Members of a congressional committee Wednesday accused the FBI of stalling lawmakers’ inquiry into the Boston Marathon bombings, saying the bureau had no grounds for withholding what it knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the attacks.
“The information requested by this committee belongs to the American people. It does not belong solely to the FBI,” said Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The frustrations, aired publicly after FBI officials rebuffed an invitation to appear before the committee, stemmed from the FBI’s unwillingness to detail how it handled a security review of Tsarnaev nearly two years before the bombings. Critics have suggested the FBI may have missed a chance to prevent the tragedy.
“I went to Russia and was given more information,” complained committee member Representative William Keating, a Democrat from Bourne who has been seeking information about Russian warnings to American authorities about Tsarnaev’s increasing radicalism dating to 2011.
The FBI “continues to refuse this committee’s appropriate requests for information and documents crucial to our investigation into what happened in Boston,” McCaul declared as he opened a committee hearing. He added, “I sincerely hope they do not intend to stonewall our inquiry into how this happened.”
Tsarnaev died after a firefight with police in Watertown within hours of being identified as a suspect. His younger brother Dzhokhar faces charges of using weapons of mass destruction to kill four people and injure more than 260 others.
The FBI interviewed the elder Tsarnaev in his Cambridge home in the spring and summer of 2011 but concluded at the time he was not a threat and closed its inquiry. The bureau apparently did not reopen the case, despite additional warnings from Russia later that year, the subsequent decision by the CIA to add him to a database of potential terrorist suspects, and a tip in 2012 from the Department of Homeland Security that he traveled to Russia.
The FBI Wednesday strongly rebutted accusations that it was being uncooperative with Congress. It has said in the past that local authorities in Boston had access, in the years before the bombings, to the same information about Tsarnaev on its computers as FBI agents.
“We are not stonewalling. We have briefed [the] committee on several occasions and will continue to do so as necessary,” said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman.
He said the FBI did not provide a witness for the Wednesday hearing in order to avoid compromising the legal case against the surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar, who pled not guilty Wednesday to 30 charges in his first appearance in court in Boston.