The Unanswered Questions in the Boston Marathon Bombings' Case

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, gave clearance for the NSA's phone records sweep on April 25th. The timing has many speculating about a connection to the Boston Marathon bombings investigation. We can't know for sure, but it got us wondering about the status of that investigation. Juliette Kayyem is a foreign affairs columnist for the Boston Globe, and a former Homeland Security official. Juliette, what's new and noteworthy in the investigation?

Juliette Kayyem: There are so many different pieces to the investigation now so we'll start with the core one, which is the case against the younger Tsarnaev brother, as well as the investigation into any foreign links. The House Intelligence Committee went to Russia to speak with Russians about what they possibly knew about radicalization, or more importantly, whether a foreign group had knowledge and helped to assist in the attacks on the Boston Marathon. Their discussions were, I guess a good way of saying it, odd. There were a number of different aspects to their visit to Russia, including the involvement of an American actor and others who would try to get them to meet with Russians and Chechnyans and figure out what's going on. I have to admit to you that I think that the House Intel Committee visit will come up with almost nothing. The Russians have not been very forthcoming in the investigation. So what that essentially means is that we're dependent on the FBI and others who would honestly assist in this investigation to determine whether there was any direct foreign terrorist links. And then there is of course the case here. There will be a trial unless there is a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty. And that will take months, if not years.

Werman: One story related to the bombing, though the links are still hard to see, and that makes it kind of a sticking point, is that of the FBI killing of Ibragim Todashev in Florida last month. What can you tell us about that?

Kayyem: Okay, so Todashev was a friend of Tamerlan, they worked out together in Boston, and there has been an ongoing investigation about the homicide of three of their friends a few years back on September 11. So that investigation was sort of ongoing and the FBI went to go visit Todashev in Florida. There was some altercation that no one can quite figure out what it was, and Todashev was shot dead by an FBI agent. I have to say, that rarely happens. Those are not common incidences and there is an internal FBI investigation into what, in fact, happened. Originally there were stories that Todashev came forward with a gun or had some weapon. The FBI has backed down from that story, so we have no idea, and the FBI has not been forthcoming at all about what happened in that house in Florida. But we have one, Todashev is dead. He had relationships with the older brother. No one thinks he had any involvement with the Boston Marathon attacks, but may have had involvement with the three homicides in Boston. So that's where that case is and the FBI is doing, of course, a separate review of what in fact happened and how did the altercation start and how did it end in a deadly manner.

Werman: And, Juliette, as for the entire investigation right now into the Boston Marathon bombings, what bothers you the most that you really want an answer to that you don't have yet?

Kayyem: Well, one is clearly what happened in Russia and who Tamerlan was meeting with and how much the Russians knew about this. There is a lot of scapegoating going on right now. I tend not to believe much of what the Russian intelligence agencies are telling various government officials, including the House Intelligence Committee. I think everyone is trying to say, look, we knew it, if only the FBI had heard it, had listened to us, things would have been better. We just can't know right now. So big question about what happened in Russia and how much were the Russians following it. And then also, obviously, and this may be because I live not very far from where these bombs were made. There is a big question about Tamerlan's wife, how cooperative she's being, and that's also relevant because if they were building the bombs in a residential area and she knew something of it, I think that her involvement is very relevant to making a case against the younger brother and to understanding, in fact, how did they manage to be so successful at building the bombs, placing them, and having them go off at the moment when the Boston Marathon was most crowded. So those are two of many questions that remain in the case.

Werman: Boston Globe columnist and former Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem. Always good to speak with you. Thanks.

Kayyem: Thanks so much.