Putin: Russians Were Told to Mind Their Own Business on Tsarnaev

Photo credit: US Navy / Wikimedia
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Vladimir Putin said Russian officials were told not to interfere in the US’s domestic affairs after multiple attempts to warn about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s growing radicalization.

The Russian president’s remarks about the lead-up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were made during a recent address to the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia.

Putin’s claim, however, directly refutes the official US stance, which maintains that the FBI repeatedly asked the Russians for more substantive information on Tsarnaev so it could investigate deeper. The Bureau claims its hands were tied because Russia wouldn’t provide more information.

The FBI maintains it first became aware of Tsarnaev from a March 2011 memo sent by Russia’s Federal Security Service (known by the Russian acronym FSB). There is, however, evidence Tsarnaev was on the bureau’s investigatory radar before Russia’s warning.

But, getting back to Russia’s March 2011 memo — it stated that Tsarnaev had “changed radically,” and that he was “a follower of radical Islam.” The FSB also claimed to have knowledge that Tsarnaev intended to travel to Russia’s Caucasus region to join underground militant groups.

Vladimir Putin at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia. Photo credit: President of Russia (CC BY 4.0)

Vladimir Putin at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia.
Photo credit: President of Russia (CC BY 4.0)

The FBI conducted a six month “assessment” of Tsarnaev which it claims found no link or “nexus” to terrorism. But it was not much of an investigation considering the claims made by Russia.

Inexplicably, the FBI never even asked Tsarnaev about any travel plans — even though that was central to the warning provided by the Russians.

Why the FBI needed more information than that to thoroughly investigate the young Russian immigrant living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has never been satisfactorily explained. The small amount of information the Russians withheld from their initial warning later became public in court documents. It really wasn’t any more substantive than the relatively specific warning they had initially provided.

“[W]e send our American partners information and often get no response at all. Some time ago, we sent information on the Tsarnaev brothers. We sent the first document, got no response, sent a second document, and got the response that ‘this is not your business, they are US citizens now and we will take care of things ourselves’,” Putin told French television journalists in an early October interview. “The result was a terrorist attack in the USA. Is this not an example of how we end up with losses if we neglect cooperation in this very sensitive area?”

Putin’s words could be written off as political grandstanding, especially in the growing climate of rancor between Russia and the US. However, the deteriorating relations may also be Putin’s motivation for exposing an unsavory truth about US investigators’ handling of Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Would the US’s national security operatives knowingly allow a potential terrorist to roam free without keeping him on an extremely tight leash?

Stating the Obvious

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The FBI’s apparent “hands off” approach to Tsarnaev left a lot of people scratching their heads, including Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). In a letter to FBI Director James Comey, Grassley asked, among other probing questions, whether Tsarnaev had been recruited to be an informant:  “Did the FBI attempt to use the tactic of ‘recruitment’ or a sting operation with Tamerlan Tsarnaev? If not, why not?”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Grassley was referring to a widely known fact: the FBI and other clandestine agencies routinely recruit foreign nationals from strategically important regions, particularly Muslims. Tsarnaev was an ethnic Chechen Muslim and native Russian speaker. (Please see our story, Classic Who: Was Tamerlan Tsarnaev a Double Agent Recruited by the FBI?)

The unsettling nature of the investigation was also noted in an April 2014 report by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IG IC), which examined “intelligence failures” leading up to the bombing. A close reading of this report only compounds the confusion about why Tsarnaev was twice waived through JFK International in 2012 when he flew to Russia for six months, despite warnings about a potential for violence on multiple watch lists.

In addition, as WhoWhatWhy has documented, there is evidence that the FBI was indeed playing a dangerous game with Tsarnaev, classifying him as a “known or suspected terrorist,” likely all the way up until the moment of his death, while still allowing him to roam free (see here, here and here).

In an uncharacteristically candid phrase about US-Russia relations, The New York Times offered this analysis a year after the bombing about why the FBI handled Tsarnaev the way they did: “At the time [of the FBI’s investigation], American law enforcement officials believed that Mr. Tsarnaev posed a far greater threat to Russia.”

For the FBI (or other federal agency) to admit they knew he was a dangerous radical — “but dangerous to Russian interests only, we thought” — would be a PR nightmare of epic proportions.

The Times article was only stating the obvious. The US has an established track record of using radical jihadis to undermine Russia’s interests. The CIA supported the Afghan Mujahedin to fight the Russian army after its invasion of Afghanistan is one example. Many analysts consider Al Qaeda to be a direct offshoot of the US’s support for extremists to fight a proxy war.

It is this kind of “blowback” that US officials could be trying to distance themselves from with Tsarnaev.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia), Robert Mueller (Medill DC / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and background (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

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16 responses to “Putin: Russians Were Told to Mind Their Own Business on Tsarnaev”

  1. David Flink says:

    BS, these guys should have been watched, just months prior to the bombing, in the Republic of Georgia, Chechen terrorist came across the border and took hostages, the Georgian Army raided the small hamlet to free the hostages.
    RED FLAG?
    The info was given to Obama, Obama didn’t respect Vladimir Putin, and took no action. The Tsarnaev brothers blew up the Boston marathon, this is blood on Obama’s hands.

  2. polfilmblog says:

    It’s about playing both sides of the terror game. The CIA loves terrorists who blow up Russians. Can’t get enough of ’em in fact…

  3. Yong Liu says:

    R U kidding ? The FBI conducted a six month “assessment” of Tsarnaev which it claims found no link or “nexus” to terrorism.

  4. Yong Liu says:

    R U kidding ? The FBI conducted a six month “assessment” of Tsarnaev which it claims found no link or “nexus” to terrorism.

