Even a decade after al-Qaeda’s devastating attack on the U.S., lax intelligence cooperation seems to dog law enforcement agencies, and may have impeded an investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers considered suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing and who was killed in a gunfight with police.
In a statement this week, Senator Susan Collins, a top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said what “is troubling to me [is] that this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001, that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively not only among agencies but also within the same agency in one case”.
The FBI had put out a statement that it received a Russian alert in 2011 that Tamerlan “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the U.S. for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups”.
The FBI said its subsequent interview with Tamerlan and a search for information did not yield evidence of terrorism activity. Since then the FBI also “requested but did not receive more specific or additional information,” from Russia, the agency added.
Yet the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had “multiple” contacts with the FBI and at least one was after October 2011, according to reported remarks of Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who is also on the Intelligence Committee. From the evidence available so far, it appears that information “was not shared with the original team who interviewed Tamerlan”.
While Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Congress on Tuesday her department knew that Tamerlan had visited Russia in 2012, this information did not appear to have been shared with the FBI. The FBI reportedly said it did not know of Tamerlan’s movements “because he misspelt his name on his exit card”.
Authorities, however, appear keen to investigate his travels to the Russian republic of Dagestan further, and on Tuesday, a delegation from the U.S. embassy in Moscow was said to have landed there to interview the suspects’ parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev.
The alleged intelligence failings were revealed even as details about financial strains and reports of spousal abuse by Tamerlan emerged. Former college roommates of Katherine Russell — Tamerlan’s 24-year-old widow — told the New York Post that “brutish pugilist would cruelly taunt his then-girlfriend” using much profanity and even occasionally tossing “furniture and other objects at Russell during his violent rages”.
However, other reports suggest Tamerlan leaned heavily on his wife, who he was said to have forced to convert to Islam before marrying her, for financial support, especially as his career as an amateur boxer did not take off and he made little money from his fights.