Bloodshed in Beantown
The manhunt for the Boston Marathon massacre perpetrators is over. Final tally from the attack, 3 dead and 176 injured. Now, the dust begins to settle.
I made appearances on two different radio shows yesterday, April 19, the first with Fox News Radio, New York in the early afternoon and the other with WEZS in Laconia, NH in the late evening.
While both shows were looking for the reason(s) for the failure to thwart the attack, unfortunately for Fox, I didn’t have the answer because I didn’t have all of the facts. All that changed for me at approximately 8:00pm EDT. What was already known was that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was dead, killed in a shoot out with law enforcement the previous day. The younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnev, on foot and managing to elude the police and police lines, was found by a local Watertown, MA, resident hiding in a boat in the back yard. He was taken into custody, alive. At least two US Senators, McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) argue that Tsarnev can be held as a potential enemy combatant under the Law of War, CNN reported Saturday. This will be the fodder for days of news cycle coverage so buckle up or find something else to do. You won’t miss a thing.
Missing something was already done years ago.
The Back Story and the Linkage You May Have Missed
In one of the reports gleaned from the mountain of coverage, there was mention of Tamerlan’s travel to the mid East in early 2012. Beyond that, I didn’t have any additional information. I had contacted one of my colleagues in my former DHS office prior to the interview to see what they knew and as usual, there wasn’t a scintilla of information coming their way from the FBI either during and immediately after the bombings. They were relying on the media reports as we always had.
I did tell Fox that I figured the attackers were amateurs because professional terrorists would have done the hit and gotten out of the country never to be heard from again. Given that the customs component of DHS was getting their information the same way that the civilians were, the borders were wide open and the attackers could have left the country at will, unknown and undetected.
According to published reports later that same day,
“Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia last year (2012) and returned to the U.S. six months later, government officials told The Associated Press. The ethnic Chechen brothers lived in Dagestan, which neighbors the Chechnya region in southern Russia.”
That would have put Tamerlan in the neighborhood with radical Islamic elements.
According to these same reports,
“An uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects said Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become a devout Muslim about seven or eight years ago. “When I was speaking to the older one, he started all this religious talk, ‘Insh’allah’ and all that, and I asked him, ‘Where is all that coming from?’” said Ruslan Tsarni, 42, a corporate lawyer and executive.”
It also came to light that an unidentified “foreign government” had notified US authorities presumably through State Department channels of Tamerlan’s reputed proclivities to radical, middle Eastern Islamic elements. The information wound its way through the system before finally landing at the FBI, Boston.
In 2011, Bureau agents reportedly debriefed Tamerlan but found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing so they closed the case. The response to the “foreign government” (now presumed to be Russia) was to keep an eye out and do any necessary follow up on their end. Nothing more was done by either side.
Many times we, as agents, would receive tips and take only that amount of time necessary to determine whether they were worthy of further attention. These were generally street level sources and seldom develop into anything of consequence. But this one was different. This tip came from a foreign government and involved an identifiable US based individual with a family history of connections to a particularly volatile part of the world, Chechnya.
In the Interest of Full Disclosure
Just to alert the reader, any conclusions in this article are based on my examination of known evidence and speculation, shaped by years of experience, that fills in the blanks.
I am not aware of the specific details, aside from news reports, of the FBI’s inquiry. I have no definitive information suggesting that the FBI reached out to Tamerlan’s relatives, including the uncle who would have confirmed that his nephew had become a devout Muslim years earlier. Nor, do I have information suggesting that, coupled with the tip from the foreign government, that there were efforts to nail down Tsarnaev ideological leanings absent any otherwise identifiable criminal behavior.
I don’t have the benefit of knowing whether DHS agencies such as Customs and Border Protection were contacted. I only know from my past experience that wheels would have been set in motion had they been. If Tsarnaev was encountered at a port of entry returning to the US after international travel, agents from Homeland Security Investigations would have immediately contacted the FBI who then would have decided whether or not to respond. None of this apparently happened because in the minds of the Bureau, the matter was closed.
Too bad because in January 2012,
“Multiple sources confirmed Tamerlan went to Russia for a prolonged period (6 months from January to July). It’s unclear what he did there, but Fox News is told that the bomb maker who made the Boston devices would need practice to build a device with a viable detonator.”
There’s that training component that I offered to Fox earlier in the day based on a hunch. This answers at least why this husband and father so could easily leave his family for a prolonged period. Certainly motivation for doing so is a red flag deserving some additional questioning but that was not going to happen.
Whether it was bowing at the altar of political correctness in the treatment of Islamists, we can’t be sure. But in its haste to close out this matter and the FBI’s failure to alert border agencies, Tamerlan’s travel to the mid-East for six months was overlooked. In hindsight, had anything been done differently, any federal response might have identified his efforts to solidify his radical position and receive training for a future attack. Any chance to stop him was lost in an instant.
We have apparently returned to happier times before the 9/11 attacks where agents could quickly work tips and finding nothing painfully obvious to be concerned about could dismiss them nearly as quickly.
We have no such luxury anymore and it’s time that those charged with protecting this nation’s security and keeping people safe realize it. A lot of them already know it but some need a little extra time. But, time is another luxury we just don’t have.
Brett Braaten is the author of Homeland Insecurity: Failed Politics, Policies, and a Nation at Risk. His book brings his no nonsense, insider’s account of the current state of national security to help you decide whether you, your family, and your country are truly safe. Brett’s career as a writer and speaker is informed by 30 years of experience as a federal agent with U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security. Brett Braaten draws back the curtain on the vast federal law enforcement bureaucracy to give a rare glimpse of behind the scenes agency responses to politics and policies that impact national security, sovereignty and the economy. “As a former special agent with both the U.S. Customs Service and later Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I enjoyed a great career. In retrospect, it was job satisfaction that most of us spent time looking for as we did our jobs in a system that fostered more obstacles than solutions.” Contact Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org .Visit his website, at www.homeland-insecurity.com for his thoughts and analysis of current issues affecting national security and the well-being of American families.