Russia asked U.S. twice to investigate Tamerlan Tsarnaev, official says
April 24th, 2013
07:15 PM ET

Russia asked U.S. twice to investigate Tamerlan Tsarnaev, official says

By Joe Johns, Barbara Starr, Gloria Borger and Carol Cratty

Months after the FBI cleared Tamerlan Tsarnaev in its investigation of possible connections to jihadist causes, the Russians approached the CIA as well to look into him, CNN has learned.

But what was provided by the Russians in late September 2011 was "basically the same" information that had been given the previous March to the FBI, according to a government official.

The source said the communication was a "warning letter" sent to the CIA.

Tsarnaev, 26, suspected along with his younger brother of bombing the Boston Marathon early last week, died on Friday following a violent confrontation with police.

A law enforcement official said the CIA knew the FBI had done an assessment of the elder Tsarnaev, and the intelligence community seemed satisfied.

The FBI concluded its investigation in June 2011.

At the request of the CIA, information about Tsarnaev was included in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, otherwise known as TIDE, which is maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, CNN has learned.

The list of more than 500,000 names of known or suspected foreign and domestic terrorists contains detailed, raw intelligence.

The Russians provided information that included "two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible name variant as well," the intelligence official added.

The amount of information the Russians provided is at the center of a critical look at whether the government missed signals of a man described as emerging jihadist who may have been further radicalized overseas.

"We just had a young person who went to Russia, Chechnya, who blew people up in Boston. So he didn't stay where he went, but he learned something where he went and he came back with a willingness to kill people," Secretary of State John Kerry observed on Tuesday.

The FBI investigated Tsarnaev based on the initial information from the Russians before concluding he was not a threat.

A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the information says "the issue with Russia is that the initial information was extremely thin."

The Russians believed he was "becoming radicalized."

"There were no details, no examples, no threads to pull," the source said. "Because of the rather light nature of the information we did go back to them and asked can you tell us more. We never heard back."

"They did not give a case report back when the United States inquired," said another source with knowledge of the investigation.

Officials have said that the FBI investigation went as far as it could based on the vague information.

"I think we did everything within our legal authority to vet this individual. When all was said and done there was nothing to link him to terrorism," a law enforcement official said.

What pinged the Russian interest?

The United States still doesn't know everything. But the senior U.S. official says the American intelligence community, including the FBI, is well aware the Russian security service monitors websites and online postings of particular militant websites.

"We know the Russians had to see something to make these claims," said the senior U.S. official.

The Russians have not told the United States whether they did any surveillance on Tamerlan while he was in Russia for six months in 2012, but the law enforcement official would not doubt the Russians kept tabs on Tsarneav.

If they did, according to the law enforcement official, the Russians never came back to the FBI and said so and didn't provide any additional incriminating information about him.

If the Russians held back information, it wouldn't be surprising, said a source familiar with the intelligence process and the flow of information.

The Russians are generally "more formal, more irregular" in providing this kind of information to us.

"'There's still a lot of suspicion" between U.S. and Russian intelligence operatives, the source said. "I am not sure they would share their source information with us."

The FBI is under very strict legal guidelines and standards when investigating Americans or persons on American soil. The standards are carefully scrutinized.

soundoff (287 Responses)
  1. Professor

    So many idiots in these comments. Try to imagine the outcry if President BUSH had ignored a SPECIFIC threat against a SPECIFIC person provided by a powerful foreign intelligence organization that is ALSO fighting Islamic lunatics. Remember the PDB and the liberal hysterics about the NON-SPECIFIC memo: 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S?' I do! Democrats would have had a cow. They would have impeached Bush.

    The U.S. could have EASILY tapped this guys lines through FISA and even federal court. They could have thrown him out of the country- and should have!!!! This is what we call a "credible tip." You can get a warrant if a Neighbor calls! Surely you can get a LOT more if a foreign intelligence agency calls- twice!

    ANY Republican would be impeached for this. Add in the cowardice in Benghazi and even the other party would go along with impeachment. Where is 'connect the dots?' Where is the criticism of a President on vacation while terrorists get into the country? What did the President know about Islamic infiltration in the United States and WHEN did he know it? Why are they letting every person who can swim, skip, or dig under the border become citizens.

    April 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      So what is your point?

      Russians did wiretap home phone of Zubeidad Tsarnayeva (mother) in Makhachkala, Dagestan, back in 2011.

