Streetwise Professor

April 20, 2013

The Fallout from Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Visit from the FBI

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:01 pm

The news coming out of Boston that will have the greatest ramifications for American politics in the near-to-medium term is the revelation that the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the behest of the Russian government in 2011.   (Originally, reports did not mention a specific country, even though anyone who can add 2 and 2 could figure it out: who did they think they were fooling?)  Add this to the fact that Tamerlan spent about 6 months in Russian-including time in Dagestan, which is currently the most restive and violent part of the Russian Caucasus-and one question comes to mind: What did the FBI miss?

On the fringes, the answer would be: “Nothing. They knew all along and wanted it to happen.  Hell, they made it happen.”  Claims of a “false flag” attack began almost from the moment of the bombing.  The Tsarnaevs’ parents’ statements can only feed these suspicions:

“My son would never do this,” Tsarnaeva said. “He was controlled by the FBI for three to five years, they knew what my son was doing, they knew what actions, on what sites on the Internet he was going,” she said. “So how could this happen? They were controlling every step of his.”

. . . .

Tsarnaeva, whose younger son Dzhokar, 19, was captured after an almost 24-hour manhunt that shut down Boston and surrounding cities, said she had been interviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents about Tamerlan, who had described him as an “extremist leader.”

The brothers’ father, Anzor, also denied his sons’ involvement in the Boston attacks in an interview with Russian state channel Rossiya 24 in Makhachkala, saying they couldn’t “hurt a fly.”

Anzor, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said he was present when the FBI interviewed Tamerlan in Cambridge. He said they visited for what they called “prevention” activities. “They said: We know what sites you are on, we know where you are calling, we know everything about you. Everything,” he said as cited in the interview.

From such seeds will grow a New Trutherism.  (Ironically, it appears that Tamerlan was a 911 Truther.)

From the non-fringe, the FBI’s failure to identify Tamerlan as a risk will spark accusations of political motives and political correctness (“the Obama administration is soft on Islamist terror”) from the right.  Those who use “never attribute to malice which can be explained by incompetence” as an operating principle will argue that the FBI (and American law enforcement generally) works off an outdated and flawed model of the modern terrorist threat: that it is fighting the last war.

There is something in the linked Bloomberg article that supports this view:

U.S. intelligence agencies reviewing international communications and other terrorism intelligence found no signs that the suspected bombers were members of, or inspired by, any foreign terror group, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because those matters are classified.

In other words, the focus of the investigation was on connections to foreign terrorist organizations.  But what about self-starting, volunteerist terrorists motivated by Islamist rhetoric, propaganda and preaching?  It’s not like this risk was unknown in 2011, or in 2012 when Tamerlan went to Dagestan.  Major Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, is a classic example.  The (failed) Times Square bomber is another.

I will warrant that it is far more difficult to assess this risk: connection with a terrorist group is a far more telling indication of intent and capability to commit terrorist acts than is reading or echoing Islamist materials.  But apparently the latter was enough to make the FBI concerned and get Tamerlan on its radar: evidently, though, only taking the next step and affiliating with a terrorist group would have kept him there, or put him into custody.  Taking actions against such individuals is also much dicier, from a civil liberties perspective.

But such individuals are arguably now the greatest terrorist threat in the US proper.  Thus, I expect that the FBI will undergo considerable scrutiny as to how it has evolved to address the home-grown, self-starting terrorist risk, especially post-Fort Hood/Times Square.

And the FBI is inherently a politicized organization, and has been for decades.  Its failures inherently lead to questions about the responsibility of the Attorney General and the President for them.  In some respect these questions are legitimate, but they will also feed partisan attacks.

So look forward to months of highly charged debate over the FBI’s failure to identify Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a terror risk despite been warned about him, leavened with fringe-but very loud-claims that it directed him as part of a dark conspiracy against the Republic.  Every revelation about Tamerlan’s travels, his Islamist reading or statements will only add fuel to the fire: “Why didn’t the FBI connect these dots?” The self-preservation instincts of politicians and bureaucracies ensures that there will be a war of leaks between the FBI and the administration-these too will fuel the controversy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this also reanimates the moribund interest in Benghazi.   I also wonder what kind of information the Russians will announce, leak, or make up in an attempt to use the episode to advance their interests.

