The Tsarnaevs and the CIA (Part II)
In Part I we looked at domestic anomalies in the official account of the Tsarnaevs’ activities pre-bombing. Now we turn to overseas.
The Globe duplicates reports that immediately after the Waltham murders, Tamerlan announced to friends he was going to Dagestan.
Think about this for a minute. A man who before bloody murders in his close circle of friends had casually mentioned the FBI had him on a terror-watch list, weeks after the crime says that heading to a foreign hotspot of strife is next on his to-do list.
Then Tamerlan does it. By January 2012 he is in Dagestan. How did he pay for it? An unemployed father of a young daughter, his wife working as an in-home aide to be able to afford an 800-square foot apartment, up and decamps half a world away. The Globe does not wonder about this.
Here we must conjecture that the paper was told off-the-record by US investigators that they believe Tamerlan paid for the trip with proceeds from robbing the Waltham victims — even though $5000 in cash was left in the apartment, but that the claim could not be reported. Presumably if the Globe had been told or turned up evidence that Jahar’s own drug-dealing proceeds funded his brother’s trip to Dagestan, the paper would have reported that. But in either case, our thesis that — at the time — the Tsarnaevs were operating under a federal halo remains intact.
More so by the simple fact that Tamerlan was allowed to go to Dagestan. Knowing what we now know about federal spying programs in the wake of Snowden documents, it is simply inconceivable that the US security state did not know that FBI-interviewee Tamerlan was on his way to a locale inflamed with Islamic radicalism.
From here the Globe narrative becomes fascinating:
Tamerlan fell in with members of the Union of the Just, a group that campaigns against human rights violations against Muslims, and is led by a third cousin on his mother’s side, Magomed Kartashov. Some of its members follow a strict interpretation of Islam, and believe in the establishment of an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia religious law that would span the Caucasus. They are sharply critical of US interventions in Muslim countries, believe the US government condones the burning of Korans, and have had run-ins with Russian authorities — but they do not openly espouse violence. Tamerlan, they say, arrived with a lot of questions about Islam and wanted to learn how to better express his faith.
“He was at the beginning of his path. He was mostly a listener, a searcher, he was looking for answers,” said Mukhamad Magomedov, deputy leader of the group.
Tamerlan spent a lot of time hanging with the Union of the Just members, praying with them and studying the Koran. Also, playing soccer and fooling around. Some of his new friends have pictures of Tamerlan at a Caspian Sea beach, playfully buried in the sand, and attending a wedding. They gave him a second name, Muaz, after an early Islamic scholar, a name he would later use for his YouTube account.
But if Tamerlan was hoping to fit in with Muslims in Dagestan, he did not succeed. Part of it was, yet again, his curious appearance. He wore a long shirt of the type favored by Pakistanis, according to his friends there. He combed his hair with olive oil and darkened his eyes with kohl shadow, practices followed by devout Sunnis in some cultures, but not in Dagestan. Local young Muslims wear track suits and T-shirts and are distinguishable only by their long beards.
Tamerlan’s demeanor differed in other ways as well. Speaking in English-inflected Russian, he would smile broadly and chat up strangers, neither of which are common acts on the streets of Dagestan. He also made a show of giving money to beggars on the street, something rarely done by locals.
“What gave him away was his appearance,” Magomedov said. “He didn’t try to adapt.”
Tamerlan also began praying at a mosque attended by Salafi Muslims, a strict, orthodox Sunni sect whose members, authorities believe, often aid the armed insurgency.
There, Russian authorities say, he met with members of the insurgency.
Such contact, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, was Tamerlan’s real motive in coming to Dagestan. The FSB account has it that Tamerlan’s name came up during the interrogation of a Canadian national named William Plotnikov, who was suspected of being a member of the underground. Investigators also maintain that Plotnikov and Tamerlan communicated via an Internet site for Muslims. This version of events has it that the bombings could have been prevented had US intelligence heeded warnings the Russians sent US authorities about Tamerlan in 2011 and 2012.
Russian authorities have said that Tamerlan, possibly through Plotnikov, made contact in Dagestan with an alleged recruiter for the underground named Makhmud Mansur Nidal, who was killed in a firefight with security forces in May 2012. Plotnikov was killed in a counterterrorist raid in July, days before Tamerlan left Dagestan and returned to the United States.
The common-sense reading of this account supports the theory that a clumsy, unschooled Tamerlan was sent to Dagestan by the US security state to infiltrate radical Islamic groups — and that the Russians cleaned up behind him as he went. Then, either because his mission was over, or because he feared he was next — he bolted back to the US. And was allowed back in.
Yet the Globe takes pains to shoot down its own reporting which supports this theory. Instead of ruminating on what this series of events suggests, the paper calls the timeline’s veracity into question:
But several observers have raised doubts about the FSB version. They say it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Tamerlan to have met with members of the underground without drawing attention. And if the FSB already suspected Tamerlan of seeking such contacts, they would ordinarily have been watching him very closely, said Andrei Soldatov, a leading Russian analyst of the FSB.
“Knowing of Tamerlan’s suspicious contacts in Dagestan in 2012 and having suspected him as early as 2011, it is unclear what prevented the FSB from seizing him when he was leaving Russia,” Soldatov said.
