Details on the Pressure Cooker Dragnet

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Tamerlan walking out of Target after having purchased the backpacks used in attack.

In this morning’s Tsarnaev trial testimony, FBI’s Christian Fierabend testified to the evidence about purchases leading up to the attack (h/t to CBS’s Jim Armstrong among others for the live-tweeting). As much as possible, he tried to show both GPS coordinates from one of the Tsarnaevs’ cars and some kind of purchase record for the the attack equipment (things like BBs, backpacks, and the remote car detonator).

Some of this was easy because a number of the receipts (such as for the backpacks used to carry the bombs) were sitting in Tamerlan’s wallet, which the government retrieved from Dzhokhar’s Civic at the Watertown scene. Some, such as remote controlled cars, were online purchases involving credit cards.

But in spite of the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased some of his supplies using a credit card, according to Fierabend, the pressure cookers, Fagor Elites sold exclusively at Macys, which currently sell for $50 to $60 apiece, were purchased with cash. According to Fieraband, the government obtained records of all the Fagor Elites purchased in the US between August 2012 and April 2013. Of the 74 pressure cookers sold in the Northwest in that period, just 5 pressure cookers were purchased in cash, just 3 in MA.

According to rather remarkable testimony, Macys has no  surveillance video of those purchases.

The government did, however, cross-reference the purchases to the Tsarnaevs through use of a portable GPS that was ultimately apparently retrieved from the Mercedes the brothers hijacked.

In other words, the implication is one of the Tsarnaevs or someone else used cash to purchase pressure cookers, which you would thing would be an attempt to hide the identity of the purchaser, but not only do it while running a portable GPS that tracked back to their Cambridge home, but then bring that portable GPS into the getaway car they hijacked.

That’s all the more crazy given that the last pressure cooker wasn’t purchased until March, and Tamerlan appeared to be prepping to die, given that he sent his mother $900 the day before the attack (unless she had funded the attack specifically). If you’re going to ID yourself with a GPS, then pay with a credit card and get it for free.

All that said, I’m cognizant Tamerlan left his wallet, with receipts, in the Civic, along with some other identifying documents, and also by carrying that GPS at least made himself appear to be the purchaser of the pressure cooker, whether or not he was. Tamerlan wasn’t hiding his identity.

And yet someone paid cash for the pressure cookers.

The one other nifty detail in all this is that if you also bought a Fagor Elite pressure cooker in this period, you’re likely to be in an FBI database until 2043.

Update: One more thing about the pressure cookers. There was part of a lid and a gasket from a pressure cooker at the apartment, which means there must be one more pressure cooker. That one, then, might be unaccounted by the purchase records evidence.

Update: Here are the exhibits from today’s testimony. Unless I’m mistaken, the government only entered purchase records from one of the pressure cooker purchases, the purchase of two from the Boston store on January 31, 2013 (this is the one they tied to the portable GPS device). So there should be two more pressure cookers — the second 6 quart one used in the race attack, and the one from which the lid and the gasket were taken in the Cambridge apartment.

15 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    “There must be one more pressure cooker. That one, then, might be unaccounted by the purchase records evidence.”
    Something’s cooking. Perhaps the conspiracy theorists are correct – the FBI was running them, and it got out of hand. That’s why they had to kill the other kid in Atlanta, to keep a lid on the story. Would have killed him in the boat, also, except there was too much local heat on hand. They’ll claim Dzhokhar is lying when he allocutes to make his entrapment defense. Hard to gauge whether it will be successful – will the jury give his story any credit, or will they cash him out? If the former, I’m sure the Feds will be steaming, maybe even blow a gasket. Ah well, we’ll see, let it simmer for a while.

  2. wallace says:

    Notwithstanding emptywheel’s journalistic stew of lids, proprietary vendor pressure cooker brands, cam video shots, FBI purchase DB predictions’ , etc etc.. if I had to bet my life on the circumstantial evidence and known history of the fucking FBI.. I’ll take bloopie2’s hypothesis.

    Now, let’s try FBI murderer’s for $2k

    • bloopie2 says:

      On the other hand, it could have been Robert Durst, you know? He was on the loose back then, and damn, he’s outsmarted a lot of cops for a lot of years. Even got off when he admitted in court that he dismembered his neighbor after he killed him! Tsarnaev’s defense team should have hired him as an adviser (he’s rich, would have worked for free), then he wouldn’t have given those silly interviews got him in hot water. Or, Durst could be their surprise witness at the end, “I did it!”, to get Dzhokhar off; he’s old and prolly dying anyhow. Wouldn’t that be a trip.

