When it emerged shortly after the Boston bombing that the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev several times in 2011 based on a tip from the Russian government, several members of Congress suggested the agency let him slip through their fingers. Now a new report by the inspectors general of the Intelligence Community, Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, and CIA suggests Russia was mainly to blame. According to the New York Times, the review found that the Russians declined multiple requests for more information about Tsarnaev, only revealing after the bombing that they had intercepted a phone call in which Tsarnaev and his mother discussed Islamic jihad. “They found that the Russians did not provide all the information that they had on him back then, and based on everything that was available the F.B.I. did all that it could,” a senior American official told the Times.
When Russian officials told the FBI in 2011 that Tsarnaev was a “follower of radical Islam,” who planned to visit Dagestan to “join unspecific underground groups,” American officials thought he was a bigger threat to Russia. (A former FBI executive told Talking Points Memo that these warnings are taken with “a grain of salt,” since some foreign governments are just trying to spy on human rights activists.) After interviewing Tsarnaev and his family and looking through various records including his internet search history, FBI agents found nothing suspicious.
Officials say the unreleased report, which members of Congress will be briefed on tomorrow, does say FBI agents could have conducted a few more interviews based on the original tip. But like the FBI’s internal review, the report concludes that legally, agents couldn’t have done much more to follow up on Tsarnaev. And even if they had additional intelligence from Russia, it’s unclear if they could have prevented the attack. “Had they known what the Russians knew they probably would have been able to do more under our investigative guidelines, but would they have uncovered the plot? That’s very hard to say,” said one senior official.