I read the FBI was on 60 Minutes telling us a story about how it identified the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, after the Marathon Terrorist Attack (MTA). The first thought came to mind was: “60 Minutes can find out what happened but the US Congress can’t.” Does that make you wonder about our justice system?
Don’t you remember that members of Congress had to travel to Russia to find out what the Russians told the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev? Think back to what happened when a Congressional committee sought to hold hearings on it. The FBI refused to appear before it giving the usual excuse “the matter is under investigation.” Maybe the next time after a similar incident Congress should bring in the 60 Minutes crew to sit next to the members to find out what happened.
If you have read any of the history of the FBI you’d have learned it was divided into several divisions, either 4 or 5. One of those divisions was the Public Records. Its job was to spread FBI propaganda to the media. J.Edgar Hoover knew better than anyone there was nothing like good press. He was well aware it trumped the truth or Congress every time.
As you know I have a couple of major concerns in this matter: the first relates to the initial information from Russia where we really have not learned what the FBI did subsequently to receiving the information from Russia on Tamerlan – what investigation was done, how long did it last, were any attempts made to have him become an informant, why didn’t it advise others on the Joint Terrorism Task Force about it, and why did it close out the case; the other, and what’s relevant here is why did the FBI publicize his picture when it had agents in its office who could have identified him. The aftermath of the publication was the death of Sean Collier and Tamerlan as well as the notorious “shelter in” of a city. Also, in that respect, what were the teams of FBI agents doing in Cambridge (during this all-hands-on-board episode one would expect they’d be working on the MTA matter) that night.
After having been blocked at learning anything by the FBI”S refusal to answer to anyone, seeing that some spoke out, even though it was in the controlled environment of a “60 Minutes” interview was like a thimble full of cold water after a long run, it was something. I went to “60 Minutes” to read the transcript of its program wondering if I could find some answers.
Reading it I learned what was motivating the FBI was fear of other attacks as it systematically went about gathering evidence and taking it to a central location and forwarding parts of it to its labs in DC. The FBI does this very well and its labs are among the best in the world. It was also determined to find those responsible.
On Wednesday morning, a day and a half after the MTA, the FBI had a team of 120 agents who examined 120,000 still photographs and 13,000 videos looking for something different. They found one that showed a man in a white baseball cap (Dzhokhar) who had put down a backpack and acted out of character with the rest of the people when the first explosion occurred. Standing near where he put his backpack down was Martin Richard the young boy from Dorchester who was killed when the explosion occurred 20 seconds after the backpack was dropped.
Excellent work let those agents identifying the man in the white cap. This allowed the Massachusetts state police to link him up with the man in the black cap (Tamerlan). Then they were able to discover the videos of the two men walking together. These they would eventually make public.
Then a strange thing happens. A cable network reported an arrest has been made. Remember the Globe confirmed the story through its own sources. Everyone rushed to the federal courthouse in Boston. It was a huge false rumor.
But something even stranger happened. It caused panic. The US Attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, learning the report of the arrest was false said: “I think that kind of misinformation makes it appear as if government isn’t in control, the investigation is sort of, you know, confusing. And so it can be very, very harmful.” Figure that logic, a false media report means the government isn’t in control. Who is running the show?
The next day the NY Post published pictures of the wrong man. Rather than taking advantage of that and letting it lull the bombers into believing they were safe, Ortiz reacted differently. Not looking at it from an investigative viewpoint but a public relations one, she said: “That generated tremendous risk and harm. It gives people a false sense of security thinking, “Oh they’ve identified these suspects” when it turns out that it’s wrong individuals. It puts those individuals at tremendous risk.” It seems she was reacting to the media rather than the evidence. Since when is it the job of the government to get panicked over erroneous media reports?
A debate then occurred. Some in the FBI seemed to have reacted properly not wanting to release the pictures because it would give the terrorists a chance to escape; the FBI Special Agent in charge, DesLauriers, who was working directly with Ortiz noted: “The countervailing argument is you had individuals, we had photographic evidence of individuals, who we strongly believed were responsible for the bombings and we need to identify them as quickly as possible”. I agree but would have thought the best way was to ask his fellow agents.
The tragedy, of course, is that the rush, abetted by the US Attorney’s unusual concern, apparently prevented the FBI from even inquiring among its agents or other law enforcement sources whether these people were known to any of them, which they were. If that happened it sits squarely on the SAC but even more so on the US Attorney. She apparently was more worried about correcting false media reports than letting the professionals do their job.
Unfortunately we know what happened after the photographs were released. Yet, even though it was a major mistake, the FBI still justifies it. SAC DesLauriers said: “I stand by that decision, Scott. Nobody could have reasonably foreseen that a police officer would be murdered. What could reasonably be foreseen is that these individuals could have had more bombs could have set those bombs off and caused carnage similar or even greater to than what they caused on April 15th.”
DesLauriers suggests he knew when releasing the photographs the suspects could flee or set off more bombs causing similar carnage but decided to do it anyway. Stephanie Douglas, an executive assistant director or the FBI who was overseeing DesLauriers agreed. She said: “Yes, I think at the end of the day, we really had no choice.”
I’d suggest to Stephanie she had a real choice – don’t panic just because the US Attorney is worried about the media – check and see if any in law enforcement knew these men. You may have prevented further killings.