Heretofore, Obama has been largely immune from blame for terror attacks-Major Hasan and Benghazi being primary examples.  Boston hits much closer to home, however, and the FBI’s longstanding knowledge of the perpetrator means this situation poses a far greater risk for him.  And like I said in an earlier post, knowledge of this might have fed Obama’s rage at the Rose Garden temper tantrum on Wednesday.

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  1. this is much more basic than judging the FBI’s judgement. if the FBI interviewed him, and then had a photo of him from Lord and Taylor store, and he lived in boston, why could they not match the photo?

    Comment by scott — April 20, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  2. So the guy was frequenting Islamist web sites, so what? Last time I checked, there was no such thing as thought crimes in the US. Calling a man for “an interview” based on rumors about what he does on the web sounds like something the FSB would do, not the FBI.

    Comment by ששש — April 20, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

  3. Sleeper Cell linked to the boys…..

    One problem is we have rights here. Even if the FBI knew it, you cannot monitor their every single move. While the right might be vapid with their criticism of Obama because it suits them, I find the left to be ignorant when it comes to risk/reward in both business and life, and in basic freedom.

    Comment by Jeff — April 20, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

  4. +++Calling a man for “an interview” based on rumors about what he does on the web sounds like something the FSB would do, not the FBI.+++

    There is an important difference though. He could easily deny a request for an interview from FBI. In Russia, FSB’s and Prosecutor’s interview summons are mandatory, akin to subpoenas in the US.

    Comment by LL — April 21, 2013 @ 6:24 am

  5. is reporting that the Tsarnaevs were double agents who betrayed the their US & Saudi handlers.

    Comment by Bob — April 21, 2013 @ 7:46 am

  6. Debka? LOL.

    Comment by So? — April 21, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  7. Could it be So? implausible that the countries that exploited radical elements of Wahhabi Islam to defeat the Soviets and have “BLOWBACK” in form of al Qaeda be duped once again?

    Comment by Bob — April 21, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  8. It seems to me that the multi decade State Department policy that the Muslim enemies of Russia are my friends has been an unmitigated disaster. They gave this family asylum for goodness sakes.

    Americans just do not comprehend that what they assume are universal human values are not universal.

    Comment by pahoben — April 21, 2013 @ 11:30 am

  9. +++the multi decade State Department policy that the Muslim enemies of Russia are my friends+++

    I don’t think this statement can be substantiated in any reasonable way. To put it mildly.

    Comment by LL — April 21, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  10. You are right but there are several lines of thought that suggest this is a true assertion. What did the US receive for tipping the balance of power to the Mujahideen. Regional peace-no the contrary. Regional influence-no the contrary. The most prominent impact on the US from the conflict was the attack on New York that accomplished much of what it was intended to accomplish. If rather the Soviet/Russian occupation had continued ad infinitum and the Muslims and Russians had continued fighting how would that have been a bad result for the US? The US wouldn’t be Muslim Enemy 1 and the attack on New York likely wouldn’t have happened (I realize this is the type of assertion that is not possible to prove but very unlikely Afghanistan would have been a safe haven for international jihad and in any event Russia would have been the target not the US). I’m afraid a lot of these US strategies with respect to the Muslim world are based on the hero theory. We save these poor wretches from something and they will see us as heroes and so a positive for the US. It doesn’t matter what you do in many of these cultures you will never be seen as the hero but only as meddlesome infidels that need to be killed.

    Similar process now in Chechniya. We will help the poor wretches and grant political asylum and we will be the hero and they will be thankful. Well you have the same result again-we are wretched infidels that must be killed.

    If you have two enemies it is almost always better that they fight amongst themselves and there is rarely a case that you should shift the balance of power in favor of one.

    Comment by pahoben — April 21, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  11. Russian news is playing up the false flag theory. Shots of the guys with apparent Craft emblems and comments about the impossibility of the FBI not knowing what they were planning. This demonstrates complete misunderstanding of this administration. If this were false flag the perps would have been a couple of right wing NRA members.

