Why Isn’t the NSA Evaluating Why It Didn’t Have Chechen Intelligence on Tamerlan Tsarnaev?

As I noted last week, four Inspectors General are conducting (an indefinitely delayed) review of their Agencies’ handing of intelligence in advance of the Boston Marathon attack. But just four Agencies are involved:

  • Intelligence Community
  • CIA
  • DOJ
  • DHS

That is, the NSA’s Inspector General is not participating in the review.

And while I understand that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s domestic communications could not have been collected by NSA (and presumably none of the people from Dagestan and Chechnya with whom he had contact were selected as identifiers for the Section 215 dragnet), he still allegedly had contacts while in Russia with fairly prominent extremists. And there are two reasons why NSA might have collected Chechen contacts of Tamerlan’s: both because extremists in Chechnya have ties to al Qaeda (indeed, a number of them are and were fighting in Syria), and because Chechen mobsters have ties to the mobs being targeted under Obama’s Transnational Criminal Organization initiative.

So did the NSA have anything on the Chechens Tamerlan allegedly met with? In any case, wouldn’t it be worth a review of what they have and what they might have had?

Apparently not, at least according to the IC.

There is precedent for protecting the NSA from such retroactive scrutiny. Recall that the 9/11 Commission barely touched what files the NSA might have had.

[T]he 9/11 Commission, which went out of business in 2004, failed to conduct a thorough inspection of the government’s most important library of raw intelligence on al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot. And nobody appears to have inspected that intelligence since.

The archives, maintained by the National Security Agency at its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, were reviewed—in a cursory fashion—only in the final days of the commission’s investigation, and then only because of last-minute staff complaints that the NSA’s vast database was being ignored.

Throughout its investigation, staffers complained, the commission’s leaders were fixated on what could be found in the terrorism files of the CIA and the FBI, the two big targets for criticism in the panel’s final report, and largely ignored the NSA, the government’s chief eavesdropping agency.


“It’s always been frightening to me to consider what is still at the NSA, whatever we never had time to see,” said a former commission staff member, who now works elsewhere in the federal government and is barred from speaking to the press for attribution. “It’s kind of shocking to me that no one has tried to get back in there since. We certainly didn’t see everything at NSA.”

And I can imagine why, particularly after Edward Snowden started leaking, the NSA might not want to check whether it had data it simply missed. How embarrassing if it had to admit that it missed a terrorist because its haystack has gotten too big?

Still, given the allegations about Tamerlan’s entirely foreign associates, I’m not convinced the NSA would have collected nothing.

Keith Alexander today claimed NSA used the Section 215 database in the wake of the Boston Marathon attack (though how they claimed the allegedly self-radicalized Tsarnaev’s had ties to Al Qaeda, I don’t know) to chase down potential associates in NYC.

“We did use [Section] 215,” he said, referring to the Patriot Act provision that the government has claimed a federal court has agreed gives it the authority to collect data on practically all calls made in the United States. “We used it to support the FBI in their investigation.”

So the NSA was involved in the investigation, at least.

So can’t we have a teensy review to see if it did, and if our target selection in Chechnya and Dagestan and appropriate?

The Girlfriend Detention Method of Coercion

Remember Ibragim Todashev, the friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev the FBI shot with pathetically inconsistent explanation?

A woman claiming to be his live-in girlfriend, Tatiana Gruzdeva, of the time has spoken to the press for the first time. There’s a lot that’s interesting in the account, including that she appears to have come forward to draw attention to the arrest of a Tajik friend, Ashurmamad Miraliev, on Wednesday.

But I wanted to point to what appears to be her several month detention that appears to have been at least, in part, an attempt to coerce Todashev.

One day, the FBI called Todashev back to their office again. Gruzdeva went with him and waited in the lobby, she said. That’s when an agent she recognized approached her and asked to talk.

