Russia Withheld Key Information about the Boston Bombers Before the Attack

by Patrick Brennan

The Times reports:

The Russian government declined to provide the F.B.I. with information about one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects that would most likely have led to more extensive scrutiny of him at least two years before the attack, according to an inspector general’s report.

Russian officials had told the F.B.I. in 2011 that the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” and that Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”

But after an initial investigation by the F.B.I., the Russians declined several requests for additional information about Mr. Tsarnaev, according to the report, a review of how intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have thwarted the bombing.

At the time, American law enforcement officials believed that Mr. Tsarnaev posed a far greater threat to Russia.

The new inspector general’s report found that it was only after the bombing occurred last April that the Russians shared with the F.B.I. the additional intelligence, including information from a telephone conversation the Russian authorities had intercepted between Mr. Tsarnaev and his mother in which they discussed Islamic jihad.

“They found that the Russians did not provide all the information that they had on him back then, and based on everything that was available the F.B.I. did all that it could,” said a senior American official briefed on the review.

After it was discovered that Russia had told us something suspicious about the brothers’ jihadist sympathies before the bombings, there was some talk about how if the U.S. government just took the threat of Islamism as seriously as the Russians did, we might have followed up on the Russian leads far enough to catch the bombers before they did their barbarous act (i.e., that we should somehow either trust the Russians more or be more willing to work with them). I imagine we should feel a little less confident in our ability to cooperate even in areas of mutual interest (fighting transnational jihad) after the events of this spring, but this revelation is a perfectly good explanation of why you can’t blame the FBI for not trusting or working with their Russian counterparts back then, either: Maybe Russian intelligence withheld that information for some legitimate reason, or maybe . . . we should be very circumspect about trusting or dealing with people who don’t care at all about saving American lives (in fact, their incentives can run in the other direction — the more helpless we are, the more worried we are about jihadists in Chechnya).

The report that uncovered this information, which members of Congress will be briefed about Thursday, also turns up no substantial evidence that the bombers had ties to terrorist organizations, something that’s been hotly debated. (One of them spent some time in Dagestan, a province near his home in Russia that’s home to transational jihadist organizations.)

The Corner

The one and only.