Boston bombing suspect put on terrorist watch list at CIA request
By Greg Miller and Sari Horwitz,
The CIA asked the main U.S. counterterrorism agency to add the name of one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers to a watch list more than a year before the attack, according to U.S. officials.
The agency took the step after Russian authorities contacted officials there in the fall of 2011 and raised concerns that Tamerlan Tsarnaev — who was killed last week in a confrontation with police — was seen as an increasingly radical Islamist and could be planning to travel overseas. The CIA requested that his name be put on a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center.
That database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, is a data storehouse that feeds a series of government watch lists, including the FBI’s main Terrorist Screening Database and the Transportation Security Administration’s “no-fly” list.
Officials said Tsarnaev’s name was added to the database but it’s unclear which agency added it.
The CIA’s request came months after the FBI had closed a preliminary inquiry into Tsarnaev after getting a similar inquiry about him from Russian state security, according to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The new disclosure suggests that the U.S. government may have had more reason than previously known to scrutinize Tsarnaev in the months leading up to the bombings in Boston.
Law enforcement officials said that the request to the FBI in 2011 originated from fears by the Russian government that Tamerlan was a threat to Russia and would commit a terrorist act in Russia -- not the United States. The request came from Russian federal police to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
“There was a concern he might have some kind of ties to terrorism,” said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. “We did everything legally that we could do with the little bit of information we had. After we did, we found no derogatory information.”
The FBI gets hundreds of similar requests a year from foreign governments, said a law enforcement official. The findings were reported back to Russia and Russian authorities were asked if they had any more information for the United States to investigate about Tamerlan and they did not.
“They were satisfied,” said the official. “We had checked on their information. And no further information was provided.”
In Russia, meanwhile, representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were in Dagestan to interview the parents of the Tsarnaev brothers, an embassy official said in an e-mail. The mother was interviewed Tuesday by Russian security officials, according to one of her representatives, but the father was ill and remained at home.
A police source in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region that borders Chechnya, the homeland of the Tsarnaev family, told the RIA Novosti agency that the parents told U.S. officials they would go to the United States soon.
“During the talks it was decided to take the Tsarnaev parents to the United States. The parents have given their consent to this, they will be involved in the U.S. investigation,” the source told RIA Novosti.
The Americans who interviewed the parents were kind and polite, said Heda Saratova, a lawyer for the family. She said they would go to the United States soon but had not yet had time to make plans.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the injured suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, has told interrogators that he and his brother, Tamerlan, were driven by hard-line Islamist views and anger over the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but had no ties to foreign militant groups, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The statements made by Tsarnaev from his hospital bed provide what authorities described as the clearest indication yet of the brothers’ apparent motivation in carrying out the attack.
The information gleaned by a special team of FBI interrogators before charges were filed against Tsarnaev on Monday appears to be consistent with the direction of a broader investigation that has not uncovered any links to terrorist networks abroad, officials said.
“These are persons operating inside the United States without a nexus” to an overseas group, a U.S. intelligence official said. Instead, officials said, the evidence suggests that the Tsarnaev brothers were “self-radicalized.”
U.S. officials briefed on the interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said he has specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan as factors motivating him and his brother in the alleged plot.
Neighbors have also described comments by the Tsarnaevs about the U.S. wars. Albrecht Ammon, 21, of Cambridge said in an interview last week that he had recently argued with the older Tsarnaev about U.S. foreign policy.
Tsarnaev said U.S. wars were based on the Bible, “a cheap copy of the Koran,” Ammon said. Tsarnaev also said that “in Afghanistan, most casualties are innocent bystanders killed by American soldiers,” according to Ammon.
The new disclosure about the CIA’s concern about Tamerlan Tsarnaev came as Vice President Biden lashed out at Islamist terrorism and described the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings as “twisted, perverted” jihadists, as he and other dignitaries paid tribute to an MIT police officer allegedly slain by one of the bombers last week.
Attending the memorial service for officer Sean Collier were thousands of students and uniformed police from across the country. Speaker after speaker eulogized the 27-year-old for his dedication to the students he was sworn to protect.
But Biden also used the occasion to angrily denounce the brothers of Chechen origin who allegedly planted the bombs and later murdered Collier, calling them “two twisted, perverted, cowardly knock-off jihadis.”
He said the “doctrine of hate and oppression” espoused by Islamist terrorists “cannot compete with the values of openness and inclusion” illustrated by U.S. society in general and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in particular. “And that’s why they’re losing around the world.... Our very existence makes a lie of their perverted ideology.” Biden added that he was proud the country has not succumbed to the fear that terrorists aim to instill.