    Comment by pahoben — April 21, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

  12. @pahoben. I hear you. Re the FBI: Never ascribe to malice what you can explain by incompetence-or political correctness. Ironically, there are also claims (primarily from Caucasian rebel groups) that this was an FSB false flag operation.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 21, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

  13. @Professor -good point. I bet the incompetence had a large PC component. No need to track Chechens posting jihadi vidoes when there are so many NRA members to worry about.

    Comment by pahoben — April 21, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

  14. +++ If rather the Soviet/Russian occupation had continued ad infinitum and the Muslims and Russians had continued fighting how would that have been a bad result for the US?+++

    Spread of communist power south? Close to India and Indian Ocean? Remember, it was 1979, only four years since the dramatic fall of Saigon. Communist takeovers and wars throughout the world: Ethiopia, Angola, you name it.

    I would not second-guess the decision-makers of those times. Hindsight is 20/20 and they had no reason to beleive that there was a potential for a Jihad much worse than a communist government if Afghanistan.

    Comment by LL — April 21, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

  15. Let me point out another angle here: the US and British authorities do absolutely nothing to help the Russians fight and prosecute anti-Russian terrorists and then get surprised when the very same people terrorize them. That was true in the 1980s, when the CIA and its “best friend” – the Pakistani Intelligence – breast-fed Bin Laden. This is true now.

    Comment by Vlad Rutenburg — April 21, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

  16. Spread of communist power south? Close to India and Indian Ocean? Remember, it was 1979, only four years since the dramatic fall of Saigon. Communist takeovers and wars throughout the world: Ethiopia, Angola, you name it.

    Except that before 911 quite a few people in the US took a lot of pride in having provoked the SU into invading Afghanistan. “Bear trap” and all that.

    Comment by So? — April 21, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

  17. There is no logic at all to be found among jihadists – none.

    As you yourself pointed out, SWP – WTF does the slave state of Chechnya have to do with Boston or the US? They are kept in miserable, slave state status, along with other Muslim areas of the “Russian Federation” by Putler. It is brutal.

    The uncle in Maryland said: “They have disgraced the entire family” – and that after Tamerlan said that he was going to do “god’s work” the uncle stopped talking to him. Maybe the uncle should have kept talking.

    The aunt in Toronto said: “They did not do this – prove it to me. The photos are all false, they are made up.” That, of course, has typical Russkie/sovok overtones to it. It was laughable, but it the denial is just so typical sovok.

    The mom said: “we are not religious – I wear makeup and go out in public.”

    Djokhar, supposedly, was supposed to go to medical school. But he was getting failing grades all around in college – how the media got hold of his transcripts, I don’t know. After the bombing, he went back to his dorms and hung out with other students.

    Much easier to blow things up than to actually achieve something by studying and working hard.

    There is a huge positive here, as has been noted by the media and was very apparent from the news reports: the excellent work of the police, at all levels, and the earned support of the citizens.

    The news travels instantaneously around the world – and I noted, specifically, the news programs and the political talk shows, in which people marveled at the efficiency, speed, and orderliness with which the suspects were found, in comparison to their own severely outdated and haphazard methods.

    I don’t think most Americans understand or appreciate the absolute ingrained, persistent craziness of Caucausus ethnicities, muslim jihadists, or of sovok-brainwashed persona of any ethnicity.

    The FBI may not have appreciated it either.

    Comment by elmer — April 22, 2013 @ 7:29 am

  18. One of the things I forgot to mention:

    During the news coverage, one of the Fox news infobabes mentioned that when she was in the Maskva office, they used to receive videos all the time, very gruesome ones, of captured Russian soldiers being tortured by Chechens.

    Of course, the Rashans have not been so nice to the Chechens:

    The former president of Ukraine, Kuchma, was caught on tape in a temper tantrum about a journalist whom he didn’t like – Georgiy Gongadze, who was found beheaded outside of Kyiv in 2000.

    Among Kuchma’s temper tantrum lines – “feed him to the Chechens.”

    Gongadze was an entirely decent and honorable human being. He was ethnically Georgian.

    Which bring to mind that Putler is really the terrorist.

