Was There Even a BB Gun?

Over the weekend, we heard the story that when Tamerlan Tsarnaev rushed the small group of cops who were trying to arrest him, he was strapped with a suicide vest. In addition, we were told, the brothers had two handguns, an M-4 rifle, and a BB gun. The brothers, we were told, were planning further attacks.

At this point, the support for the claim Tamerlan had a suicide vest has disappeared (as it should have as soon as his brother ran over him with the SUV, though that detail, too, may not be entirely true). Ray Kelly — who never met a fear he didn’t want to magnify — tells us the brothers were headed out not to conduct further attacks, but to party in NYC. And according to the AP, just one handgun was found at the site of the shootout, and none was found on Dzhokhar when he was arrested.

Officials also recovered a 9 mm handgun believed to have been used by Tamerlan from the site of an April 18 gunbattle that injured a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer, two U.S. officials said.

The officials told the AP that no gun was found in the boat where Dzhokhar was hiding. Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis said earlier that shots were fired from inside the boat.

Asked whether the suspect had a gun in the boat, Davis said, “I’m not going to talk about that.”

But Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said a police officer was shot within half a mile of where Tsarnaev was captured, “and I know who shot him.”

Authorities had previously said Dzhokhar exchanged gunfire with them for more than an hour Friday night before they captured him inside a tarp-covered boat in a suburban Boston neighborhood backyard. But two U.S. officials said Wednesday that he was unarmed when captured, raising questions about the gunfire and how he was injured.

All that’s not to say the brothers weren’t dangerous. There is still the matter of the additional pressure cooker bomb thrown at the site of the shootout, and some pipe bombs thrown during the chase, some of which exploded. They had already shot a cop at point blank range, apparently in a failed attempt to get a second handgun (though, as the NYT version of this story makes clear, the video from that murder don’t even conclusively show that it was the brothers). The NYT even notes that Dzhokhar was not — as reported Friday — outside the search perimeter in Watertown, but within it.

But a number of the original details describing how dangerous the two were haven’t survived as the fog of the chase has lifted.

How much of that earlier picture arose from embarrassment that Dzhokhar escaped the police shootout, leading to the shutdown of all of Boston? How much of it arose from a long-cultivated image of what Islamic terrorists do, as distinct from what two disgruntled American immigrants might do?

Especially given Sean Collier’s murder, I’m not faulting the cops for being careful. But to what extent are we running from ghosts the terror industry has created over the last 10 years?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. hester says:

    Thanks so for staying on top of this. Must be hard wading through all the noise. I’ve totally lost faith/hope/trust in any governments, local, state and federal.

  2. phred says:

    Excellent post EW, especially your last sentence.

    I wanted to chime in (belatedly) on the dust up regarding whatever list Tamerlan should or should not have been on… As you pointed out yesterday the quality of TIDE is dubious at best. A key point in considering what should have been done with Tamerlan once he was flagged is simply this: how many people are on such lists? I’m guessing tens of thousands if not more. Are we as a society truly prepared for what closely monitoring that many people would entail?

    Chambliss and his ilk like to ignore (well, the Constitution, but lets skip that for now) the statistical reality we face with terrorism and other boneheaded criminal stupidity. Such events are exceedingly rare. Pissed off, loud mouthed people with axes to grind are not. Identifying and isolating those who will act on their violent impulses isn’t a precise science. We will not always succeed no matter how hard we try.

    Do we really want to even make the attempt to chase all the ghosts haunting the minds of guys like Chambliss? And if so, will Saxby vote to raise taxes to do it? I’m guessing like Newtown, Saxby, when presented with a choice between his wallet and illusory expensive Constitution-obliterating security will choose his wallet every time. So what does he imagine we should really be doing differently here? I’m guessing nothing. He just wants to score cheap political points before going back to his lobbyist-sponsored 12 year old scotch.

    If nothing else else, the events of the last week have demonstrated the limitations of our decade-old experiment with a police state and the results are not promising. Perhaps now would be a good time to fully and publicly assess the costs and benefits of our national security boondoggle and rebudget accordingly. Maybe then we could start using the money we are hemorrhaging into so much wasted effort into more productive channels of our economy.

  3. lefty665 says:

    M4? If they had that why are we not hearing ASSAULTRIFLE! ASSAULTRIFLE!! ASSAULTRIFLE!!!?

    Any rifle would have likely changed the firefight.

    Pistols and 5.56mm sound very different. There do not seem to be reports of very different gunfire there.
    It’s the M4 that didn’t bark.

    As bits and pieces dribble out it seems more likely they had one pistol, their collection of IEDs, and the kid threw in his BB gun.

    Shooting fish in a barrel may be replaced by shooting an unarmed badly wounded kid in a boat. Pictures of the boat show it to be thoroughly ventilated.

    How did he participate after that first heinous act of placing the marathon bomb? Are there any credible reports that he was ever armed?