“And I already saw him a couple times so it was normal, so I told him, ‘I’m waiting for Ibragim,’” she told me. “And he said, ‘So what? It’s just going to be a couple minutes. He knows about it.’” So she went with him to an office. Another agent joined them, she said. Then, she says, they questioned her for three hours.

“They asked me again and again about Ibragim and all this stuff. They asked me, ‘Can you tell us when he will do something?’ I said, ‘No! I can’t!’ Because he wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t know anything. And they said, ‘Oh, really? So why don’t we call immigration.’”

Gruzdev told me that she is from Tiraspol, a town in the former Soviet country of Moldova. She had come to America in 2012 on a student work visa, which had since expired. “I said, ‘Come on guys, you cannot do this! You know my visa was expired and you didn’t do anything. And now because you need me and I say I don’t want to help you, you just call to immigration?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ And they called immigration and immigration came and they put me in the jail.”

When Todashev discovered FBI had detained her, according to Gruzdeva, they mocked him.

For the first week, Gruzdeva told me, she was kept in an immigration detention facility. She was allowed to talk to Todashev every day on the phone. She said he told her that when he had come to find her in the lobby the day she was detained, FBI agents mocked him, saying “Where’s your girlfriend?”

She said the mocking infuriated Todashev. “He said, ‘I want to hit them because I was so mad, why they lie to me? They stole you.’”

The morning after FBI killed Todashev, they moved Gruzdeva from ICE to County detention, but waited a day to tell her of his death.

On May 22, Gruzdeva said, she was transferred from immigration jail to a cell in Glades County Jail in Moore Haven, Florida. There, she said, she was placed in solitary confinement.

“I thought I would be released, because I don’t have any crime, I don’t have any charges, I was clear,” she said. She asked why she had been moved. “And they just said, “Oh we cannot tell you, we’ll tell you tomorrow in the morning.”

Read more

Keith Alexander’s Pizza Problem

We’re having a fundraiser this week. If you can help out, please do!

Shane Harris has a great piece of a bunch of people hanging Keith Alexander out to dry. It shows how Alexander has always grabbed for more data — at times not considering the legal basis for doing so — for ambitious, half-finished products that don’t yield results.

I’m particularly interested in this one:

When he ran INSCOM and was horning in on the NSA’s turf, Alexander was fond of building charts that showed how a suspected terrorist was connected to a much broader network of people via his communications or the contacts in his phone or email account.

“He had all these diagrams showing how this guy was connected to that guy and to that guy,” says a former NSA official who heard Alexander give briefings on the floor of the Information Dominance Center. “Some of my colleagues and I were skeptical. Later, we had a chance to review the information. It turns out that all [that] those guys were connected to were pizza shops.”

As I noted last month, the NSA’s primary order for the Section 215 program allows for technical personnel to access the data, in unaudited form, before the analysts get to it. They do so to identify “high volume identifiers” (and other “unwanted BR metadata”). As I said, I suspect they’re stripping the dataset of numbers that would otherwise distort contact chaining.

I suspect a lot of what these technical personnel are doing is stripping numbers — probably things like telemarketer numbers — that would otherwise distort the contact chaining. Unless terrorists’ American friends put themselves on the Do Not Call List, then telemarketers might connect them to every other American not on the list, thereby suggesting a bunch of harassed grannies in Dubuque are 2 degrees from Osama bin Laden.

I used telemarketers, but Alexander himself has used the example of the pizza joint in testimony.

In other words, it appears Alexander learned from his mistake at INSCOM that pizza joints do not actually represent a meaningful connection. His use of the example seems to suggest that NSA now strips pizza joints from their dataset.

But what if terrorists’ ties to a pizza joint are the most meaningful ones?

Read more

Are Guardian’s Sources Responding to a New Use of Surveillance, Post-Boston?

boundless heatmap

Update: The Guardian source, Edward Snowden, has revealed himself. Stunning.

Little mentioned as we talk about the massive amounts of spying Obama’s Administration undertakes is this passage from the President’s recent speech on counterterrorism.