“We have suffered,” he said. “We are grieving. But we are not bending. We will not yield to fear. We will not hunker down. We will not be intimidated.”
U.S. officials said Tuesday that the suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, may have killed Collier in an effort to steal his gun and arm themselves after they became the targets of a massive manhunt three days after the blasts.
The officials said Collier appears not to have attempted to defend himself when he was shot in the head Thursday night. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, already had a handgun, and officials said the two may have been seeking to obtain one for Dzhokhar, 19. The attempt failed, officials said, because the brothers were not able to remove the officer’s weapon from a holster that was protected by a locking mechanism.
A video surveillance camera shows the shooting and the failed effort to pull the officer’s gun, officials said. A short time later, the two suspects allegedly carjacked a Mercedes sport-utility vehicle, loaded it with explosives and engaged in a shootout with police. Tamerlan was killed in the gun battle, and an injured Dzhokhar was captured Friday hiding in a covered motorboat in Watertown, Mass.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters Wednesday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have been planning to go to New York after the bombings to “party,” but he said it was clear whether the college student had made any specific plans. Kelly said the information came from investigators’ hospital interviews with Tsarnaev.
At MIT’s Briggs Field on Wednesday, police pallbearers carried Collier’s casket to a bier in front of a stage as bagpipers played.
“Our hearts are truly broken,” MIT Police Chief John DiFava told the audience. “His caring and compassion were genuine, without duplicity.”
“He was born to be a police officer, and he lived out his dreams,” one of Collier’s brothers, Rob Rogers, said after a performance by singer James Taylor.
Collier was also eulogized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and by MIT President L. Rafael Reif.
“Sean was a model for how a police officer should serve,” Warren said. “He saw his police work as a calling.” The freshman senator added: “We are strong. We are Collier strong. We are Boston strong.”
“He was truly one of us,” Reif said.
Of all the things he has read about Collier, Biden said in praising the slain officer, the one that struck him most was “the student quoted as saying, ‘he loved us, and we loved him.’ ” Biden added: “They loved him because they knew he loved them.... What a remarkable son. What a remarkable brother.”
MIT canceled classes Wednesday so that students, faculty, campus police officers and thousands of others could attend the service. Security was high, with the city shutting down a number of streets, parking lots and garages. Only those with MIT identification or members of a police force were allowed to attend.
At about noon, the sound of bagpipes drifted from the service and across campus. A massive American flag, suspended between two constriction cranes, blew in the wind. After days of cold temperatures and freezing rain, the weather was sunny and warm enough to skip a coat.
Some students gathered outside the security gates, standing on benches and landscaped hills, to listen to the eulogies. Inside the gates, law enforcement officers wearing various uniforms listened as Biden lauded them for “standing ... between our families and danger every single solitary day.” Volunteers wore name tags reading “Collier Strong.”
The MIT Police Department, located a block from the site of the service, was draped with black bunting. Half a dozen wreaths of flowers, mostly yellow, stood before the entrance, along with several flower arrangements. Crayon posters hung on the wall, stating “Boston Strong” and “God bless officers.” Police motorcycles were parked everywhere.
Earlier Wednesday in Boston, police reopened to the public a section of Boylston Street and Copley Square near the marathon finish line, allowing pedestrian, auto and trolley traffic to flow once again. Police gave the all-clear to reopen the street shortly after 3:30 a.m., nearly nine days after the bombings that killed three spectators and injured more than 250 other people. Some stores whose windows were blown out by the blasts remained boarded up.
City officials allowed Boylston Street residents and employees to return Tuesday evening. Videos and photos of what they found showed that part of the city frozen in time: marathon posters abandoned on shop floors, food still sitting on restaurant tables, an outdoor patio set with napkins and silverware meant to be used more than a week ago.
By Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of people filled the sidewalks and patronized shops and restaurants, helping them recover from being closed for so long. Tour buses rumbled up and down the street, passing over the painted finish line that is beginning to fade.
Copley Square has been transformed into a memorial garden, with large piles of flowers, stuffed animals and other mementos. Paper cranes hang from several of the trees. Most windows are decorated with “Boston Strong” posters or American flags.
Marathon Sports, a shop near one of the blast sites, is still closed. The front window features a large poster offering condolences to the bombing victims, gratitude to first responders and a message of hope: “We will run again.” In front of the store is a small pile of flowers, plus a Chinese flag and a note written in Chinese. One of those killed, Lu Lingzi, was from China and studied statistics at Boston University.
Jenna Johnson in Cambridge, Mass., Kathy Lally in Dagestan and Ellen Nakashima, William Branigin, Scott Wilson, Ed O’Keefe and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.