One thing that the FBI does really well is exonerate itself. As I wrote earlier, the bureau’s agents have shot 151 people over the course of the last two decades, killing more than half of them, yet in its own internal reviews, the FBI has exonerated those agents all 151 times — a perfect record of blamelessness that even some of the country’s most gun-happy police departments (even in Albuquerque, NM) can’t claim.
Now another internal review, not by the FBI but by the Office of Intelligence Committee, an obscure unit which supposedly internally “oversees” the work of 17 intelligence agencies including the FBI, has smiled on the FBI’s seemingly lackadaisical investigation of Boston Marathon bomber suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, saying that its Boston office agents did an okay job in checking him out after Russian intelligence warned the US back in 2011 that he had linked up with Islamic militants while on a visit to his family in Dagestan.
The New York Times, in a report on the inspector’s findings, quotes an unidentified “senior American official” as saying that the OIC investigation “found that the Russians did not provide all the information that they had on him back then, and that based on everything that was available at the time, the FBI did all that it could.”
What that “everything” included was interviewing the elder Tsarnaev brother (now dead, killed in a hail of police bullets during a night-time chase following the Boston bombing last April), as well as his parents and friends at school. After that brief flurry of interviews, the bureau allegedly lost interest in Tsarnaev, concluding that he was more of a threat to Russia than to the US—an interesting turn of phrase that should suggest something else might have been afoot.
And indeed, there is something missing from that report that is troubling: namely news that the FBI also reportedly sought to enlist Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an informant during its 2011-12 investigation of his activities. If attorneys for Tamerlan’s younger brother Dzhokhar are correct, the FBI, after contacting and questioning the older brother, then at least attempted to pressure him to work for them by spying on the local Chechen community in Boston. It stands to reason they may have also been interested in having him work for the US against Russia, given the US’s long record of support for rebels in former Soviet republics like Chechnya and Dagestan who have been seeking to break away from Russia. Tsarnaev would have been vulnerable to such pressure, as he had been attempting to gain US citizenship, and because had certain assets that the FBI (and the CIA) wanted: knowledge of people in Dagestan and also fluency in Chechen and Russian (a Tsarnaev uncle was already reportedly working for the CIA, even for a time living in the home of, and married to the daughter of a ranking CIA official).
The FBI has denied that it ever signed up Tsarnaev, but that kind of denial has to be taken with not a grain but a whole shaker of salt. The whole Boston bombing story is full of bizarre aspects, such as the complete lack of similarity between the exploded backpack as displayed publicly by the FBI and the two backpacks that videos and stills show the Tsarnaev brothers to be carrying at the finish line of the race, and also the haste with with law enforcement sought to kill the seriously injured Dzhokhar when he was trapped and surrounded by heavily armed and armored police in a trailered fiberglass pleasure boat in Watertown, Mass. (A hail of over 100 bullets were fired at him through the boat’s hull, though he by that time posed no risk to the police, and had no chance of escaping.)
The OIC report claims that the FBI might have investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev more thoroughly had Russian intelligence only given them more information, such as word that they had tapped calls between Tamerlan and his mother in which the two allegedly discussed jihadism. Supposedly that “crucial” information was only provided to the bureau by Russia after the Marathon bombing.
But really, are we supposed to believe, in this Patriot Act-era America, and at a time when we’ve learned that the National Security Agency has for years been collecting all phone calls made in the country and has the ability to recover any of them, including not just the meta-data but the actual conversations, that the FBI needed the Russians to tell them they had monitored an international call by Tsarnaev? And are we supposed to actually believe that the FBI needed harder evidence about Tsarnaev’s possible link to terrorism in order to monitor him? This is the same FBI, remember, that has been caught putting GPS trackers on the vehicles of peace activists in California, sending informants to monitor environmental protest organizations and animal rights groups, declaring Occupy groups to be “terrorists,” and setting up vulnerable low-wattage losers to plot bogus terror attacks that the bureau can then step in and “prevent.”
All of this should make us particularly curious about the FBI’s offing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev friend Ibragim Todashev (a “justified” killing according the the bureau’s internal investigation, as always), after an apparently brutal four-and-a-half-hour grilling in his Orlando apartment last May 22. That shooting, as I reported earlier, happened after one of the two FBI agents on the case had physically removed from the area a potential witness to the killing, Khusen Taramov, riding with him in his car to ensure that he was miles from the scene just half an hour before the deadly shooting was done.
The unarmed Todashev was shot three times in the upper middle of his back, once in the chest, two times in the front of his upper left arm and then once in the top of his head in what bears all the markings of an execution or rub-out His body also exhibited a major bruise on the left side of the head that included a contusion on the cheek at the outside of the left eye socket, which a coroner said was the result of a heavy blow of some kind.
With the younger Tsarnaev facing a capital murder and terrorism trial, why would the FBI have slain the person who best knew the older brother just before the bombing took place, unless it was to silence him? And what would they have been trying to silence him about? Could it have been knowledge that Tamerlan was working for the FBI at the time of the bombing?
One thing is for sure. We cannot rely on the FBI or the Justice Department or some intelligence agency “inspector general” to give us the truth about that or about the killing of Todashev.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).