The Boston-Russia connection–and the ‘Misha’ mystery

Photos released by the FBI of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case
Photos released by the FBI of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, a Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, says that information coming from Russian authorities will be key in what he is calling “a very active ongoing investigation” into what happened when Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev left for a six-month trip to Russia in 2012.

“We need them [the Russian authorities], and we need to work with them to get us information, especially if we’re going to be in their country getting information,” Ruppersberger said. “And the more they can get us, the better we’ll be.”

Ruppersberger was coming from a closed-door, classified briefing for the House Intelligence Committee by representatives from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center about the investigation into the April 15th bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Investigators are looking into a six-month trip that Tamerlan Tsarnaev took to Russia in 2012, and whether he participated in activities or training that could have led to his radicalization–and subsequently to the attack in Boston. Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a gun fight with police in Watertown, Mass., just days after the bombing in the early hours of Friday, April 19th.

His 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, accused of being the second bomber, was taken into custody later that day, when he was found hiding in a boat on a trailer in a Watertown resident’s backyard. He has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property and could face the death penalty.

U.S. intelligence officials today said that Russian authorities had contacted them on two separate occasions about Tamerlan’s behavior, but that replies with more questions from the FBI to Russian intelligence officials went unanswered.

Tamerlan was subsequently put on a terrorist watch list: authorities noted when he left the United States for Russia but failed to pick up on his return to the States six months later.

It’s this oversight that has Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte calling for hearings about what could have been done to prevent the attacks that killed three and injured over 180.

“It has become increasingly apparent that more questions need to be answered regarding the failure to prevent this tragedy,” the Senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin.

Ruppersberger says criticism of American intelligence agencies for their handling of intelligence related to Tamerlan before the attacks is premature, considering that it’s unclear why Russian authorities did not respond when they were contacted three times in 2011.

“Right now it’s way too soon to criticize or to start making political arguments about who failed,” Ruppersberger said, “I think we have a lot more to do, and then it’s fair play when we evaluate how do we handle this.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, left Wednesday’s briefing saying he had not “seen any red flags thus far” in terms of how the investigation was handled, and said that American intelligence agencies have “done an astounding job in terms of chasing down every lead.”

“Our agencies get thousand and thousand of leads like we got from the Russians, so there are real limits to what we can do in response to them,” Schiff said.

None of the members briefed today would comment about reports of someone named “Misha,” who may be suspected of having helped radicalize Tamerlan Tsarnaev while in the United States.

Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the mother of the bombing suspects who lives in Russia, told NBC News that both Russian and U.S. authorities have asked her about Misha, and whether he was part of an extremist organization.

Zubeidat called Misha “a good friend” who would come to their house in the United States. She described Misha as a “new believer” and “an intelligent man,” but did not have a surname for Misha.

The Boston-Russia connection--and the 'Misha' mystery