    Seems big brother was in the driver’s seat. Was he the one packing heat and pitching IEDs?

  4. scribe says:

    Reports are also disclosing that the brothers bought the makings for their IEDs not at some gun store, but from a legal fireworks dealer over the border in New Hampshire. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/tamerlan-bought-bombs-article-1.1325504

    The fact that the fireworks contained black powder has not, of course, stopped Lautenberg from introducing a gun-control bill to regulate smokeless powder, something entirely different. Another instance of “why let facts get in the way of an agenda?”

  5. scribe says:

    @lefty665: And, how much you wanna bet that the “IEDs” they were tossing were the individual charges from one of the “mortar” kits they bought at the fireworks store?

  6. der says:

    I pay taxes for many things including police and fire protection. I applaud the work law enforcement does and have no doubt I wouldn’t put my body on that Thin Blue Line. That said I had hoped that the hunt for Dzhokhar would end with him taken alive.

    I can only imagine what might happen if I was on edge holding my weapon when the cop standing next to me decides to start shooting (within 2 years more ammunition had been spent in Iraq than in the entire time of WWII). Saying the police are trigger happy seems to assign blame when it’s likely an automatic neural response to stress and a fear of death.

    LA Cops putting over 50 holes in a pickup truck driven by a grandmother thinking it was Dorner, cops taking 41 shots at unarmed Amadou Diallo because they thought his wallet was a gun are just 2 examples of police on the firing line possibly thinking that the best way to arrest an “armed and dangerous” suspect is when they’re no longer breathing.

    Some of that pile of $$$ used for Homeland Protection(Tm) could be spent training and helping police make more intelligent and less deadly choices when they’re holding a weapon. Of course Rove and Nugent would ridicule this as “hand holding therapy” when giving guns to teachers seems the logical choice.

  7. Zachary Smith says:

    *** Was There Even a BB Gun? ***

    Oddly enough, I had no problem with that one. My assumption was that buying a BB gun was an excuse for purchasing several large containers of BBs.

    That may be all wet, for I don’t even know if BBs were used by the bombers. But it didn’t seem implausible to me.

  8. lefty665 says:

    @scribe: You and I would be on the same side of that bet. Their version of flash bangs (IFBs).

    Also saw reports that they didn’t get close to enough powder at the fireworks store to build the bombs they had, which makes sense. Likely another source out there.

  9. citizen92 says:

    I’m waiting for the databases to br described as “Bush-era” to complete the 10 year old “ghosts of the terror industry EW references. Soon we’ll be talking about “an abundance of caution” and “nobody could have anticipated.

    All aside, there is a wealth of citizen-sourced info on this whole incident and it should be dissected and compared to the official narrative.

    Particularly disturbing are the various citizen videos taken in Watertown in the morning and afternoon after the shootout. The amount of equipment and the number of heavily armed go-teams going door to door and clearing houses is very alarming. Countless videos on YouTube, but I’ll post some… later.

    As for the number of weapons, the Kitzenberg photos only seem to see one weapon being used, probably a sidearm, because it clearly seems the shooting position is weapon in front, at eye level, with two hands grasping. Other fellow just appears to be ducking. There is a well circulated video out there that provides a good audio of the firefight from down the street… until a phone rings. The video gives a sense of the volume of rounds exchanged during the engagement. Scanner traffic from the early parts of the engagent “shots fired, shots fired” has Watertown PD calling for reinforcements (at least two calls for backup “long guns” (aka rifles)) and “gold cars” (not sure what that is). Understanding that most local PD do not arm everyday officers with anything othet than a sidearm, it is understandable why they were calling for more firepower in an uncertain situation.

  10. What Constitution? says:

    Interesting to watch the parsing. Of course, there’s always Fox News latched onto “the less we understand, the more we know” reporting. Fox has time to put Ann Coulter on the air to pronounce that the suspects’ mother should be imprisoned because “she’s wearing a hajib”. A nice opening for Jon Stewart, but what other purpose is served by this?

    A buck says somebody will fault the CIA or FBI for not “recruiting and managing” these suspects so they could have been set up and arrested with government-supplied faulty bomb parts in their pressure cooker. To which the response will be they “didn’t fit the profile” because they weren’t dark Middle Eastern Muslims.

  11. P J Evans says:

    @Zachary Smith:
    Larger-size BBs would certainly look and act like ball bearings. A lot cheaper and easier to find, though. (I got a package once when I was trying to clean gunk out of the bottom of a bottle.)

  12. citizen92 says:

    Far remote possibility here but I’ll ask. Other than the SUV was there anything else in the (sofar unidentified victim’s) hikacked car that the brothers used to their advantage?

    @scribe

    “Live Free or Die” in New Hampshire. Fireworks sales legal, but I thought there was some proof of identity or attestation required before sale. Fireworks largely are not legal in MA but that doesn’t stop NH stores from selling them right on the border.

  13. lefty665 says:

    @der Are cops human? Sure.