      They recorded conversations of Tamerlan with his mother at that time, which they found disturbing and extremist on the Tamerlan side and alerted US authorities. Perhaps they had some other information obtained by operative means (e.g., agents implanted into Mosque where all these people go), but in any case it was something more substantial than posting videos on youtube (besides, these videos are not of Tamerlan's own making; they are posted in many places and can be downloaded from the Internet);

      It is not clear what exactly motivated Russian to wiretap the family home phone. They clearly do not have resources to monitor every phone in the area only because a person is of Islamic faith and is known to go to a Mosque which is known to be a place where some extremists were known to show up.

      It is not known what kind of material exactly they provided to FBI back in 2011.

      It is acknowledged that copies of wiretaps of two conversations were given to US, but I have impression from the careful wording in the news reports that these copies were provided to US only AFTER Boston bombing. This is understandable, because I believe that FSB initial interest was motivated by the fact that the family got a very strange political asylum in US back in 2002 - normally the places where a person lived before truing to immigrate to US are well scrutinized looked at by INS or Homeland Security. These people were not in danger, perhaps just looking for better life in US. Yet they returned back while children left behind. Disgruntled immigrants not able to integrate into American life? May be. Or may be something else? Uncle Ruslan, a close relative, is an interesting person too. He is known to be in Kazakstan working for USAID back in late 199x. Whatever caused their initial interest to this family, one thing is clear: Russians did not have an obligation to provide in fullness everything they knew to US back in 2011. Perhaps they even suspected some play by CIA at that time. I doubt that they even admit wiretaping at that time. Today, after the fact is a different story: they are fully cooperating.

      So most likely back in 2011 they said "we have information" and asked to "check it out" without opening their cards.

      Now comes the question:

      What does it mean to interview a suspect?

      Literally, come to Tamerlan empty-handed and ask: Are you militant Jihadist planning terrorist act on US soil? The answer is: No, I am a law-abiding immigrant hoping to become US Citizen one day. Then FBI said OK, there is no evidence, case closed.

      Or what?

      April 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  2. Alex279

    FSB is primarily a counterintelligence organization. It is neither counterpart of CIA, nor counterpart of FBI, nor both of them combined. Contrary to popular belief, FSB has nothing to do with foreign intelligence (unlike CIA). FSB scope of its responsibilities includes border control, counter-terrorism, and... yes... figuring out and neutralizing the very same agents CIA and others alike are training and trying to implant. So their relationships are, to say it politely, adversarial by the very nature.

    Oh, yea... I forgot to mention, FSB is secretive organization as well.

    April 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  3. Matt

    Lets not forget a sleeper cell was busted a few years ago which was trying to infiltrate the US Government. So in relation to intelligence sharing. This investigation will take sometime and have a wide scope. At both the FBI and the CIA before any answers are given. I understand the Hill wants quick answers on this one, people are talking about an intelligence failing. It cannot be discounted at this stage that the FBI and CIA have been set up.

    April 28, 2013 at 5:11 am | Reply
  4. Alex279

    Today it was revealed that Russian FSB did wiretap the home phone of Zubeidat Tsarnayeva (mother of the bombers) in Makhachkala back in 2011 and shared some of the material with FBI, incl. conversations with Tamerlan.

    April 27, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  5. Yuck

    I think Russia is up too no good.

    April 27, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  6. Pete

    And I ask Russia why didn't they when he went overseas sometimes to Russia as well to visit relatives...Putin ,Russia obviously thinking better America than us in Russia when they bombed innocents ay Bostons marathon...Something Russia knows but won't say what in both brothers as well as their families past history..This family escaping to America as refugees of war torn Chechnya and now it seems they go back and forth overseas as if vacationing,something fishy if they were really escaping or is it a terrorist cover to get them stateside as to assimilate Chechnyan refugees here and are possibly Russian terrorists relocating here to organize a terrorist cell ..Anything in this time and space is possible,just watch tv some time...

    April 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      The family actually never lived in Chechnya during the 1994-1996 war period and cannot be be considered as refugees from that war.

      Dzhokhar Tsarnayev was born on July 22, 1993 in the city of Makhachkala, Dagestan. This fact solidly places the family outside Chechnya. It is also known that Tamerlan applied for internal Russian passport in 2001 in Makhachkala police, and then in 2012 again during his visit, and again in Makhachkala. His parents live in Makhachala since returning from US back to Russia. It is also known that they lived for 5 years in Kyrgyzstan during the late 199x - beginning of 200x before moving back to Makhachala. Which means that they were nowhere close Chechnya during the second war.

      So it remains a mystery what did they claim as the reason for political asylum in 2002. But they were neither refugees from war, nor had some issues with Russian Government: they were moving back and forth apparently without problems.