    Comment by elmer — April 22, 2013 @ 7:43 am

  19. Interview with the father:

    The visit to Russia:

    Tsarnaev: Of course he went to mosque on Fridays. Of course. He went to the main mosque. And we kept going there together. Nobody was trying to process him in any way. There is no such thing in Makhachkala. Local people stopped doing this kind of thing long ago. This is history. Those who brainwash people do not live in the cities anymore. Brainwashers live in the mountains.

    The evil ways of the US “secret service” and – it’s a setup!!!!!!!!!!!!:

    Tsarnaev: [Dzhokhar] could not have possibly been under any influence of [Tamerlan]. Yes, he was his elder brother, but he would have never set his younger brother up. It would be against our customs.

    [Tamerlan] used to tell [Dzhokhar], “Look at me, I got married and skipped on education. Go, get yourself some education, otherwise we’ll make our father mad.” Sure, I was mad. I used to nag [Tamerlan], telling him he would end up as a cheap laborer without education. He kept promising me he would get an education. He would assure me he could speak English. He knew his way around computers, and he was going to start some business. He knew some guys who went to China and would import stuff from there, open a shop, this and that. These are some plans he had.

    Nothing makes any sense. The way [American] secret services worked makes no sense, nor does how the police handled it. They have no video footage, nothing. […] Moreover, they kept him under surveillance while he would spend all his time with his baby. [Editor’s note: Reports claim Tamerlan came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement via the Russian government in 2011 and was questioned by the FBI.] They ought to have known very well who he was in touch with had there been anything suspicious. And those explosives? Do you think it’s so easy to get hold of explosives in Boston? As [the Russian nationalist politician Vladimir] Zhironovsky said, the police itself had ordered* exactly the kind of explosives that went off there. Why would the police get hold of this stuff? This just doesn’t make sense. They simply picked a Chechen boy. What for? This is a clear setup.

    Comment by elmer — April 22, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  20. @elmer. Mom should get her stories straight. Not religious? Not according to the big article that ran in today’s WSJ, which states that she and Tamerlan both became more observant. She started covering up-which p*ssed off her husband-and stopped working as a cosmetologist outside the home because she didn’t want to have to work on men. She encouraged Tamerlan’s religiosity, and became more religious herself.

    But I think the whole lot are liars. Everything they say has to be discounted quite heavily.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 22, 2013 @ 11:36 am

  21. Hardly a surprise. Those noble savages are pathological liars. They lie even when there is nothing to gain from it.

    Comment by So? — April 22, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

  22. They simply picked a Chechen boy.

    Whose first reaction was to shoot an MIT security guard, engage in a gun battle with the police, and when wounded go an hide in a boat in somebody’s back yard. Could have happened to anybody.

    Hardly a surprise. Those noble savages are pathological liars. They lie even when there is nothing to gain from it.

    I find huge swathes of the world to be like this. And to be fair, I didn’t find the Russians to be particularly bad at telling the truth.

    Comment by Tim Newman — April 22, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

  23. +++She encouraged Tamerlan’s religiosity, and became more religious herself+++

    Which is a particular shame given she apparently used to be a good-looking chick…

    Comment by LL — April 23, 2013 @ 4:32 am

  24. Here is what bugs me in this whole story: these people, the brothers and their parents, – they don’t look alien. Unlike other known islamic terrorists, whose backgrounds and looks are much further away from most of the Americans. Just normal European-looking people, even nice ones.

    Makes me feel dissonant.

    Comment by LL — April 23, 2013 @ 4:44 am

  25. I have found Russians to be no better than Chechens at telling the truth Tim.
    All as bad as each other in that respect, and its mainly to do with the fact that lying through your teeth was a central part of surviving the Soviet system.

    Comment by Andrew — April 23, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

  26. It is possible the Tsarnaev brothers were two sadly confused young men, drawn to radical religious beliefs and violent jihadist activities. That seems the most obvious explanation. But where Russia is concerned investigators should be vigilant. Russia is a country of many mysteries, of real false flag terrorist operations like the Russian apartment bombings of September 1999. Nothing is straightforward where Russia is concerned.

    Comment by Anders — April 23, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

  27. @ elmer

    > The former president of Ukraine, Kuchma, was caught on tape in a temper tantrum .. Which bring to mind that Putler is really the terrorist.

