FBI’s Curious Silence about the Waltham Murders

Susan Zalkind, who has relentlessly followed the story of Ibragim Todashev, the friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev whom FBI killed back in May, has a long story in Boston Magazine. The whole thing is worthwhile (though beware the disturbing pictures of Todashev’s corpse). But I’m particularly fascinated by the way Zalkind chronicles when the FBI started asking people about Todashev’s possible involvement in the Waltham triple murder.

She notes that the only person the FBI questioned about Todashev’s potential role in the murders while he was still alive (aside, presumably, from Todashev himself) was his girlfriend, Tatiana Gruzdeva.

While he was being interviewed, Tatiana said, two agents took her into an office, where they questioned her for three hours. At first they continued to ask her about the Boston bombings. The agents wanted to know if Ibragim was planning another attack.

“They asked me, ‘Can you tell us when he will do something?’” Tatiana recalled. “I said, ‘No! I can’t!’ Because he wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t know anything.”

Then they brought up a new topic: a triple murder.

“They said, ‘We think he did something else, before.’ They said he killed three people in Boston 2011 with a knife. I said, ‘It’s not true! I can’t believe it.’ You know, I was living with him seven months, and we have a cat.”

Throughout the course of my reporting, Tatiana is the only one of Ibragim’s associates who recalled being questioned about the Waltham murders before Ibragim’s death.

But after asking her about Waltham, they immediately jailed her on an immigration violation which, Zalkind suggests, FBI used to pressure Todashev. A week later, with Gruzdeva still in immigration detention, they killed him.

In the interview an FBI agent did with Todashev’s friend Khusen Taramov just before they killed Todashev, they didn’t ask about Waltham.

Agent Chris asked Khusen a few questions, “Like what do you think about bombings, or do you know these guys, blah blah blah, or what is my views on certain stuff. You know what I mean, lotta stuff, different questions,” Khusen said. Chris didn’t mention a triple murder.

But then immediately after Todashev’s death, FBI started asking — or telling — a number of people about his alleged role int he murders. They told his wife they had DNA evidence implicating him.

When FBI agents came to tell Reni Manukyan that her husband was dead, they claimed they had hard evidence of his guilt in the Waltham murders. “We have DNA that proves he was involved in that triple murder,” she remembered them saying. “The only thing I was telling them is, ‘This is not true, this cannot be true.’”

They set up a crime so they could question Ashurmamad Miraliev about it, in an extended interrogation, without a lawyer, in which he claims he was subjected to what sounds like classic “separation” interrogation technique.

Ashurmamad says he was questioned by the FBI for hours—he’s not sure exactly how long—and was denied requests to speak to his attorney. (The FBI has declined to comment on this case, but a Tampa Field Bureau public-affairs official told me it is their policy to question individuals “with their consent, or in the presence of their attorney.”)

Agents had previously interviewed Ashurmamad and two of his roommates two days before Ibragim died. They questioned him about his own religious beliefs, the Boston Marathon bombings, and about Ibragim. Now, four months later, the interrogation was different. This time, agents were mostly interested in Ibragim and his involvement in the triple murder in Waltham. They wanted to know if there was someone else who might have been involved in the killings, and who else might have information.


Although he had never been to Boston and never met the Tsarnaevs, Ashurmamad was nonetheless flagged—according to a note on the booking sheet—“ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST/PLACED PROTECTIVE CUSTODY AND HIGH RISK. HOUSE ALONE.” Ashurmamad was taken from the Orlando Police Department to the Osceola County jail, where he was kept alone in an 8-by-10 room. To meet with his lawyers, he had to have his hands and wrists shackled and be chained to the ground. Ashurmamad told me there were no windows, the light was always on, and he was always cold. He was there for a month until the tampering case was dropped. But he wasn’t released. His student visa had expired, and he’d missed a court date while he was in jail. So he was moved directly to an immigration detention facility, and on November 4, he was ordered to be deported back to Tajikistan.

It’s as if they didn’t want anyone to know about the potential connection until Todashev was killed, at which point they want everyone to know (but also want any immigrant with ties to Todashev barred from the country).

And in spite of the FBI setting up all these curiously timed interviews about Waltham, officially the investigation remains a Middlesex County matter.