That’s why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. [my emphasis]

As massive as the surveillance collection currently is, Obama recently called to expand it.

Most people have assumed that’s a reference to FBI’s persistent call for CALEA II, newly proposed to be a law imposing fines on companies that don’t comply with “wiretap” orders.

The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders. That proposal, however, bogged down amid concerns by other agencies, like the Commerce Department, about quashing Silicon Valley innovation.

While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.

That is certainly at least part of what Obama’s seeking (though the ill-considered plan presents as many security issues as it does privacy ones).

But I note that Mike Rogers said this on ABC this morning.

And so each one of these programs — and I think the Zazi case is so important, because that’s one you can specifically show that this was the key piece that allowed us to stop a bombing in the New York Subway system.

But these programs, that authorized by the court by the way, only focused on non-United States persons overseas, that gets lost in this debate, are pieces of the puzzle. And you have to have all of the pieces of the puzzle to try to put it together. That’s what we found went wrong in 9/11.

And we didn’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, we found out subsequently, to the Boston bombings, either. And so had we had more pieces of the puzzle you can stop these things before they happen. [my emphasis]

Mike Rogers asserted, with no evidence given, that had we had more information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, we might have been able to prevent the Boston attack.

Rogers has, in the past, suggested that if we had gotten the texts between Tsarnaev’s mother and a relative in Russia discussing Tamerlan’s interest in fighting jihad. But it’s not clear that anything prevented us from collecting the relative’s communications, and if the discussion of fighting is as obvious as reporting claims (I suspect it is not), there would have been adequate probable cause to ID the mother.

In fact, one of the Guardian’s other scoops makes it clear that we don’t collect all that much SIGINT from Russia in the first place, so the fact we missed the text may say more about our intelligence focus than the technologies available to us.

Nevertheless, Rogers at least suggests that we might have been able to prevent the attack had we had more data.

In part of an interview with Andrea Mitchell that has not yet (AFAIK) been shown, James Clapper whined that the intelligence community was accused of not being intrusive enough following the Boston attack.

DNI Clapper @TodayShow: I find it a little ironic that after the Boston bombings we were accused of not being intrusive enough

Which makes me wonder whether Obama is calling for more than just CALEA II, but has floated using all this data in new ways because two guys were able to conduct a very low-tech attack together.

Glenn Greenwald said somewhere (I haven’t been able to find it) that he had been working on the PRISM story for around 2 months. If so, that would put it close to the Boston attack (though if it were two full months, it’d make it before the attack).

Given that timing, I’m wondering if the final straw that motivated this presumably high level NSA person to start leaking was a proposed new use of all this data hoovered up. Clapper et al insist that the FISA Court does not currently allow the NSA to data mine the data collected in its dragnet.

But have then been thinking about changing that?

Putin’s Congressional Puppets

I have to give this to Michele Bachmann. Unlike most of the members of Congress she traveled to Russia with last week, she has not (at least not apparently) been suckered by Vladimir Putin to play his patsy.

Jim already described Dana Rohrabacher’s posturing with Steven Seagal while he attempted to replay his glory days palling around with the mujahadeen. Subsequent to that, Rohrabacher defended Putin’s abuse of power in fighting his former soulmates.

“If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya, and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality,” he said.

While the rule of law is important, Rohrabacher added, “We shouldn’t be describing people who are under this type of threat, we shouldn’t be describing them as if they are Adolf Hitler or they’re back to the old Communism days.”

Meanwhile, both Rohrabacher and Steve King bravely defended Putin’s prosecution of Pussy Riot.

“It’s hard to find sympathy for people who would do that to people’s faith,” King said.

But I’m most amused by the script William Keating (who represents parts of Boston and its southwest suburbs) is speaking from, parroting FSB’s assurances that the Marathon attack could have been prevented if only FBI had been more responsive to the tip they had provided the FBI and CIA.

