Lawmakers question FBI handling of Boston terror attack suspect

A number of lawmakers are going after the FBI, questioning if the agency failed to notice red flags surrounding one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The lawmakers are demanding answers on why the FBI declined to scrutinize Tsarnaev more closely, following a lengthy trip the alleged bomber took last year to Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia's volatile Caucasus region.

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The area is known as a breeding ground of Islamic extremism, and two years ago the Russian government had notified the FBI that Tsarnaev might be linked to unnamed "underground groups" there. 

The combination has left some lawmakers practically incredulous that the FBI wasn't tracking Tsarnaev more closely in the lead up to Monday's tragedy in Boston.

"I have great regard for the FBI and for Director [Robert] Mueller, but this is the latest in a series of cases like this … where the FBI is given information about someone as being potential terrorists, they look at them, and then they don't take action," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of both the Homeland Security and Intelligence committees, said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." 

"I don't want to run Monday morning quarterback – they did a great job of resolving the case," King added, referring to the bombings' aftermath. "But as far as getting information in advance and not seeming to take proper action, this is the fifth case I'm aware of where the FBI has failed to stop someone who ultimately became a terrorist murderer."

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also wondered if the agency could have done more to monitor Tsarnaev and, possibly, prevent the Boston bombings from ever happening.

"If he was on the radar and they let him go, if he was on the Russian's radar, why wasn't a flag put on him, some sort of customs flag?" McCaul asked in an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union."

"One of the first things he does [upon his return] is puts up a YouTube website throwing out a lot of jihadist rhetoric. Clearly something happened, in my judgment, in that six-month timeframe – he radicalized at some point in time."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that the FBI's failure to detect trouble in Tsarnaev doesn't quite rise to the level of "alarm," but he conceded the episode raises many questions the agency will have to account for in the coming weeks and months.

"I have a lot of faith in the FBI and I wouldn't jump to conclusions, but there are a lot of questions that have to be answered," Schumer said on CNN's "State of the Union.” "This man was pointed out by a foreign government to be dangerous. He was interviewed by the FBI once. What did they find out? What did they miss? … Why wasn't he interviewed when he came back either at the airport when he was returning or later?

"Certainly when a foreign government points out that something is wrong or something might be wrong," Schumer added, "he ought to be interviewed again."

Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar – ethnic Chechens who had both lived in the United States for a number of years – are suspected of orchestrating the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170 last Monday.

The elder Tsarnaev, a permanent resident of the U.S. who was seeking citizenship, was killed early Friday morning in a shootout with police outside Boston. 

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was captured roughly 19 hours later after leading law enforcement on a tense manhunt that shut down much of Greater Boston. He is being treated in a Boston hospital for injuries suffered during several shootouts with the police. Federal and state prosecutors are readying the charges against him, but have not yet filed them.

The death of one suspect and the capture of the other has shifted the attention of investigators onto the possible motivations of the suspects – a probe that has put intense focus on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's six-month trip to Russia last year.

On Friday, the FBI issued a statement revealing that "a foreign government" – reportedly Russia – had asked the agency for an evaluation of the elder brother in "early 2011."  

"The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups," the agency's statement said. "The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011."  

Federal officials then asked Russian officials for information in return, but got nothing, the FBI said.

Not everyone is questioning the FBI's conduct in the wake of Monday's bombings and subsequent revelations about the suspects. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week that the agency did everything it could be expected to do in its probe of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

"I don`t think they missed anything," Rogers told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. "I think they were very prudent and very thorough, by my review." 

Rogers, himself a former FBI agent, suggested Russia bears at least some of the blame for not sharing follow-up information the agency had requested.

"You can`t ask them to do something with nothing," he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also weighed in on the FBI's track record Sunday, concluding that one of two problems plagued the agency's probe into the elder bombing suspect: Either investigators "missed a lot of things" or they lack the tools to effectively monitor potentially dangerous people. In either case, Graham said, there need to be changes.

"I don't know if our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed," Graham told CNN's Crowley, "but we're at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game."

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