WASHINGTON – The FBI did “a very thorough job” vetting Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the Russian intelligence service flagged him in early 2011 as a possible Islamic radical, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee said Sunday.
“I don’t think they missed anything,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a former FBI agent who has not hesitated to criticize the bureau and Obama administration on counter-terrorism issues.
Rogers, interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the FBI examined Tsarnaev’s “digital footprints,” conducted all the database checks at its disposal and interviewed the suspect. Rogers said that no evidence emerged to justify further scrutiny. But Rogers said the foreign intelligence service — other officials have identified it as Russian — did not answer the FBI’s request for more information.
“You can’t ask them to do something with nothing,” Rogers said.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, are the only suspects in Monday’s bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line. Tamerlan died in a violent confrontation in Watertown, a suburb of Boston. Dzhokhar was later captured there and is in serious condition at a Boston hospital. The brothers, ethnic Chechens, came to the United States with their family about a decade ago.
“Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, also on “Meet the Press,” questioned whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev should have been scrutinized by the CIA.
But Mike Leiter, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, said information suggesting someone holds extremist views is “maybe a yellow flag and I don’t think a red flag.”
“The challenge here,” Leiter added, “is that there are lots and lots of people who go through these crises and become radicalized, but very few become terrorists.”
The FBI said Tsarnaev had been identified by a foreign government as a “follower of radical Islam and a strong believer.” The foreign government told the FBI he “had changed drastically” since 2010 and was preparing to leave the United States “to join unspecified underground groups,” according to an official statement from the FBI.
But Rogers said the foreign government declined to be more specific. And Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent, said on ABC’s “This Week” that merely visiting extremist websites would not merit an FBI investigation. “There are hundreds of thousands of young adults in this country that visit extremist Islamic websites,” he said. “So the question is what line you draw.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev went to Russia in January 2012 and flew back to the United States in July, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.
Former White House counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke said on the ABC program, “What I want to know is, what did the Russians do when he went back to Russia? … Did they follow him around? That’s a question we need an answer to.”