Keating said the letter contained a lot of details about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, including his birthday, telephone number, cellphone number, where he lived in Cambridge and information about his wife and child. He said it also referenced the possibility that Tsarnaev might be considering changing names.
The Russians also had information about his mother, including her Skype address, Keating said.
Keating told the AP that the Russians believed Tsarnaev wanted to go to Palestine and engage in terrorist activities, but was unable to master the language.
‘‘That was the level of detail they were providing in this letter,’’ Keating said.
Keating said the intelligence officials believed that if Russia and the U.S. had worked together more closely, the bombings might have been averted. He said a top Russian counterintelligence official told the delegation that ‘‘had we had the same level of communication as we do now, the Boston bombing may never have happened.’’

Note Keating doesn’t make clear whether the details from the texts on Palestine were included in what the Russians sent us (the Russians translated the letter for the CODEL), or whether they only now shared it with the CODEL.
Read more

APB: At Least Two Missing “Law Enforcement Personnel,” Last Seen at Ibragim Todashev Homicide Scene

When the FBI first admitted that it had killed Ibragim Todashev, it indicated there were at least 5 people at the scene: Two Massachusetts State cops, the FBI Agent being blamed for shooting Todashev, and “law enforcement personnel” — plural — whom it chose not to describe at all.

The FBI is currently reviewing a shooting incident involving an FBI special agent. Based on preliminary information, the incident occurred in Orlando, Florida during the early morning hours of May 22, 2013. The agent, two Massachusetts State Police troopers, and other law enforcement personnel were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual. During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries. As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time. [my emphasis]

That number correlates with the third-hand report of Khusen Taramov, Todashev’s friend who was at the site of the killing, but then sent home after some hours of interrogation himself.

The father said Taramov told him that U.S. agents interrogated him on the street while five officials interrogated Todashev in his Florida house for eight hours on May 22, the night he was shot.

But the anonymous law enforcement sources now trying to straighten out the FBI story seem to have kidnapped or disappeared those at least two other “law enforcement personnel.” CNN obliquely notes this, though doesn’t explain the discrepancy (or point out FBI’s official statement seeming to support Todashev and Taramov’s version).

Contrary to what a U.S. official said, Todashev’s father claimed there were “four of five” law enforcement agents with his son at the time, “all armed.”

The rest of the press seem to be blithely disappearing the at least two additional “law enforcement personnel” without comment, now reporting that just the FBI Agent and two MSP cops were at the scene.


The shooting occurred after an F.B.I. agent from Boston and two detectives from the Massachusetts State Police had been interviewing Mr. Todashev for several hours about his possible involvement in a triple homicide in Waltham, Mass., in 2011, according to the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.


The FBI says 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter Ibragim Todashev was killed last week during a violent confrontation in his Orlando home while an FBI agent and two Massachusetts state troopers questioned him about his ties to slain Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as about a 2011 triple slaying in Massachusetts.


The FBI says Todashev was being questioned by an FBI agent and two Massachusetts state troopers about his ties to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as about a 2011 triple slaying in Massachusetts.

Of course, between the time FBI said there was one FBI Agent and two MSP cops and at least two other “law enforcement personnel” and the FBI’s currently operative story that those at least two other “law enforcement personnel” weren’t there, one anonymous source was claiming secondhand that the (unnumbered) other “law enforcement officials” had stepped out of the room before the violence and killing started.

An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.

The current NYT version, which for some reason a bunch of commentators are taking as credible, suggests one “detective” was in the room when the violence and shooting went down, but did not fire a weapon.

[Todashev] then started to write a statement admitting his involvement while sitting at a table across from the agent and one of the detectives when the agent briefly looked away, the official said.

At that moment, Mr. Todashev picked up the table and threw it at the agent, knocking him to the ground.

While trying to stand up, the agent, who suffered a wound to his face from the table that required stitches, drew his gun and saw Mr. Todashev running at him with a metal pole, according to the official, adding that it might have been a broomstick.