Andrei Soldatov is an interesting choice to question this narrative. Soldatov is an implacable foe of Russian security services, no doubt. Pre-Snowden Soldatov warned of Russia’s cyberwar capabilities, but post-Snowden flipped to downplaying the threat posed by the NSA doing the exact same thing.
And in April, Soldatov penned a column for the The Moscow Times that was an odd split-the-difference account of the Boston bombing which accused the FSB of doing nothing in response to Tamerlan’s trip to Dagestan — without mentioning the Islamic radicals who were dropping dead as Tamerlan tried to meet them!
The column concluded with:
But for some reason, the FBI did not pick up on any of these signals and failed to place the Tsarnaev brothers under close surveillance during the two years before they committed the Boston attack. Hopefully, the U.S. investigation into the FBI’s failures will shed more light on why it dropped the ball.
Oh, well. For some reason.
But back to Soldatov’s assertion that the FSB account of events in Dagestan is suspect because the Russians did not pick up Tamerlan. Here is what Soldatov told the NYT about the Ryan Fogle incident in May 2013, involving a US embassy employee caught in an apparent FSB spy sting:
Had the Russians viewed Mr. Fogle as a serious threat, Mr. Soldatov and other intelligence experts said, they most likely would have stepped back and let his apparent recruitment effort continue, and perhaps even led him to believe that he had successfully enlisted a double agent, pocketing the money while trying to learn more about the Americans’ interests.
Here in the case of Fogle, Soldatov argues that serious threats are not picked up by the FSB, but are given run to gather additional intelligence — and presumably roll up threatening networks. Or, precisely what it appears the FSB did in response to Tamerlan’s Dagestan adventure the year prior.
But impeaching Soldatov’s indictment of the FSB account of Tamerlan is not enough to show that US security services knew about and to some extent directed Tamerlan’s movements during his Dagestan excursion. The following passage comes very close, however:
If US investigators suspected that Tamerlan had actually met with insurgents, Magomedov and other members of the Union of the Just said, they never brought it up when they interviewed Tamerlan’s friends in Dagestan in June. The friends said they were never asked about Nidal or Plotnikov. This claim is supported by a three-hour recording of an interview by two FBI agents with one of Tamerlan’s friends in June, which the Globe was able to listen to. The names never come up.
Perhaps the names did not come up because the US already knew who Tamerlan had met with — and why. And asking about these meetings may have spun out in uncontrollable and unwanted ways. With this credulous sidestep the Globe pushes the theory that the Tsarnaevs were a wholly disconnected and domestic phenomenon — a theory that is totally at odds with the American state’s de facto stance in its Global War on Terror.
Virtually everything the US security state does today is based on the theory that there exists a global conspiracy to do harm to American citizens. Yet when confronted with the reality of a deadly attack on US soil, the official narrative becomes – with a big assist from the Globe — just a couple of misfit brothers out to do bad. Pay no attention to that trip to Dagestan — we didn’t even ask questions about potential radical associates there — might as well have been an interview session in Omaha or Detroit.
What would make these guys go bad? We have no idea.
Here is an idea.
Following the FSB tip-off, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan in January 2011. In addition, a deep probe of his online activities was doubtless undertaken. His family’s financial struggles would have been noted, as well as his high-performing high school student younger brother who, unlike Tamerlan possessed a green card. Although both brothers had been granted asylum in the US, they had different immigration status. Tamerlan still traveled on his Russian passport and would renew it during his trip to Dagestan, making him potentially a valuable asset going forward. Jahar, on the other hand, would be granted his citizenship in September 2012, making the brothers a very flexible yet vulnerable combo in terms of intelligence potential.
Both brothers applied for citizenship, Tamerlan doing so shortly after he returned from Dagestan and almost immediately after Jahar got his application approved after a standard Department of Homeland Security background check – and interesting flurry of activity to say the least. However, DHS flagged Tamerlan’s application for precisely that FBI interview with him in January 2011 that found him to be no threat. Tamerlan was in limbo. And perhaps feeling double-crossed.
If he had undertaken the trip to Dagestan at the behest of federal operatives, with the implication being that his US citizenship would be his reward upon his return, Tamerlan would be furious over this turn of events. Perhaps more so if it was relayed to him that his federal contacts wanted him to make another foray overseas, with his freshly renewed Russian passport providing the means.
By November 2012 Tamerlan was making himself known by loudly denouncing the West in Muslim circles in Cambridge. Perhaps these outbursts were an honest reflection of his feelings – or an attempt to generate sufficient backstory for another foreign adventure. Meanwhile, Jahar was failing out of school and not even his drug profits could keep him from falling thousands of dollars in debt, putting him squarely in the category of desperate as well. The consensus reportage is that by February 2013 the brothers had started down their bomb plot path.
The key period then becomes December 2012 into January 2013. Were the two Chechen brothers presented with final recruitment offer – or demand – from US security services? Conversely, were they simply ignored – all contact dropped after Tamerlan’s return from his Dagestan misadventure in August 2012, with a final snub being the arrest of their sister Bella in New Jersey on marijuana distribution charges – in December 2012?
Jahar’s trial might begin to answer some of these questions. But the first step is knowing the definitive history of the House of Tsarnaev has yet to be written.
Post-Script will examine some other odd aspects of the official account, which taken together, do not seem to point in any particular direction, but suggest much is still being kept secret by government officials.
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