  3. JM says:

    “The government did, however, cross-reference the purchases to the Tsarnaevs through use of a portable GPS . . .”

    Just to be clear, you mean this cross-referencing of GPS with pressure cooker purchase dates put the Tsarnaevs at a particular Macy’s where a pressure cooker was purchased by cash payment?

    Also: Someone is recording GPS info. as far back as 2012? Who is doing that? (See below: Are GPS records perhaps maintained by the pizza shop that perhaps supplied the GPS device?) No doubt this has been discussed in all kinds of blog/media reporting on surveillance but I missed the details.

    Final minor detail: If it’s not a cell/smart phone or handheld game device, who carries around a “portable GPS”? Pizza delivery staff, so pizza shops can track the movements of staff?

    Anyway, a number of interesting questions raised.

  4. OSS says:

    If there’s a third pressure cooker bomb I think the most likely explanation would be that the Bomb Brothers used it as a test device.

  5. pdaly says:

    4:08 pm emerging from Target in Watertown, MA with new (empty) backpacks on Sunday– the day before the Marathon.
    This does not leave Tamerlan much time to get to Malden Center in order to catch a taxi ride back to East Cambridge with his brother with heavy-filled backpacks (if Jim Duggan, the Malden Center taxi driver, can be believed).
    The several 2013 news stories I found never reveal the time of day this taxi driver reports picking up the brothers or the time he dropped them off in Cambridge. The most detailed account I could find was “the night before the Marathon” (which might fit the timeline).
    Using the MBTA’s website trip planner Sunday bus schedule (for 2015), it is possible to reach Malden Center from Watertown’s Arsenal Mall (500 Arsenal St. Wartown–where Target is located) within 1 hour by a combination of “2 buses and 1 subway line” or “1 bus and two subway lines”.
    Depart 500 Arsenal St 4:27pm, arrive Malden Center 5:18pm (thru Harvard Square)
    Depart 500 Arsenal St 4:47pm, arrive Malden Center 5:38pm (thru Central Square)

    If exclusively taking buses from Watertown’s Arsenal Mall to Malden Center, the trip takes about 1.5 hours.
    Depart 500 Arsenal St 4:47pm, arrive Malden Center 6:08pm
    How long to pick up two pre-purchased pre-prepared pressure cookers along the way?

  6. greengiant says:

    What happened to the video of Tamerlan’s wife buying 5 of them at Macy’s? One story was that
    one pressure cooker bomb failed to detonate properly in Watertown. Well they provoked her attorney to speak out. Guess that is what dust clouds are for, keeping tabs on who is paying attention.

  7. pdaly says:

    The Macy’s in the Cambridgeside Galleria is probably within walking distance of the East Cambridge Tsarnaev home. Any reason to think they wouldn’t go there instead? No need for GPS.

  8. pdaly says:

    Was trying to confirm emptywheel’s suggestion about the Boston location of the purchase record for two the pressure cookers. Couldn’t find the Boston receipt in the govt.’s exhibits, but the Macy’s printout for “Square One” is the Macy’s located in the Square One Mall in Saugus, MA.
    I did take notice of the “Malden, MA” address of the RC Cars of Boston receipt dated 4/08/2013. Its address at 69 Canal Street, Malden, MA is a 5 minute walk to the Malden Center bus/subway station.
    The store front on googlemaps does not show the name RC Cars of Boston. Instead it shows “Spadafora Choppers” in 2014, in 2013, 2011 and 2007.

  9. Ima Lumberzhak says:

    “According to Fieraband, the government obtained records of all the Fagor Elites purchased in the US between August 2012 and April 2013. Of the 74 pressure cookers sold in the Northwest in that period, just 5 pressure cookers were purchased in cash, just 3 in MA.”
    Besides this being a disturbing (and not necessarily trustworthy) thing for them to be able to trace and the sad state of cash purchases and pressure cooker sales (how do they stay in business and why are they still stocked with that low of a turnover)…
    Did Boston get relocated to Oregon? If not, I believe you meant the Northeast?

  10. Rich says:

    This Firebranxpd’s (sp?) testimony boils down to a well-suited guy, speaking authoritatively in an authoritative voice about things no one could have any reason to be an authority. This mindless collection of data reminds me of the Patient Experience scores collected in non-rational, non-meaningful ways on physicians collated and analyzed without any statistical rigor or basis.

  11. NKVD says:

    Thank you, Green Giant, that is heartbreaking.

    All that ham-handed entrapment by some FBI weasel, and what does it get him?

    Jokar aspires to an Ivy League masters degree. “I wanna bring justice for my people.”

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