The agent fired several shots at Mr. Todashev, striking him and knocking him backward. But Mr. Todashev again charged at the agent. The agent fired several more shots at Mr. Todashev, killing him. The detective in the room did not fire his weapon, the official said.

There are a lot of ongoing problems with the FBI’s story, which I laid out here, and Conor Friedersdorf catalogued here. But this is an increasingly fascinating one.

The coroner in this case declared Todashev’s cause of death a homicide. But the FBI seems to be intent on ensuring that at least two people who were present at the scene of that homicide disappear entirely.

Update: Note that more sources are stating that an Orlando cop was at the scene, which would resolve who one of these at least two law enforcement personnel is.

And check out this BoGlo piece which tries to catalog and explain away all the changes to the story. While it admits that the story of how many and what kind of law enforcement has also changed, it doesn’t offer an explanation for that change.

After 10 days of conflicting reports, even the most basic facts in Todashev’s killing remain unclear: Did he or did he not have a weapon when he was shot and killed? And, who was in the room at the time of the shooting?

Putin: You Show Me Yours and … I Might Show You Mine

AG-meeting1-300x199It’s not until the 17th and 18th paragraph of this Moscow Times article on Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Alexandrovich Kolokoltsev’s discussion with Attorney General Eric Holder about sharing more law enforcement information that it reminds readers that just three days before the Boston Marathon attack, Russia and the US were exchanging blacklists of people prohibited from travel to their respective country.

The Interior Ministry won a court ruling to authorize Browder’s arrest and place him on an international arrest warrant shortly after the U.S. released its so-called Magnitsky list of 18 Russians banned from entry into the country. Among those on the list are Artyom Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, Interior Ministry investigators who put Magnitsky behind bars.

The blacklist, published April 12, provoked a storm of protest from Moscow and a tit-for-tat release of a blacklist of U.S. officials. But the Boston bombing occurred just three days later, causing the two sides to tone down their rhetoric and take a second look at relations.

The Russian blacklist not only includes torturers like John Yoo, but people involved in Viktor Bout’s prosecution.

And it makes no mention of the complaints that Russia has been slow to share information since.

Details on tensions surrounding Magnitsky come long after the details on information sharing in the article: Robert Mueller promises to open up some FBI files to the Russians in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and we’ve exchanged 827 documents this year.

FBI director Robert Mueller promised Kolokoltsev in Washington late last week to open some FBI data to the Russians, saying, “Such resources could be useful to Russian law enforcement agencies in view of the Sochi Olympics,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

About 15,000 U.S. citizens could attend the Sochi Olympics, according to Mueller.

Mueller also thanked the Russian side for the help it provided in investigating the Boston Marathon bombing, which U.S. investigators believe was masterminded and carried out by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who have mixed Chechen-Dagestani origin.


Kolokoltsev also met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and suggested that the Interior Ministry sign a legal cooperation agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

“Since the beginning of this year, we have exchanged 827 documents with U.S. law enforcement agencies,” Kolokoltsev told reporters, noting that the U.S. is one of top five countries with which Russia cooperates within the framework of the Interpol.

So if you’re planning on attending the Olympics in Russia next year, don’t piss off the FBI before then!

Then there’s the bit Russian Times doesn’t mention, which happens to be one of the very few things included in the US Department of Justice statement on this meeting. The US plans to share not just counterterrorism information, but also transnational crime organization.

They also discussed law enforcement cooperation between the two countries in areas including counterterrorism, transnational organized crime and child pornography.

Recall, Russian mobsters are among the four organizations the Obama Administration listed among the Transnational Criminal Organizations we would use terrorism-like tactics to hunt down; we’ve focused on Central Asian mobsters in our specific sanctions. It’s not clear that Russia has been particularly forthcoming with cooperation on this front in the past.

Let’s see whether this buzz about information sharing changes that.