      April 26, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Reply
      • Pete

        @Alex279,but those were the first facts supposidly about these two brothers that's why I think the way I posted about maybe Russias involvement..Remember Russia is still smarting from that war in Afghanistan that we were silently involved in supplying weapons,advisors in the 80s to afghan rebels and after losing to them with Russia going home with their tails between their legs after over 10 years they still would like nothing better than to get even with America just for that reason if nothing else..Remember Putin is egotistical and getting back at America would make him ,Russia proud!!

        April 27, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • Pete

        @Alex279,Russia was losing more against the afghan rebels than we are now and it wasn't mission accomplished,strictly economics... It was purely because if you realize the time frame in the 80s Russia in other words was going broke because of it and their missile race to supremacy against Reagan,US and back then these two pet projects were breaking Russias piggy bank..Reagan was cutting over 70% from our nations discretionary spending to spend more on building ICBMs as well as lying to the public nationwide saying we were losing the missile race well after Russia dropped out..Reagans ICBM missile race almost broke us as well because of his maniacal plan to be king of the world at any cost,especially ours!!Just do some more research and you'll see how republicans and their ilk have almost destroyed America untold times!!

        April 29, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • Alex279

        Complete rubbish. At first, Russia did not withdraw from Afghanistan with tails between the legs back on February 1989. Technically it was a victory of "mission accomplished" type: Russia/Soviet Union had installed a friendly government of Dr. Najibullah which remain in power until late 1992; Taliban managed to capture Kabul only in 1996. Najibullah was killed that time. Soviet Union and Gorbachev lasted less than Najibullah's government. After 1990 Russia completely cut any support to Afghanistan; in contrast mojaheeddin and laterTaliban were heavily supported by US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

        Yes, Russia is de-facto beneficiary of this Boston bombing in the sense that Putin got yet another opportunity to say "I told you so". But so what? Russia/Putin/FSB have nothing to do with organizing it.

        Besides going this direction - the "who is to benefit?" logic - you quickly arrive to a more dramatic conclusion:

        Without any hesitation whatsoever at all, Russia is de facto number one beneficiary of Sept. 11 attack. Because if you happened to remember the rhetoric of George W, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Deusch during the period of January 20, 2001 to Sept. 11, 2001, then you have no choice that to conclude that Russia in number one beneficiary because Sept 11 terminated this trash talking in an instant. Russia was left alone for 10 years. Russia used this break first to sort out its own Chechen war, then to get economy going. It is only now Obama is back to his missile defense agenda. Bush was too crippled to push it. Yet, Russia/Putin/FSB have nothing to do with Sept 11.

        Conspiracy theories are usually product of smocking controlled substances.

        Right now this Boston bombing is 100% American problem and American pain. Putin may offer some help in investigating it, but a a matter of courtesy and good will. Russia has no obligation to do so.

        Personally I believe that Dept. of State and Dept. of Homeland Security are the ones to blame. The former is for dubious foreign policies which serve God-knows-whos interests, the latter for grantin dubious political asylum for people who were (i) not in danger of any kind, i.e., war, persecution, etc...; and (ii) hand no capacity to integrate into American society and become productive members of it. If fact they become loosers who ended up watching too much TV and Internet.

        Contrary to most on this forum I do not blame FBI. They seem to have done all reasonable steps.

        I praise Boston police for courage which obviously goes way beyond their service duty. They had all moral rights to shot the mad dogs right at the spot, yet they tried to capture both them alive, and therefore exposing themselves to enormous risks.

        I say nothing about CIA.

        I express thanks to Russian FSB for gestures of good will going beyond their direct duties.

        April 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Alex279

      It appears that Uncle Ruslan Tsarni [the younger of brother Anzor Trarnayev, the father of terrorists] is a very interesting person.

      Obviously he was very quick to distance himself from the family in his interview, saying that the last time he spoke with them was in December 2005, although the admitted that the two brothers grew up on his hands when they were young. For Chechen culture it is considered highly against moral (almost like a crime against nature) to not stand by his family no matter what, especially for such close relatives like brothers. So this immediately raises red flag....

      Sources say that he made a successful career as a corporate lawyer, working for companies like Halliburton, and even for USAID in Kazakstan. He was supposedly married (but divorced in 2004) to Samantha Fuller, the daughter of Graham E. Fuller, who is a well connected person to State Dept. and CIA. I do not know whether any of these facts are true or not, but these are potentially verifiable facts. If true, then it probably explains why the family who fitst entered United States on tourists visas 2002 then got political asylum with ease without going being scrutinized as any other immigrants.

      April 27, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Reply
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