hush, secret
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Geoffrey Meyer-van Voorthuijsen / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As another mega-budget Hollywood movie about the Boston Marathon bombing nears release,  the mainstream media are finally addressing the many unanswered questions concerning the mastermind of the bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

And yet — four years after the bombing and two years after Tamerlan’s younger brother Dzhokhar was sentenced to death for his role — the feds still aren’t talking.

WhoWhatWhy readers will be familiar with most of these open questions:

•  How was Tamerlan able to travel back and forth to the country from which he sought asylum in 2012, despite being on multiple terror watchlists?

•  Why was he not questioned about the 2011 murder of three of his friends?

•  Was Tamerlan working for or manipulated by the feds for some purpose?

•  Was the FBI or some other federal agency using Tamerlan’s desire to become a US citizen as leverage?

•  Did the Tsarnaevs have help constructing the bombs?

•  Was anyone else involved in planning or inspiring the plot?

As we highlighted in April, ABC News investigative reporter Michele McPhee published a damning exposé which documents the suspicion in Boston’s local law enforcement that the FBI is covering up its interactions with Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the bombing. McPhee’s investigation led her to conclude that there is indeed an FBI cover-up afoot.

More recently, WBUR’s (Boston’s NPR station) Meghna Chakrabarti produced an hour-long special titled “Unanswered Questions about Tamerlan Tsarnaev.” Taking off from McPhee’s findings, the radio program explores some of the mysteries about which the government remains tight-lipped.

Chakrabarti concludes: “There is still a tight shroud of secrecy wrapped around much of this case.”

While she is more circumspect about the possibility of a cover-up, her long and detailed account points to a raft of strange coincidences and anomalies that scream for further explanation.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Unanswered Questions about Tamerlan Tsarnaev by Jamie Bologna and Meghna Chakrabarti (left). Maximum Harm by Michele McPhee. Photo credit: WBUR and ForeEdge

It’s not just the media that’s still being shut out.

As Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s automatic federal death penalty appeal gets underway, prosecutors are refusing to turn over “classified” documents to Tsarnaev’s appellate lawyers.

What’s in those “classified” documents? It’s impossible to say, but they would likely shed some light on the unresolved mysteries surrounding Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The lead prosecutor in Tsarnaev’s trial, William Weinreb, told WBUR that he thinks “it is fair to say that there are still a number of questions unanswered about that case. Maybe the answers will emerge over time.”

Sounds like the lead prosecutor was also kept in the dark.

Epidemic of Secrecy


The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was, from the beginning, cloaked in unprecedented levels of secrecy.

Various media organizations raised issues with the inordinate number of sealed motions during the high-profile trial.

The attorney who defended Whitey Bulger — another notorious Boston killer the feds were eager to distance themselves from — characterized Tsarnaev’s trial as an “epidemic of secrecy.”

Bulger, the South Boston mobster, was employed by the FBI for years as an informant — all the while carrying on his murderous mob operations in and around Boston. Bulger’s attorney, Jay Carney, told the Boston Globe “transparency should be the presumption” instead of all the secrecy and sealed documents in the Tsarnaev trial.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, FBI Suspects 1 and 2.
Photo credit: FBI

That didn’t happen. The government invoked that old standby “national security,”  allowing it to shroud important details of the back story in darkness.

Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, told Politico that the information lockdown “tells you that major parts of this case are being conducted out of the public view. If ever there was a case that cries out to be conducted in a public forum, this is it. It’s pretty shocking.”

The judge in the case, George A. O’Toole Jr., ignited a veritable firestorm among Boston media when, three months after the conclusion of the trial, he continued to refuse to release the names of jurors.

Experts quoted in media accounts at the time characterized the long delay as “unprecedented,” “an aberration,” and as having “no possible rationale.”

Even Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team, who presumably have a right to unfettered access to evidence against their client, found themselves filing numerous motions complaining to the judge about a lack of cooperation from the FBI and prosecution during the discovery phase of the trial.

Compounding their difficulties, Tsarnaev was placed on draconian Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that severely limited the defense team’s ability to interact freely with their client. It also continues to prevent Tsarnaev from communicating with anyone from the media — as WhoWhatWhy found out when we were given a Kafkaesque runaround after we requested an interview.

Congress Shut Out


Because of FBI stonewalling, a delegation of congressmen felt compelled to travel to Russia, trying to get answers about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Upon returning, Massachusetts Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA) said the FSB were more forthcoming than the FBI. (The FSB is Russia’s federal security service.)

Russia had warned the FBI back in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was becoming radicalized, and might be making plans to travel to Russia to engage in terrorist activity. The FBI claims to have conducted an assessment of Tsarnaev but found no links to terrorism and closed the investigation.

The FBI’s pre-bombing interest in Tsarnaev thus came under intense, albeit short-lived, scrutiny.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee which oversees the FBI, wrote a scathing letter to then-Director James Comey complaining about a lack of transparency to his oversight committee.

When the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community published an unclassified summary of “intelligence failures” that led up to the bombing, it too noted a lack of cooperation from the FBI, writing that “access to certain information was significantly delayed.”

And when 47 inspectors general from various executive agencies sent a letter to Congress in 2014 complaining about a growing problem of stonewalling of investigations by numerous executive branch agencies, the FBI’s lack of cooperation on the Boston Marathon bombing investigation was cited front and center.

As a result of that letter, a bipartisan Congressional coalition introduced an amendment to the original 1978 Inspector General Act. Grassley, a cosponsor of the amendment, wrote at the time that a “federal agency’s failure to give its inspector general timely access to information as required by law raises red flags. It begs the question, ‘What are you trying to hide?’”

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Street Scene (Aaron “tango” Tang / Wikimedia – CC BY 2.0), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (US Marshals Service) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Wikimedia).