A Not-A-Drone-Strike Near Disney World

The FBI has been tracking a Chechen martial arts practitioner in FL, Ibragim Todashev, since the Boston Marathon attack. The guy knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Boston and reportedly had a phone conversation with him “more than a month ago” (which still would put it shortly before the attack). Todashev — who got in a serious fight in a parking lot earlier this month — had recently booked a flight to NY, with plans to travel on to Chechnya.

So, after having interviewed him yesterday, the FBI decided to interview him again around midnight last night.

It didn’t end well.

The FBI said Ibragim Todashev was shot and killed just after midnight at 6022 Peregrine Avenue in the Windhover Apartments near Universal Orlando.

“The agent encountered the suspect while conducting official duties. The suspect is deceased,” FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier told Local 6.

John Miller, the former FBI assistant director who now works for CBS News, said the FBI was trying to re-question Todashev at his apartment when “something went wrong.”  Miller said the FBI agent fired shots, but details of the incident have not yet been released and it’s not known if Todashev had a gun.

This will bear watching.

Here’s the FBI’s complete statement on the killing.

The FBI is currently reviewing a shooting incident involving an FBI special agent. Based on preliminary information, the incident occurred in Orlando, Florida during the early morning hours of May 22, 2013. The agent, two Massachusetts State Police troopers, and other law enforcement personnel were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual. During the confrontation, the individual was killed and the agent sustained non-life threatening injuries. As this incident is under review, we have no further details at this time. [my emphasis]

You’d think a crack investigative agency like the FBI would know how many and what kind of other law enforcement personnel were present.

Oh, what’s that? You mean they’re not telling us on purpose?

Update: Apparently Todashev confessed to playing a role in the triple murder in Waltham in 2011 authorities suspect Tamerlan was involved in.

Todashev, they say, had spent some time in the Boston area, where he was a mixed martial arts fighter, and knew Tsarnaev there.  Investigators say he confessed to the agent in Florida that he played a role in a triple murder in 2011 in which three men were discovered slain in an apartment in Waltham, Mass.

Their throats had been cut, and their bodies were covered with marijuana. No suspects had been arrested in that case.

Officials say FBI agents were questioning Todashev on Tuesday. He was cooperative at first, they say, but later that night, he attacked the agent with a knife, who shot and killed him. Officials say Todashev became violent as he was about to sign a written statement based on his confession.

Chances are great that the FBI didn’t tape this claimed confession.

Update: As I suspected, at the time of the assault earlier this month, Todashev was being actively followed, presumably by the FBI.

According to discovery in that case, deputies knew immediately that Todashev was either a cage or jui juitsu fighter and knew “how dangerous these men can be,” a report said.

“I told this subject if he tried to fight us I would shoot him,” one deputy wrote in a report.

The report said that Todashev told deputies he believed he was being followed by federal agents.

He told deputies that three vehicles with tinted windows that were behind him when he was stopped were FBI vehicles. All three cars left the scene before deputies could confirm that they the drivers were federal agents, according to the report.

“I noticed one vehicle was driven by a male, had a computer stand and appeared to be talking on a radio,” the deputy said in the report.

Putin’s Game

‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’ Alice said at last. ‘There ought to be some men moving about somewhere–and so there are!’ she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. ‘It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played–all over the world–if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is!’

As you may have heard, the Russians rather ostentatiously outed an alleged American spy, Ryan Fogle, yesterday. Before I talk about that, I wanted to make sure folks had Garry Kasparov’s op-ed in the WSJ from the other day. Among other questions about whether we really want to be partnering closely with Vladimir Putin, Kasparov notes how selective Putin’s attentiveness to terrorism can be.

Terror would seem to be a more likely area for U.S.-Russian collaboration, especially regarding the virulent brand of Islamist extremism that has been bubbling over in Russia’s southwestern Caucasus region since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet the Kremlin’s cooperation on the Islamist threat has been remarkably selective.

