By Stephen Bryen
What are we learning from Boston? What don’t we know?
Here in brief are some important things to keep in mind.
(1) We don’t yet know the scope of the Boston threat. There are reports that the FBI is pursuing a terror cell that supported the two bombers. So far the size and location of the cell is not known, but speculation says it can involve a dozen persons. We do know there have been other arrests that may be connected with the bombing (see http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130420/NEWS/130429995) , but who they are and what the connections are, remains unclear. See http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/boston-bombers-fbi-hunting-12-strong-1844844#.UXM54Yqm6hA.twitter
(2) We do not know how the bombs were set off. Parts of the mechanism appear to have been found. Photographs show what looks like the circuit board of an older type cellular phone. There are also pictures of the battery that was used to set off the explosive primer, and the connecting wires.
Probably the police have already collected pristine examples, because at least one pressure cooker bomb was thrown at the police when the two men were cornered by them, and another one or two were found unexploded. So both the mechanisms and the explosive material types are known to the police, but the information has not been made public. In addition, other bomb material was also found.
(3) The design of the bomb suggests it was set off by a cell phone. If this is the case, it is fairly certain that a third party had the trigger cell phone. It may be that person is the fuzzy image seen on the roof of a building overlooking the bomb scene. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/mystery-man-on-roof-boston-bombings-photo-_n_3091189.html It should be pointed out that the large scale purchase of cellular phones under false names has been going on for some years. These are pre-paid phones and can be bought for cash, meaning that they are not traceable. http://www.google.com/imgres?sa=X&biw=1280&bih=890&tbm=isch&tbnid=fTx4Tf1z7-8W7M:&imgrefurl=http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-04-17/news/38616656_1_tenergy-brand-battery-twisted-metal-lid-broken-plastic-cap&docid=tnSsRFixfzI8sM&imgurl=http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/photo/19591257.cms&w=640&h=427&ei=fyV1UbeELNXH4APntIGwCQ&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:10,s:0,i:127&iact=rc&dur=200&page=1&tbnh=178&tbnw=275&start=0&ndsp=16&tx=53&ty=80
(4) The debate on “professional” versus “amateur” is pretty well settled as far as the bomb mechanism is concerned –they were professionally designed even if crudely assembled. The collection of the materials, especially the explosive materials, is one of the critical elements in the investigation. One assumes the lack of information coming out about this means that the investigation is focusing on where the bomb materials came from.
(5) From news reports it appears the FBI was asked by the Russians on more than one occasion to please check out Tamarlan Tsarnaev. See http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/russia-warned-fbi-of-tamarlan-tsarnaevs-possible-terrorist-connections-in-2011/question-3648223/ One credible report says they were again asked six months ago to interview Tamarlan Tsarnaev after he reportedly had six meetings with a leading Chechen terrorist in Chechnya. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2312496/Tamerlan-Tsarnaev-Russia-asked-FBI-investigate-Boston-bomber-just-6-MONTHS-ago.html The mother also reports that the FBI was asking the family questions some five years ago. See http://www.euronews.com/2013/04/20/mother-of-boston-bombers-says-sons-were-set-up-by-fbi/ How credible the mother is cannot be determined. In regard to the last request to the FBI, there is no information it was followed up. All of this raises questions about the relationship between Russian intelligence and U.S. law enforcement and intelligence on counter-terrorism. There are clearly sharply different political agendas, as the U.S. has not been Russia’s supporter or friend in regard to terror attacks in Chechnya. How this may, or may not, have influenced the behavior of the U.S. government and the FBI is not clear.
(6) The effort by the police, the FBI, and others to catch the bombers needs to be applauded. While there are clearly plenty of mistakes leading up to the bombing, the response, the determination and the courage of the law enforcement people involved in ending the immediate threat was superb. What we cannot yet say is whether law enforcement investigators will be successful in tracking down those connected with the bombers. If the effort to do this turns up empty or incomplete, the threat will still be there. In this connection there have been statements coming from Washington and Boston (see the Mayor’s statement at http://nation.time.com/2013/04/21/boston-mayor-bombing-suspects-acted-alone/) suggesting the bombers “acted alone.” Most experts disagree.
(7) The motivation for the bombing still seems hard to grasp. It is known that Chechen fighters have been connected to extremist Islamic causes and have participated in terrorist activities outside of Russia. A lot of attention is also focused on the radicalization of the older of the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamarlan. At the same time, both brothers seem to have been well financed. One was in school full time, and the other seems to have been unemployed, but living what can be described as a middle class life with a wife, child and car. The money trail is very important, and it may be that following the money trail will help us understand the motive better, since someone investing in these guys could have been expecting a return on investment in the form of terror activity. There is also an unsolved triple murder that connects the brothers in some manner, and could be linked to the money supply. (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2312814/Tamerlan-Tsarnaev-Friends-suspect-Boston-bomber-murdering-American-friend-2011.html) One is still struck by the apparently casual way the two brothers left the crime scene (which is part of the video record and also backed by still photos), and the fact that the younger brother attended a party after the bombing, suggesting at minimum they did not fear discovery or arrest. All of this is still a mystery.
Today the official Federal complaint against Dzhokahr Tsarnaev charging him with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (namely an Improvised Explosive Device) against persons and property in the U.S. resulting in death. The complaint appears to confirm the device was set off by a cell phone, or at least a cell phone was used to alert someone to set off the device. The complaint also confirms that in tact explosives and an un-exploded pressure cooker bomb were found in the trunk of the vehicle hijacked by the brothers. See http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/04/22/Surviving-bombing-suspect-charged and http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/united-states-america-v-dzhokhar-tsarnaev_718200.html