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sum guy

Was the FBI using the bomber as a Whitey Bulger style ‘informant’? Wow…I didn’t realize so much controversy surrounds this case. Interesting.


You have no idea.

Janet Mustafa

Tons of controversy in this case. It’s shocking actually.

Doomsday Diva

This is just the tip of the iceberg….

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

Oh yes you are so right on this! Dzhokhar is caught into a huge cover up.


Why was the very light backpack that Dzhokhar was carrying not make the news; was not mentioned in any of the pre-trial motions and was not mentioned at all at the trial even when government exhibit 22 shows the very light backpack? Did everyone pay real attention to the MIT video ? – the Feds places the brothers on the scene AFTER Officer Collier was already dead. Why do we see Tamerlan at the Gas station with white and black sneakers and then 30 minutes later on Laurel Street he has white only sneakers. You have to read the trial transcripts and pay attention to the questions asked by the defense and you will see that both brothers are innocent of all of the crimes during that week.


Q: Why do federal judges allow the FBI to get away with such stonewalling?
A: Every federal judge has been vetted by the FBI prior to nomination.

Could it be that those candidates with the most to hide are invariably the choice for nomination from the field of candidates ? Is it any wonder that the success rate of federal prosecutors is over 90%?


I’m Chechen like the two brothers, I came to the states on 1969, I was illegal till the end of 1974, if the FBI or the CIA offered me a job with them that would have been a dream come true especially if I was offered a citizenship, I loved the US and I was willing to fight in Nam for it. Those two brothers were working for the feds and I doubt they knew that they had live explosives – that’s it. The Chechen people have one enemy and that’s Russia and we are not backstabbers, we are the best friends to have and also the worst enemy and I like to point to one little detail, the brothers’ uncle was married to a CIA agent’s daughter. And also why was one of the brothers’ friends who lived I think in Florida gunned down by the feds and the day the incident happend the pictures shows Blackwater-like guys with similar backpacks, why weren’t they questioned..?


Yes! I’ve also questioned the death of their friend at the hands of the Feds. Something rotten about this.

Patrick Parsons

I believe you, but they are not you. Just like in America we are all different and they were more different then you.

Ian Shears

I don’t think there is any discernible genuine motive for asserting National Security. The recent Oliver Stone ‘Putin Interviews’ makes the case for a complete abandonment of any and all National Security claims. This should first and foremost result in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being immediately released.

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

Yes Dzhokhar should be released because his conviction is based on senseless lies on fraud and fabricated stories.He now is Held unlawfully at ADMAX Florence CO because the whole Tsarnaev trial was based on legal misconduct. Dzhokhar never had a defense and Judge O’Toole misused his power constantly!


The Tammerlains were patsies of the FBI. And the FBI murdered the older brother after they found him naked hiding in a small covered boat. Comey has blood on his hands. Also for the Levoy Finicum murder and the Nevada Bundy land theft deal that was supposed to go to China. Comey should go to prison for a long long time.


It amazes me that the FBI STILL don’t know who built the bombs. There is another guy in Mass. that was found with the EXACT device components, threatened to blow up an airplane, worked at MIT where Collier was killed, and pointed out by someone who knows him as the guy who robbed the 7-11 with a gun (the Tsarnaevs were wrongly blamed for this) near MIT just before Collier was shot dead (Tsarnaevs were blamed for this too). There’s next to no evidence Dzhokhar Tsarnaev actually did it. There’s also claims by family that there was agency pressure for Tsarnaev to take the blame. I can believe it. The FEDs are hiding so much. My guess is the older brother went to Russia for research for the CIA/FBI on terrorists, Russia found out and told FBI, or maybe he was a double agent. He had to go. I think the younger brother knows nothing. Let the kid go.

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

please look into Paul Craig Roberts reports under Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Maybe you already are familiar with this reports!Thank you! I will let you know that for about 2 days I came across a chinese lady in her blog calling up for the release of innocent Dzhokhar and that the american people should apologize to Dzhokhar for the wrongdoing he went through! The next day the blog was removed. just to show you how high up that Dzhokhars case does go and that we who do believe in his innocence are closely monitored!.


Why is the Islamic Society of Boston, the brothers’ mosque, a place associated with 13 folks who are in jail, dead or on the run from authorities? THAT’s what’s being hidden here.

Elisabeth Ritter-Blaser

What do you mean by this? It the Islamic Society in Boston tied in with freemasonry? I have the gut feeling that this is exactly the very fact – because the Islamic Belief System has an open place in freemasonry!

Patrick Parsons

It’s not a surprise to me that the FBI and others aren’t”openly” discussing this case bc they don’t want to breach their duties of NOT revealing confidential material. Which if National Security has been invoked means information about this case is above Top Secret.


Yep, there is way more to this story than meets the eye. So much cover-up in this case. The defense team was stymied. This younger bro is innocent and taking the fall. Probably to protect his family members. It’s one of those cases where we will never know the truth.


New attorneys unable to get necessary defense info due to lack of security clearance. Continued filings under seal–top secret. BTW, Georgian Intel verified Tamerlan had attended CIA’s Jamestown Foundation seminars. Zubeidat said in interview that Tam had told her FBI had called him “on his private line”, told him to come in for questioning… Response,”You know where I am…”

reed walker

In the immortal words of the late Leonard Cohen; “everybody knows” that the FBI and any number of other of the myriad alphabet agencies extant to “protect us” are complicit if not directly involved in most front page attacks on the populace. This Boston popcorn cooking hoax is just one more glaringly obvious example. Oh, and by the way. have no fear! “we” are here ( and door to door ) to protect you!.. but, in the meantime…just shelter in place.

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