Soon after the suspects’ names in the Boston bombing became known, the Russian security services announced that they had warned the FBI about the elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, in 2011. But what about during and after Tamerlan’s visit to Russia’s North Caucasus in 2012? That’s when he reportedly was indoctrinated and trained by radicals in Dagestan.

Why were there no communications in 2012 from the FSB (the successor of the KGB) about a suspected radical, an American no less, training in the hottest of Caucasus terrorist hotbeds and then returning to the U. S.? It is beyond belief that the extensive police state that monitors every utterance of the Russian opposition could lose track of an American associating with terrorists.

Tamerlan reportedly met with Makhmud Mansur Nidal, a known terror recruiter, and William Plotkin, a Russian-Canadian jihadist. Both men were killed in Dagestan by the Russian military just days before Tamerlan left Russia for the U.S. If no intelligence was sent from Moscow to Washington, all this talk of FSB cooperation cannot be taken seriously.

This would not be the first time Russian security forces seemed strangely impotent in the face of an impending terror attack. In the Nord-Ost theater siege by Islamist Chechens in 2002 and the Beslan school hostage attack by Chechen and other Islamist radicals in 2004, it later came to light that there were FSB informants in both terror groups—yet the attacks went ahead unimpeded. Beslan was quickly used by Mr. Putin to justify shredding the last vestiges of Russian democracy by eliminating the election of regional governors.

It’s not just Kasparov doubting Putin’s cooperation on the Boston Marathon investigation.

House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers complained about it back on April 26.

“The Russians I think have a lot more information here than they are sharing today,” Rogers told Fox News. “They’ve kind of let us peek under the curtain a little bit, but it’s very clear to me that they have valuable information that, A, they should have provided earlier, and B, that we need to get now to understand what happened when he went back to Russia.”

Shortly thereafter, Putin and President Obama had their second conversation on the topic, after which Putin publicly professed to have little of value to offer because the Tsarnaev’s hadn’t been living in Russia.

Mr. Putin said last week that the Federal Security Service was unable to provide “information which had operative value” about the Tsarnaev brothers, “due to the fact that the Tsarnaevs had not lived in Russia for many years.”

Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, repeated that phrase after the two presidents spoke on Monday, but he said cooperation between the countries’ counterterrorism and intelligence services had improved to new levels as a result of the Boston bombing.

“This aroused praise from Putin and Obama, and their satisfaction,” Mr. Peskov told the Interfax news service, adding that cooperation on intelligence “on the whole promotes mutual confidence in bilateral relations.”

The White House offered a more reserved account of the two leaders’ conversation, noting “the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on the Boston Marathon attack.”

Meanwhile, a WSJ story from last week catalogued all the things Russia either did not turn over in timely fashion or did turn over with errors:

  • (Possibly) that Canadian alleged extremist William Plotnikov –whom Russia killed last July — had implicated Tamerlan as an associate in 2010
  • The original tip from the FSB provided incorrect birth dates for Tamerlan
  • FSB provided no response to three requests for more information from FBI
  • Texts from Tamerlan’s mother telling another relative he’d be interested in joining jihad
  • Details from Tamerlan’s trip to Russia in which FSB alleges he met with militants

To be sure, some of this reluctance to share information is a very normal imperative to protect sources and methods, Read more

The Ongoing Tsarnaev Investigation

There have been a number of interesting developments in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. This post will mostly serve to collect them and comment on what they say.

The taxi cab full of pressure cookers

First, there’s a nagging question I’ve got. Anonymous leaks to the press have claimed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told the FBI he and his brother assembled the pressure cooker bombs in Tamerlan’s Cambridge apartment (which is one of the reasons authorities distrust Katherine Russell Tsarnaeva, leading her to hire Johsua Dratel to represent her).

But if it’s true the brothers assembled the bombs in the apartment, then what was this cab ride all about?

Jim Duggan, 51, has been haunted since his close encounter with brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, thinking maybe he could have unwittingly thwarted the killer plot if he had just driven away.

