FBI under scrutiny over handling of Boston suspect

The agency has been accused of "dropping the ball" with the elder Tsarnaev brother, now dead

By Natasha Lennard

Published April 22, 2013 1:21PM (EDT)

 Surveillance footage of suspects ahead of Boston bombings (Wikimedia)
Surveillance footage of suspects ahead of Boston bombings (Wikimedia)

The FBI is facing harsh questions over their handling of now-deceased suspected Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, following the emergence of evidence that the FBI interviewed the Tsarnaev brother in 2011 at the request of the Russian government over concerns that he had links to radical Islam. While Chechen rebels have denied any such links, congressional leaders have still accused the FBI of "dropping the ball" with regards to the suspect. The Guardian reported late Sunday:

Michael McCaul, Republican chair of the House homeland security committee, told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that the FBI had questions to answer. "He was interviewed by the FBI in 2011 and let go. He traveled back to Russia and spent six months there," McCaul said.

On his return he immediately posted jihadist videos on YouTube, McCaul said. "Clearly something happened in that six-month timeframe. He radicalized at some point." McCaul said he wanted to know why no flags were raised on Tsarnaev that would have helped officials track his movements.

It was reported Sunday that a hold was placed on a citizenship request by the 26-year-old as a result of the FBI's previous interest in him. The New York Times claimed officials at the Department of Homeland Security decided not to grant his application after a routine background check uncovered the 2011 interview by agents.

The criticism of the agency aligns with a swathe of commentary on the state of post-9/11 national security in the wake of the marathon massacre. While the spy dragnet has expanded exponentially, fueled with millions of dollars and unquestioned political will, the totalized surveillance state -- which consistently targets Arabs, Muslims and activists -- has not created a country free from terror. Quite the opposite, in fact, as my colleague Andrew O'Hehir noted on Sunday: "In America after 9/11, we made a deal with the devil, or with Dick Cheney, which is much the same thing. We agreed to give up most of our enumerated rights and civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk, the promise of 'security' and the freedom to go on sitting on our asses and consuming whatever the hell we wanted to... We surrendered our rights to a government of war criminals, who promised us certainty and security in a world that offers none."

For this reason, the details of FBI work with regards to the Tsarnaev brothers are troubling artifacts through which to review the efficiency of our surveillance state leviathan.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Boston Marathon Bombing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Fbi National Security Surveillance State Tamerlan Tsarnaev