The triple murder, Coakley explained, was not her investigation—it was the Middlesex County DA’s concern. She said that she could and would follow up to make sure state police were working with Waltham police on the murder case. “The Waltham PD and the state police should be working together,” she told us.

I find all this interesting given what has happened with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the FBI has interrogated, then deported or in some other fashion kicked out of the country, Todashev’s buddies in FL.

At roughly the same time as the FL investigation heated up, on August 27, Carmen Ortiz slapped Special Administrative Measures on Dzhokhar, nudging him closer to solitary treatment but also giving FBI control over what information he learns.

The following month, the government refused to give Dzhokhar any information on the involvement of his brother, Todashev, or himself in the Waltham murders, citing an ongoing investigation. In an October government motion following up on this request, they said the following.

Defense Request #9. This request is patently overbroad insofar as it seeks “all documents” concerning the investigation of the triple homicide that occurred in Waltham on September 11, 2011, regardless of whether those documents relate to Tsarnaev or his brother. It should be denied on that basis alone.

To the extent this request seeks documents that relate to Ibragim Todashev’s involvement in the triple homicide, it should be denied on the ground that such documents are not discoverable under the Federal or Local Rules of Criminal Procedure or Brady. To the extent this request seeks documents that relate to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s involvement in the triple homicide, it is premature. As Tsarnaev concedes, information about his brother’s criminal history will be relevant, if at all, only in a future sentencing hearing to determine whether Tsarnaev himself should receive the death penalty. As noted earlier, such a hearing may never occur, in which case Tsarnaev will never have a right to the information. And even if such a hearing does occur, many other phases of this case must first be completed.

Without intending to waive any of these arguments, the government has declined to produce all documents relating to the triple homicide investigation pursuant to Local Rule 116.6. It is well-settled that “’[f]ederal common law recognizes a qualified privilege protecting investigative files in an ongoing criminal investigation.’” In re Department of Homeland Security, 459 F.3d 565, 569 (5 th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted) (collecting cases). That privilege can be overcome only if “the harm to the government if the privilege is lifted” is outweighed by the “need of the litigant who is seeking privileged investigative materials.” Id. That test is not met here. The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is engaged in an active, ongoing investigation into the Waltham triple homicide. Disclosure of the details of that investigation could jeopardize it. Tsarnaev, in contrast, has no urgent need for the privileged investigative materials he seeks. Even assuming, as Tsarnaev claims, that “the nature and extent of Tamerlan’s alleged involvement” in the Waltham triple homicide is “critical mitigation information,” Tsarnaev Mot. at 16, this case has not yet even been set down for a trial date, let alone sentencing.

In any event, the government has already disclosed to Tsarnaev that, according to Todashev, Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in the Waltham triple homicide. Any benefit to Tsarnaev of knowing more about the precise “nature and extent” of his brother’s involvement does not outweigh the potential harm of exposing details of an ongoing investigation into an extremely serious crime, especially at this stage of the proceedings. [my emphasis]

In November, Judge George O’Toole denied that and most other discovery requests, stating that Dzhokhar’s lawyers hadn’t shown any need that would overcome investigative privilege.

Meanwhile, after the decision to try for the death penalty in this case — at which point, even the government seems to suggest, such evidence might have become relevant — the FBI has started monitoring Dzhokhar’s defense team in some fashion that remains entirely redacted in a recent request such monitoring stop.

Now don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why the FBI might want to prevent Dzhokhar from learning details of their investigation into Waltham, especially if they believe he may have had a role.

But if it’s true that FBI only asks questions about Waltham as it kills people (and didn’t show much interest in investigating back in 2011), it seems this latest monitoring may be tied to their curious silences about the murders.

16 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I wonder what, about the Waltham killings, has the FBI so afraid of anyone learning anything about it. Was one of their agents involved? Was one of the victims working for the FBI?

  2. john francis lee says:

    The FBI didn’t have to ask anyone about Todashev, they’d already talked to the CIA, who put out the contract on him. Then they killed him,

    The NSA surely is helping the FBI monitor the defense team.

    The whole drill is to keep the fact … it’s not an established fact but it certainly smells like it … that the CIA was running the Tsarnaevs as part of its own terrorist contingent against the Russians. The elder Tsarnaev was finally so repulsed by their operation that he decided to take action on his own, against the ‘real’ terrorists … and he drug in his little brother after him.

