalized were constrained from conducting a more extensive investigation because of federal laws and Justice Department protocols, the Times reports.
Agents cannot use surveillance tools like wiretapping for the investigation they were conducting.
Further, the officials have determined that had the agents known that Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia for months last year, they probably would not have investigated him again because there was no new evidence that he had become radicalized.
The most recent criticism of the FBI from Congress came on Wednesday, when Democratic Rep. William Keating of Massachusetts sent a letter to James Comey, the agency's incoming director.
Keating demanded that the agency respond to several unanswered questions about its actions in the years before the attack.
“What I am looking to do is identify our security shortcomings and change them,” Keating said in the letter, the Times reports. “Without forthright information from the FBI, we are prevented from taking the critical steps needed to protect the American public.”
The FBI has no plans to appoint an investigator to examine its procedures in the Boston case, the Times reports. But inspectors general from four federal agencies, including the Justice Department, said that they would be working together on their own investigation into how the government handled intelligence before the attack.
The agency has been cooperating with the inspector generals by providing them with investigative files and the opportunity to interview agents.
A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment to the Times, citing the investigation by the inspectors general.
The FBI first learned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been radicalized in early 2011, when Russian intelligence officials sent a letter to agents stationed at the American Embassy in Moscow.
The letter, according to the FBI, said that “he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel” to Russia to join a terrorist group.
The FBI then opened an investigation in Boston. As part of that inquiry, counterterrorism agents looked at Tsarnaev’s criminal, educational and Internet histories and found little that drew suspicion, the Times reports.
That April, FBI agents interviewed Tsarnaev’s parents, and shortly thereafter they interviewed him and found nothing suspicious. Two months later, the agents closed the investigation, determining that they could not find any information linking Tsarnaev to extremists or extremist beliefs.
The FBI then sought more information from Russian authorities, but was sent nothing, agency officials said. The FBI made another request in 2011, but the Russians once again sent no information, the Times reports.
Tsarnaev did not show up again on the FBI's radar until four days after the bombings, when his body was identified at a Boston-area hospital after the shootout.
Several hours later, the FBI discovered in its files that it had investigated him in 2011, the Times reports.
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