Fears that criticism of FBI over Boston attacks will prompt civil liberty infringements

Investigators are under pressure to explain how a tip-off from Russian officials in 2011 did not lead to closer scrutiny of bomb suspect

Mourners walk past police motorcycles as they depart St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham, Mass., following a funeral Mass for Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier on Tuesday. Photograph: AP

Mourners walk past police motorcycles as they depart St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham, Mass., following a funeral Mass for Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier on Tuesday. Photograph: AP

Fri, Apr 26, 2013, 12:45

US intelligence veterans are warning that mounting criticism of the FBI for not preventing the Boston bombing risks encouraging infringements of civil liberties, such as routine surveillance of mosques and blanket use of security cameras.

Investigators are under pressure to explain how a tip-off from Russian officials in 2011 did not lead to closer scrutiny of bomb suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which might have stopped last week’s attack.

White House officials say they are re-examining the first FBI investigation, although they insist it went through Tsarnaev’s background thoroughly and found no threat of violence.

The surviving suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged at his hospital bed on Monday with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, a count carrying a possible death penalty.


‘Mentally competent’
Despite serious injuries to the neck and throat, Tsarnaev was deemed able to communicate. “I find that the defendant is alert, mentally competent and lucid,” said the judge, Marianne B Bowler, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Details about the alleged bombers’ apparent motivations began to emerge yesterday from leaks of the initial questioning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. ABC, NBC and the Associated Press reported US officials as saying that preliminary evidence from the younger man’s interrogation suggests the brothers were motivated by religious extremism but were apparently not involved with Islamic terrorist organisations.

The AP said Tsarnaev communicated with his interrogators in writing, hindering the back-and-forth exchanges seen as important to establishing key facts and their meaning.


Fact verification
The officials cautioned that they were still trying to verify what they were told and are also looking at the suspect’s telephone and online communications. As questions continued to be asked about what the FBI knew about his older brother, Tamerlan, experts close to the intelligence establishment say there is widespread misunderstanding of what it would take to put all tip-offs about radical individuals under close surveillance.

Katherine Tsarnaeva, the US-born widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev who has converted to Islam, was pursued on a footpath by journalists yesterday. Asked about her late husband and his brother, said: “They were Muslims, that’s all.”

Asked whether her brother-in-law would get a fair trial, she replied: “Only Allah knows.” – ( Guardian /Agencies)