    Suggesting that holding the people we pay to be trained, armed, and to voluntarily stand in harm’s way to no higher standard of wielding deadly weapons under stress than any of us schmoes is pernicious.

    On the other hand, contempt of cop is often the worst crime that one could commit. With Dorner and Watertown, it was contempt squared. Cops had been killed and wounded. Retribution is mine sayeth the heat.

    One quote from Watertown, a guy who was foolishly out on the street was intercepted at gunpoint by a state cop. Once he established the guy was not one of the bombers, he gave this advice (approximately): “Get your butt home and stay inside. There are a million cops out here just itching to shoot someone.”

    That’s a good cop. Practical life saving advice from a clearly defined threat.

  14. scribe says:

    @lefty665: 3 pounds of black powder is plenty. Even a pound in the pressure cooker may well have been enough. They may have bought more fireworks at other stores, too.

    And who’s to know that the other alleged pressure cooker bombs allegedly discovered in/after the chase didn’t exist, or were empty waiting for rigging-up. If, as appears from current reports, the pressure cookers were rigged to go on a remote of sorts, them ain’t cheap.

  15. emptywheel says:

    @lefty665: I’m guessing the M-4 reported, and possibly the second handgun, belonged to one of the cops on the scene who dropped it.

    Recent reports seem to say that Tamerlan was taken down not in hand-to-hand but with a bullet. I’m wondering if it came from the M-4.

  16. P J Evans says:

    @scribe:
    Apparently they used electronics from toys. That means they could have been pretty cheap. The article in ‘Inspire’ is supposed to explain all that, but I’d expect that URL to have more watchers than the Rose Parade.

  17. lefty665 says:

    @emptywheel: Thanks EW. A lot that’s fuzzy here. Transit cop sure could have dropped his pistol. He had other things to be thinking about. M4 apparently wasn’t there initially. There were reportedly police calls for long guns, so it may have shown up later. Or, as you posit, it may have arrived and been the “decider”.

    ER Doc was adamant that Tamarlan had penetrating wounds (as opposed to dragging) from head to toe. Haven’t seen much more on that. It almost seemed he was encouraging folks to ask him more questions.

  18. JThomason says:

    So I passed through Alex Jones’ sites last week searching for information and trying to get to the bottom of the para-military types being at the bombing scene. I shouldn’t be shocked but Jones was maliciously irresponsible in his reporting. The khaki and black shirt operatives especially as they mustered around their vehicles are readily identifiable and appear to be an Army or National Guard Civil Support Team deployed at many large public events in the context of Weapons of Mass Destruction. For those that want to dig deeper find the picture of the two black vehicles that mustered at the podium after the bombing.

    ( http://i.imgur.com/FE0PlEC.jpg )

    ( http://i.imgur.com/U8LVKtJ.jpg )

    Compare them to the UCS and ADVON vehicle shown in this manual:

    http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/fm3_11x22c1.pdf .

    Not that I have any information that these were used to do the cell phone tracking but they appear to be imminently capable of that kind of operation and were deployed in Boston on the 15th. The media political games surely are distracting the public from something. I appreciate the need for tempered skepticism in sifting through the material and am intrigued by the role that social media played in this story. One could only hope that reliable news outlets would emerge with some similar dose of healthy skepticism. I note that this cite did not post on the subject during the actual frenzy of the manhunt and appreciate the reserve that was shown. For me it was a clear signal that a rational narrative had not emerged tempering my foray into the dark woods of the internet to find information. But now that I think about it, that’s how I found The Next Hurrah. Go figure.

  19. scribe says:

    @lefty665: ER doc who came out to talk to the media that night said older bro had been shot, had blast injuries, and had been run over.

    In the law, a treating physician gets a heightened level of credibility when describing a patient’s condition b/c he treated the patient.

    Just saying.

  20. lefty665 says:

    @scribe: Thanks. I don’t know enough about black powder to have an opinion about how much was used in the bombs, and especially not about how to make more than muzzle loader quantities go bang instead of fizzzzzzzz.

    I’d seen reports talking 5-10lbs each, but that may be total, not individual. And, as you note, we’ve got no idea of the status of the other pressure cookers, or what testing they might have done beforehand.

    My recollection is that rc car controls is where the Iraqis started with IED triggers. We started jamming them, and the Iraqis countered. A couple of cycles like that and triggers got a lot more sophisticated, and expensive. Dunno what these guys used. Is there an app for that?

    Thank you on the ER Doc, and the variety of injuries. What I read of his statement (may have been partial reporting) emphasized the penetrating wounds and their extent.

  21. seedeevee says:

    “I’m not faulting the cops for being careful.”

    I fault them every day for their “I have to get home tonight so I will kill anything that even remotely resembles, illusory or not, a threat to me or my self-esteem” attitude.

    They deserve our scorn for how militaristic and bloodthirsty they are as a profession and as human beings.

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