Boston Marathon Terror (Bombings) Attack 2013 - Intelligence Report

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Following the seconds-separated explosions of two pressure cookers placed along the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, that day will live on in the memories of many Americans eternally. It is believed that three persons were killed and more than 200 others were hurt in the explosions. (The FBI and the Bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013, 2017). Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are the accused.The two, along with the other four family members, immigrated to the United States ten years ago. After filing for a migration benefit, they received it and are now considered Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States. Two years earlier before the bombing, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received an intelligence information about the two brothers from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in March 2011. The Russian Federals alleged that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaeva were aficionados of radical Islam and that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was going to Russia to be part of indefinite secretive groups in Dagestan and Chechnya (The FBI and the Bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013, 2017). The FBI through Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (Boston JTTF) carried out an assessment based on the information to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a threat to the national security. The assessment was later closed having found no links tying him to terrorism.

The evaluation was done by an FBI Special Agent who memorized and took certain steps kept in the Federal’s Guardian system which tracks threats and manages counterterrorism assessments. The Agent shared his findings with his supervisor who closed the assessment so as to determine whether more steps could be taken (United States, 2015). The supervisor wrote a letter to FSB asking them to provide more information about Tsarnaev since what they had on him wasn’t sufficient.

Again, in September 2011 the FSB contacted Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and relayed the same information they had given the FBI. They took it into consideration and put Tamerlan Tsarnaev on the terrorist watchlist of National Counterterrorism Center for watchful purposes (Viser, 2017). Also, the information was shared with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State to get their feedback. The NCTC created a record in Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) concerning Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Although there was no enough critical information connecting him to terrorism claims, he was put on the watchlist nevertheless.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia using an international flight from New York to Moscow in January 2012 as was alleged and CBP officer in Boston received information concerning the flight. Though it is not clear whether the CBP officer informed the FBI Agent about Tamerlan impending travel, information indicated that he must have notified the Agent (Viser, 2017). In as much as Tsarnaev was identified as a potential subject of interest for the CBP at JFK International Airport, he was of less priority regarding other passengers of possible concern. Hence, there was no review nor outbound assessment done to him prior his departure. Later when he returned to United States on July 17, 2012, from Russia, CBP received information on the same. And like before, it was hard to determine whether the CBP in Boston conveyed information about Tsarnaev inbound travel to the CT Agent. Therefore, due to differences in CBP procedures and the presentation of the record, once again, Tsarnaev was not subjected to secondary inspection as he was not regarded a concern at the airport.

Of what importance was Tsarnaev’s travel to the FBI? Some official were not in support of it given that the assessment was long closed and Russians had already been asked for more derogatory information. However, some other officials thought the information would have made a difference, and the assessment would have been reopened (United States, 2015). Tsarnaev would have been interviewed before traveling to Russia. Similarly, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) who headed the Boston JTTF during the period of the assessment expressed the belief that if the CT Agent were made aware of Tsarnaev’s travel, it would have “changed everything.” And that, had the Boston JTTF knew about the trip it could have asked Russia for additional information, and the FBI could most probably open the second assessment and interviewed Tsarnaev about the travel.

On August 28, 2012, Tsarnaev applied for naturalization and was received on September 24, 2012, by the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBS) responsible for conducting background checks to determine the credibility of the application for naturalization (The FBI and the Bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013, 2017). On October 2012, an immigration service officer sent an email about the application to the FBI CT Agent. The Agent searched Federal’s case management database and found Tarmalan was not a security threat since there was no national security concern about him. The ISO also emailed the USCIS contact on the Boston JTTF and the later conducted database searches.

On October 26, 2012, the liaison responded to the ISO stating there was no current or prior investigation for Tsarnaev and that there was no derogatory information that would adversely affect Tsarnaev application for the immigration benefit. Tsarnaev’s application was taken up for processing (Regan, 2013). USCIS personnel consequently did database searches for Tamerlan Tsarnaev on other separate dates and found no derogatory records. On December 3, 2012, in response to the USCIS request, the FBI supplied further information about Tsarnaev’s apprehension for assault and battery of his ex-girlfriend in July 2009. USCIS then asked the court for records confirming that the arrest did not result in a sentence, and was not provided before April 15, 2013, bombings. Tamerlan was interviewed on January 23, 2013, but his naturalization was not resolved for lack of court records. Hence, the application remained imminent.

Given the limited information that was released to the Boston JTTF in March 2011 about Tamarlen Tsarnaev, the FBI CT Supervisor and the CT Agent decision to carry out an investigation at the assessment level was based on a less invasive method standard within their investigation discretion as given by the AG Guidelines and the DIOG. Also, since Zubeidat Tsarnaev was included in the information provided by the FSB, the CT Supervisor and the CT Agent should have included her in the assessment. However bulk the dire information fixated on Tarmerlan was, the need to conduct restricted investigation using Zubeidat’s name and other applicable identifiers was mandatory. Though additional investigative steps would have resulted in a thorough assessment, other database searches would not have added any information required in conducting the evaluation (Eileen Sullivan, 2017). Also, it is unclear what the ex-girlfriend and wife of Tarmerlan would have told the FBI in 2011 before the bombings in Boston Marathon.

There were no proofs that records relating to Tamerlan Tsarnaev were reviewed by CBP officials at the JFK International Airport. This is because he was not placed on the No Fly list. For this reason, there was no way of conducting any examination given that there were no comments from the JTTF (Regan, 2013). Also, with a large number of travelers each single day in and out of America, carrying out an examination would have been a big challenge. Once again, neither the FBI nor the DHS could ascertain whether there was any notification from Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s TECS record by the CBP officer on Boston JTTF to the CT Agent when he returned to the United States.

The Russian government had sent a letter to the FBI requesting them to notify Russia if Tamerlan decides to travel. But that was not done because of lack of familiarity with the application on the side of agents and TFO’s assigned to do an assessment on him in 2011. Nevertheless, FBI stressed that there was no enough prediction based on Tamerlan’s travel that would cause the assessment to be reopened (Eileen Sullivan, 2017). Though it was concluded that Tamerlan was not in any way associated with the terrorist group, he shared extremist-themed videos and caused chaos in his mosque 14 months later (Regan, 2013). A second assessment or further investigation after his return to U.S could have helped prevent the bombings, though it is not certain.


Eileen Sullivan, A. (2017). No intelligence failures led to Boston bombing attack, review says. PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 16 March 2017, from

Pelley, S., Davis, E. F., Radutzky, M., Devine, L. F., Young, N., CBS News., & CBS Broadcasting Inc. (2013). The Boston bombings. New York, NY: CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Regan, T. (2013). How did Boston bombing suspect get away?. New York: Bloomberg.

Temple-Raston, D., Inskeep, S., Montagne, R., & National Public Radio (U.S.). (2013). [National Public Radio reporter Dina Temple-Raston describes the Federal investigation into the Boston Bombing].

The FBI and the Bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. (2017). Lawfare. Retrieved 16 March 2017, from

United States. (2015). Preventing Another Boston Marathon Bombing: Reviewing the Lessons Learned from the 2013 Terror Attack: House Homeland Security Committee Report.

Viser, M. (2017). Congressional report details intelligence failures prior to Marathon bombings - The Boston Globe. Retrieved 16 March 2017, from

July 15, 2023


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