  5. Sinbad2 says:

    Why did US authorities confiscate all private pics and video of the bombing?
    Why is the fact that Craft International fled the scene immediately after the bombing being suppressed?

  6. LeseMajeste says:

    Is this the same FBI that lured some dim-witted NYC area Muslims into thinking they were some kind of great jihadists, filling their mind with gunk and their pockets with money, while giving them advice on how to attack the WTC in 1993? The plan was for the FBI to give them an inert device, then rush in at the last moment, press in hand, to ‘capture’ their patsyies so they could show the USA how they’re their keeping us protected?
    Only they gave their patsies a real bomb and almost knocked over one of the Twins?

    Or is it the FBI that was investigating the origin of the anthrax that started appearing in envelopes shortly after 9/11, with the ominous “Death to Israel, Death to America” on the letters? When the FBI found out that the anthrax was the ‘Ames’ variety, from a US lab, they shut down the investigation and destroyed the evidence, thereby killing any chance to find out the real culprit.

    That FBI?

  7. James says:

    The FBI conducted a six month “assessment” of Tsarnaev which it claims found no link or “nexus” to terrorism.

    Hahaha.

    They said the same thing about Ghazzawi / Al Hijji.

  8. musings2 says:

    The Boston Marathon Bombing was, and once again is, part of the Great Game we are playing with Russia (a very old game inherited from the British Empire). Why were the Tsarnaevs shielded, even when Tamerlan was suspected of drug dealing and a triple murder? Unless you look very closely at the whole affair, including the uncle in US intelligence, you may go away thinking this was yet one more case of radical Islamists up to their old tricks. But here we see part of the story is the “stab in the back” by a wily old enemy, a story which will be broadcast on the “Mighty Wurlitzer” of the obedient press in order to stir up fresh hostility to Russia.

    • Comments editor says:

      Thankyou for your comment.
      You may be interested in an earlier article by the same author: it deals with the Waltham triple murder and the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’.

      From that article:
      ‘… prosecutors in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have delivered a shocking reversal. They admit to having no evidence that his dead brother, Tamerlan, was involved in the slayings.

      That wasn’t the case right after the bombing: law enforcement fingered Tamerlan as the perpetrator, and suggested Dzhokhar may have been involved. Much of the media has presented it as fact ever since.’

      https://whowhatwhy.org/2014/12/09/boston-bombing-feds-admit-triple-murder-wasnt-tsarnaevs/

  9. Richard Arlen says:

    Either we have the dumbest Senators and Congressmen or they are the most criminal, playing as if they don’t understand why the FBI etc didn’t follow up on Tsarnaev. Amazing how gullible the Americans are.

  10. Thing is, it’s not hard to imagine the Obama administration lackeys ignoring warnings from Russia or anyone else for that matter. These people have had their heads up their a***s.

    • musings2 says:

      The argument from incompetence may be a satisfying one for some. In fact it lets people off the hook too much – “to err is human.” It would comfort some to believe that if only THAT guy weren’t President, the actions taken would have been different, perhaps preventing the spectacle that ensued. But whoever is the chief executive, we still have a lot of chessboard strategy going on in agencies which do not turn over with every administration. They can become a law unto themselves, reminiscent of Dulles’ or Donovan’s CIA or J. Edgar’s FBI. When the unelected and the opaque secret agencies are shown to wag the dog, there are long-term problems which a showy election merely pretends to solve. In one particular case, it has been asserted that to defy them is to sign your own death warrant. So of course even the most blustering would-be reformer grows cautious, once enjoying the golden chains of office.

    • Humans do err, however in the case of government the errors are systemic, and economists have explained why. Central control cannot be workable precisely because humans have limited knowledge. They cannot rule others effectively because they cannot know enough to do so. This is why markets work. Price information coordinates human effort. Governments do not have such information at their disposal. They have to make gut decisions, and go by statistics.

      So bureaucracies fail. It’s simple logic.

  11. Ian Shears says:

    Why isn’t Dzhokhar released? If the FBI and whoever else was mucking up in relation to the brothers then the case is out the window – surely.

  12. disqus_a2SRiKaB1i says:

    It is abhorrent and draconian that the younger Tsarnaev sits in prison in isolation and under SAMs 24/7.

    Dzhokhar did not receive a defense at his trial, his lawyers did not even try. The prosecution relied on high emotion, patriotism and a good sprinkling of junk science evidence and no one called them out on it.

    Since the time of the bombing, the media super-saturated the public with disinformation, much of it mixed with anti-Islamic rhetoric. The tarred and feathered Tsarnaev was presumed guilty months before the trial so much so that the locals believed giving him a trial was a total waste of taxpayers’ money.

    The FBI ran off, lost, deported or killed any potential witness for the defense.

    Oddly, one fact remains: the FBI affidavit states the bomb bag at site 2 was black and this black bag can be seen smoking in photos on Boylston out in front of the mailbox. Dzhokhar’s backpack was light grey.

    Oddly: Two men appeared within minutes, one pocketed evidence and both stepped over the dying in search of something on the sidewalk, their heads turn right to left in a coordinated motion as part of a team.

    Oddly: This occurred right under the nose of the FBI agent standing at the mailbox. That agent did nothing other than hold his FBI jacket with his mouth agape. He turned 180 degrees, looking eastward when the men went on their sidewalk safari.

    Putin may well be grandstanding, but the fact remains, it is significant that he is still talking about the FBI and the elder Tsarnaev brother three years after the bombing.

  13. Oldsailor65 says:

    I have a hell of a lot more respect for Putin than I do Obama.