He told the Daily News on Thursday that the brothers flagged him down April 14 outside a rapid-transit station in the Boston suburb of Malden.

“I tried to put their backpacks into the trunk, but they wouldn’t let me touch them,” Duggan said.

He drove the men to Cambridge, letting them out near Kendall Square — close to where they lived.

Duggan said the brothers gave him a $2 tip on a $38 fare. As he started to drive away, the the older brother, Tamerlan, 26, began pounding on his car and yelling at him to get his attention.

The taxi driver said he immediately stopped and popped the trunk. Before the brothers could stop him, he removed one of the backpacks, which he now suspects held a homemade pressure-cooker bomb used in the attack.

“I said to them, ‘That’s the most packed backpack I ever picked up,’” said Duggan, guessing the bag weighed about 20 pounds.

I’m especially interested in this given Dzhokhar’s reported claim that they were going to hit the July 4th celebration, but finished the bombs early and therefore decided to target the Marathon instead. What if they had picked up the bombs at some location on the commuter rail?

The pizza and pot murders

In 2011, a friend of Tamerlan’s and two others were killed in a bizarre and brutal killing in Waltham. At the time, people thought Tamerlan’s behavior was weird (for example, he didn’t go the funeral, which Tamerlan’s ultra conservative views might have prohibited). In the wake of the Boston attack, though, authorities now claim not just Tamerlan, but also Dzhokhar, might be tied to the killing.

In the wake of the Marathon bombings, Middlesex County began to probe a link between the elder Tsarnaev and Brendan Mess, one of the three men killed in the gruesome slaying on Sept. 11, 2011. Officials said Mess and two men were found in a Waltham residence with their throats slit and their bodies covered with marijuana. Tamerlan and Mess were once roommates and did boxing and martial arts training together.

Now law enforcement officials tell ABC News that some crime scene forensic evidence provided a match to the two Tsarnaev brothers. The officials also said records of cell phones used by the Tsarnaevs appears to put them in the area of the murders on that date. Several officials confirmed the new findings but declined to be identified because they are not authorized to comment on the ongoing investigation.


Then, Gerry’s Italian Kitchen became a focal point again on April 24, nine days after the Marathon bombing, after investigators removed a Planet Aid charity donation bin from its parking lot. A driver had discovered discarded fireworks inside and law enforcement sources told ABC News the gunpowder had been removed from the cartridges.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen it claimed that Tamerlan worked for Gerry’s Italian Kitchen at the time.

I’m really intrigued by this possibility — particularly since it looks like a mob killing more than an Islamic extremist one. But I also think it’s possible that the brothers’ DNA was at the scene because they, as friends, had been there. And what do authorities mean when they say their phones “put them in the area”? Is Cambridge the area, or just the Waltham neighborhood? Finally, while authorities might be really pushed to implicate Dzhokhar as well as Tamerlan, the piece notes that up to now they’ve believed there was just one killer.

They’ve got a real incentive to implicate Dzhokhar, who is around to be tried, unlike Tamerlan. So it’s worth being skeptical about his implication, at least.

Wearing makeup to your militia debut

There are a number of interesting details about what FSB is saying about Tamerlan’s trip to Russia (such as in this article; also note, as far as I can tell, FSB is baby-sitting the FBI agents working this case, so it’s important to remember much of this is being seen through their eyes).

But I’m particularly interested in this description of Tamerlan showing up in what I’ll call jihad disguise, which made actual Salafists worried he would attract attention.

Mr. Tsarnaev, who a year later allegedly planted the Boston Marathon bombs with his brother Dzhokhar and died after a shootout with police, got a cool reception from some of the Islamists he hoped to bond with. He greased his hair with olive oil and wore dark eye makeup, apparently in an effort to affect contemporary jihadist fashion, according to Mohamad Magomedov, who struck up a friendship with him at the mosque. Read more