Three years after the Boston Marathon bombing, previously undisclosed documents continue to emerge that challenge official explanations of circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack, specifically relating to actions of the FBI.
In the aftermath of the bombing, it was widely reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers sought in connection with the attack who was killed in a shootout with police, had been listed in a database of potential terrorists. Tsarnaev was in fact listed in two such databases, though not at the “no-fly list” level. He had also been on the radar of not only the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, but Russian intelligence as well.
Despite these early revelations, the FBI denied that it had been aware of Tsarnaev’s identity while the manhunt for him was ongoing. The bureau also denied that its agents had been in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Tsarnaev lived, on the night of April 18, 2013 – when M.I.T. campus police officer Sean Collier was killed three days after the bombing – based on any such awareness.
“The Joint Terrorism Task Force was at M.I.T., located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 18, 2013, on a matter unrelated to the Tsarnaev brothers,” according to a multi-agency press release issued six months after the fact. “Additionally, the Tsarnaev brothers were never sources for the FBI nor did the FBI attempt to recruit them as sources.”
This week, however, Cambridge Police Department documents were released in response to a public records request from journalist Saul Tannenbaum which seem to cast further doubt on those claims.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts’ privacy and surveillance blog has extensively covered the strange circumstances surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing, including revelations last fall that some in Boston local law enforcement continue to suspect that Tsarnaev was an FBI informant.
Additionally, an M.I.T. police officer who worked alongside Collier has said he was aware of Tsarnaev’s residence being under surveillance the night Collier was killed, “and the Feds were all over the city of Cambridge.”
The revelations in the newly released documents include a report of an incident in which the driver of a vehicle with a partially obscured license plate was stopped by Cambridge police, whereupon they identified themselves as a federal agent, but wouldn’t show ID. Another report doesn’t specifically mention the FBI, but the reference to federal agent activities can be inferred from the context of the record request.
“The FBI has long maintained that while its agents were indeed in Cambridge the evening before Collier’s murder, they were in the city investigating matters unrelated to the Tsarnaev brothers,” according to the Massachusetts ACLU. “But the correspondence between the Cambridge Police Department’s communications person and requester Saul Tannenbaum strongly suggests the CPD released the documents because the department is operating from a different understanding.”
It has been a little over a year since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing with his older brother. During that time, however, this latest document release is not the only new piece of information to emerge to challenge aspects of the narrative of the case put forward by the FBI and similar official sources.
Earlier this year, immigration files for Tamerlan Tsarnaev – as well as his friend Ibragim Todashev, who was killed in Florida by the FBI about five weeks after the bombing – were finally posted online.
“The Department of Homeland Security provided redacted files to The Boston Globe after multiple requests spanning three years,” reports Maria Sacchetti. “Only 206 pages were released in their entirety, so it remains unclear why the government granted the friends legal residency and put them on the path toward US citizenship.”
There is indeed a lack of clarity here, especially when considering Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s placement on terrorist watch lists, and that he had repeatedly drawn attention from multiple domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. It is hard to help wondering how many more documents will come out about the Boston Marathon bombing in the coming months and years, and what they may reveal.