    Obviously that sort of scenario can never be allowed discussion. Certainly not in a court of ‘law’ … such as courts of law are in 3rd Millennium Amerika.

    This is Totalitarian fascism. Amerikan style.

    Our only hope is to apply the corporate death penalty to the NSA/CIA/FBI complex as it is presently constituted, and rebuild from scratch … in the open!

  3. Meadows says:

    I’m glad to get this update, I keep asking myself, “What happened to this story?”

    If the FBI honestly had real evidence it would have been trumpeted far and wide, like when the DEA finds 1% of the actual flow of drugs at the border.

    How is it possible, in our Deep State condition, to actually know the un-edited facts?

    The truth is often clumsy and fiction-like, accidental…. then covered over in like manner.

    I suspect that this was an FBI classic sting set-up that went wrong now everyone and their cousin is trying to paper it over by any means necessary.

  4. spongebrain says:

    @P J Evans:

    I’ve often wondered about the role of the mysterious red-headed ideologue mentioned in early media reports on the bombing, I forget his handle, the discussion of whom quickly faded from the reporting.

  5. Teddy says:

    Not to be facetious, but “I was living with him seven months, and we have a cat” has to be one of the best spousal alibis of all time.

  6. SirFiddlepopDigglesIII says:

    spongebrain – his name was Misha. He was found and then quickly but briefly reported to be entirely cleared of suspicion. So quickly that I was left with the impression that he must be some sort of undercover agent.

    There was also Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarnaev, who was on the radio for such a long time after the bombings. Wasn’t someone reporting he had CIA connections?

    It’s all such a weird story.

  7. ЭЩ says:

    Here is the context of that motion to vacate: FBI is monitoring Tsarnaev’s defense to identify and suppress evidence that the US government maintained direct coercive control over Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the weeks prior to the Boston Marathon bombing. Pertinent evidence has not yet been conveyed to defense counsel, for three reasons:

    1. suspicion that evidence of government criminality will not be permitted to impinge on the trial outcome or proceedings.

    2. expectation that individuals identified with the evidence will end up like Ibragim Todashev.

    3. doubts about the interests and role of the public defender.

    It is a knoty problem often encountered when the state’s overall integrity is in question. International civil society cooperative efforts will have an important role in the solution.

  8. C says:

    I remember reading in another context, financial crime, that according to other police agencies, the FBI is always very very serious about PR. Financial regulators who have worked with them note that they care very much about getting credit and “solving cases.” I wonder if the attempt to link in the crime was not so much a pressure point but a half-assed attempt to make an unsolved crime go away to the FBI’s credit.

  9. America Firster says:

    Still wondering where the alleged video showing the younger Bro placing the bomb is. We were originally told that is how the authorities identified the bombers….now it is no longer part of the narrative. And it is scary how easily the public will forget what the authorities don’t want it to remember. Pretty sure the FBI, CIA, or some such group was running the bombing operation; not clear whether they wanted to swoop in and stop it like they usually do when creating a crime designed to entrap young Muslims — or if they needed it to go forward to sell the domestic terrorist narrative.

  10. deadcolonywalking says:

    When I was a kid growing up in the 60s I would look forward to watching “The FBI STORY” on Sunday evenings. Boy, they had me, and apparently most Americans snowed.
    Now I realize the FBI is just a corrupt and traitorous gang of thugs whose job is to protect powerful vested interests in and out of government. I first started to question the FBI after their whitewash/cover-up of the Flight 800 shoot-down. And then it was confirmed beyond all doubt after their complicity in covering up for the real culprits behind 911.
    I can only hope Snowden has some documents that will expose them.

  11. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Well, gosh, the solicitousness of the FBI for the people of Boston goes way back. Remember how they made sure that Whitey Bulger was kept on a short leash? Uh huh, the FBI is probably afraid that you actually will remember that.

    Everything the DOJ and their thugs in the FBI touches goes to shit, just like it went for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms with that Fast & Furious debacle. And now they’ve taken to murdering people and hustling witnesses out of the country. Fantastic, sports fans.

  12. Kevin Chamberlin says:

    Ruslan Tsarnaev was once married to the daughter of Graham Fuller, former Deputy Director of the CIA’s National Council of Intelligence.

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