A trip to Russia by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings, may have escaped scrutiny because U.S. agencies didn’t share information, lawmakers said yesterday.
Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wanted to know why agencies including the FBI, which knew of earlier Russian concerns about Tsarnaev, didn’t take a fresh look when Tsarnaev traveled to Russia last year.
McCaul said he wants to know if the Department of Homeland Security, which was aware of the trip, notified the FBI.
“Because when he comes back from Russia, he’s clearly radicalized,” McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.” As a result, he and his brother carry out “the greatest terrorist attack since 9/11,” he said.
In the aftermath of the April 15 bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260, U.S. lawmakers said investigators have told them Tamerlan, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, were schooled in radical Islam and terrorist bomb-making online.
The Russians’ warning to the U.S. in 2011 about Tamerlan stemmed from two secretly recorded phone calls between him and his mother, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the continuing investigation. Russian authorities didn’t tell that to the U.S. until after the bombing, the official said.
President Barack Obama in a telephone call today thanked President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s “close cooperation” in the case. The two also discussed security for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to a White House statement.
As part of the bombing probe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to interview family members including the parents, who are in Russia, said a person familiar with the investigation who asked not to be identified. Friends, associates and others who were part of the suspects’ lives are also being sought for interviews, the official said.
Authorities are examining whether the suspects acted alone or had help, and so far haven’t found evidence that they had help, said the official.
FBI agents today were at the home of Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine Tsarnaev, as part of the investigation, Jason Pack, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail. He declined to comment further, saying the bureau can’t discuss specific aspects of the case.
McCaul said Congress will hold hearings on whether the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency did all they could to prevent the attack.
“We’re going to have to up our game,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” broadcast. “How could you miss the fact that the guy you were -- you were informed by a foreign intelligence service you have a radical in your midst.”
The younger Tsarnaev, now being held at a federal prison west of Boston for inmates needing medical care, is charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in the double bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in an April 19 shootout with police.
The FBI, at the request of Russia’s domestic intelligence service, conducted a three-month review of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities in 2011. The FBI checked the tip thoroughly “and did not find terrorist activity, domestic or foreign,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said April 22.
Russia declined to cooperate when the FBI sought more specific information, according to Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Since the bombing, Russia has turned over information to U.S. authorities, including details of a secretly recorded telephone conversation with Tsarnaev’s mother and her son, the Associated Press reported. In the 2011 conversation, one of the bombing suspects “vaguely” discussed jihad with the mother, AP reported, citing officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Russian authorities probably know more than they’ve told the U.S., Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“If they were up on this -- on the mother or someone related to the mother and listening, there’s got to be a basis for why they went up on her electronically or why they went up on one of her affiliates or associates,” he said. “We haven’t received that information from the Russians. I think they do know more than they’re telling us.”
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” criticized the FBI for not having visited Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s mosque or interviewed the imam after being alerted by the Russians. He said it was an “absolute failure” that the FBI didn’t notify New York authorities sooner that the bombers had considered an attack in New York City after Boston.
King repeatedly called for authorities to more closely track the Muslim community. “The element is from within the Muslim community,” he said.
Meanwhile, McCaul and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said the use of a type of bomb common in Pakistan and Afghanistan and detonating the device with a toy-car remote may signal the brothers had help.
“The way they handled these devices and the trade craft leads me to believe that there was a trainer,” McCaul said. “Where is that trainer or trainers?”
Manchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said he has seen the online magazine Inspire, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, showing how to build a device and the Boston bomb was more sophisticated.
“I think they were a little bit more advanced than what the website would have allowed a person to be,” he said.
Manchin also said the agencies questioning Dzhokhar “pulled the trigger too soon” on letting him invoke his right to an attorney.
“I think there’s more to be had there,” he said. “But I would have liked that process of him being interrogated to go further than reading Miranda rights as quick as they did.”
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” broadcast that he was surprised Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was read his rights “so quickly,” and “the people doing the interrogation were surprised as well.”
Still, Schiff said that “it looks like” the FBI got the information they needed to ensure public safety prior to the Miranda rights reading.
“Already, I think the statements that the suspect made are going to be challenged by the defense team,” he said. “And while the priority has to be on making use of any information that could protect the public, it’s also valuable to be able to admit those into evidence.”