    Hi Elmer, since “Putler” is the term that simple-minded folks use for Putin, I assume that that’s whom you mean. Here is an interesting angle for you: Putin is the president of Russia, which is a different country from Ukraine, and blaming Putin for Kuchma’s actions is… how should I put it… not very smart even for a stupid person.

    Comment by Vlad Rutenburg — April 23, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

  28. Vlad, seems you are a pretty stupid person yourself.
    Russia was pulling the strings in many former Soviet republics.
    Thats why Putin and co get so upset when said leaders were replaced or overthrown by pro western (and in many cases anti-russian) reformist governments.
    Look at Georgia for example, the Russian state got very upset in 2004 when the new Georgian government that replaced Shevardnadze stated that the Russians were no longer going to decide who would be the Defence, Interior, and Foreign ministers of Georgia as had been the case since the Russian sponsored coup against Gamsakhurdia in the early 90’s.

    Russia had undue influence on Ukrainian politics until the Orange revolution, it was one of the reasons they were so opposed to the Rose and Orange revolutions.

    I think you are incredibly ignorant of the detrimental effect of several hundred years of Russian occupation and brutality in the states bordering Russia, and also of the massive interference in those countries that still occurs by Moscow.

    Comment by Andrew — April 24, 2013 @ 12:54 am

  29. @Andrew,

    > Vlad, seems you are a pretty stupid person yourself.
    > I think you are incredibly ignorant

    Thanks for demonstrating your intellectual level.

    Lay people in the West think that because Kuchma was not a democrat, he was a Kremlin stooge and did whatever Yeltsin and Putin told him. The reality was quite the opposite. Kuchma did his utmost to drive a wedge between Ukraine and Russia, to antagonize Russian-speakers in Ukraine, and to get rid of the Russian language in Ukraine. I will never forget the incident when the Ukrainians held military training and accidentally shot down a Russian plane from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk with about 70 people on board. Kuchma told the journalists: _Let’s not try to turn this into a big deal.” A few days later he came up with a beautiful explanation why the Ukrainian air defense people committed this accident: The rocket was made during the Soviet time and the instructions were in Russian, a language that nobody knew. So, they shot the rocket without reading the attached instructions first. I kid you not.

    So, if you have any evidence that Kuchma killed Gongadze on advice from Putin, please publish it. If not – you know where to put it.

    BTW, this reminds me of an old Russian joke. Nasser calls Brezhnev to ask for more missiles.
    – The same as last time?
    – The same amount, but a different kind. Instead of surface-to-air, this time we want surface-to-airplane.

    > I think you are incredibly ignorant of the detrimental effect of several hundred years of Russian occupation and brutality in the states bordering Russia, and also of the massive interference in those countries that still occurs by Moscow.

    Do you REALLY think that I am less knowledgeable on Russian/Soviet/Ukrainian history than you? Сколько лет Вы прожили в Украине/России и как хорошо Вы знаете эти языки?

    > Look at Georgia for example

    Вы случайно не из Грузии?

    Comment by Vlad Rutenburg — April 26, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  30. there is no way on earth putin would let this persona of interest return to US if he had interest in him and if he didn’t need him to return. please someone explain to me why is this video available on youtube – direct contradiction to what media is saying.

    Comment by Alla Wagner — April 27, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

  31. From such seeds will grow a New Trutherism. (Ironically, it appears that Tamerlan was a 911 Truther.) The animal farm of Putin-mafias conspiracy i still going strong “The fact that the naked man hasn’t been identified only adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue. (Until this morning, when the Boston Globe published a riveting account of the ninety minutes Danny spent with the Tsarnaev brothers, there were those who believed the carjacking victim and the naked man were the same person.) Even if some intrepid reporter does track the naked man down, the morass of conspiracies surrounding the marathon bombing and the twenty-four hours that culminated in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture last Friday night are not about to disappear; one of the hallmarks of conspiracies is that evidence used to knock them down is interpreted by true believers as proof that they actually exist. But anyone who doesn’t consider himself an Infowars soldier can rest assured that the naked man was just a random guy, who was unlucky enough to look like a suspected terrorist—and lucky enough not to end up seriously hurt. ”

    Comment by Anders — April 28, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

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