Thank you Vladmir Putin for telling us about these wiretaps — after the bombing.
Russian authorities secretly recorded a telephone conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, officials said Saturday, days after the U.S. government finally received details about the call.
In another conversation, the mother of now-dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, officials said.
The conversations are significant because, had they been revealed earlier, they might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.
As it was, Russian authorities told the FBI only that they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists. With no additional information, the FBI conducted a limited inquiry and closed the case in June 2011.
Two years later, authorities say Tamerlan and his brother, Dzhohkar, detonated two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout and Dzhohkar is under arrest.
In the past week, Russian authorities turned over to the United States information it had on Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens who emigrated from southern Russia to the Boston area over the past 11 years.
Even had the FBI received the information from the Russian wiretaps earlier, it’s not clear that the government could have prevented the attack.
Again the question: Why didn’t the Russians give this information to the FBI when they requested that the bureau investigate Tamerlan prior to his visit to Dagestan?
It was not immediately clear why Russian authorities didn’t share more information at the time. It is not unusual for countries, including the U.S., to be cagey with foreign authorities about what intelligence is being collected.
Nobody was available to discuss the matter early Sunday at FSB offices in Moscow.
Jim Treacy, the FBI’s legal attache in Moscow between 2007 and 2009, said the Russians long asked for U.S. assistance regarding Chechen activity in the United States that might be related to terrorism.
“On any given day, you can get some very good cooperation,” Treacy said. “The next you might find yourself totally shut out.”
There is no guarantee that the FBI would have monitored Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities any more closely if the wiretap information had been given to the FBI. But might it have put other information they acquired in another context? We’ll never know.
The suspect’s mother is emerging as a larger force in Tamerlan’s life than was previously suspected. If she harbors radical beliefs, questions about how the family managed to immigrate successfully to the U.S. need to be answered before any immigration-reform bill can be passed. Americans sympathized with the Chechens as the Russians brutally suppressed their revolt. But judging by the actions of the bombers, closer scrutiny appears warranted regardless of how we feel toward an oppressed people.