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article imageTimeline: Where were FBI's vast spy powers after Boston warnings?

By Ralph Lopez     May 14, 2013 in World
The following is a timeline of warnings received by the FBI regarding Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the context of increased domestic surveillance capabilities since 9/11.
1986 - The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is passed, updating the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the original "Wiretap Act" as it is known to law enforcement. As email and other forms of electronic communications become prevalent, it is determined that law enforcement must show "probable cause" that a surveillance target is committing, has committed, or is going to commit a serious crime listed in 18 U.S.C. § 2510-22, which includes murder. For example, the knowledge that two former bank robbers have bought bolt cutters, ski masks, and weapons would constitute probable cause for continued surveillance and possible arrest for conspiracy.
December 2003 - The Department of Homeland Security warns that al Qaeda terrorists from Chechnya may try to enter the US to carry out attacks, according to Paul Sperry, Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Ironically this is the same year that 16-year old Tamerlan Tsarnaev enters the United States.
January 2004 - In an intelligence briefing on “Terrorist Hot Spots,” Homeland Security concludes that: “Many Chechen rebels are trained and supported by al Qaeda."
September 2004 - Chechen guerrillas take a school hostage in Beslan, in a three-day stand-off. Over 300 people are killed, most of them schoolchildren.
September 2004 - Vladimir Putin publicly warns the U.S. about ties between Al Qaeda and Chechen rebels. Lorenzo Vidino at the Middle East Quarterly notes: "Putin may have been opportunistic, but he was also correct."
April 2008 - FBI Director Robert Mueller pushes for widespread, warrantless monitoring of the Internet for "illegal activity." Mueller argues for "the necessity of having some omnibus search capability utilizing filters that would identify the illegal activity as it comes through and give us the ability to preempt that illegal activity where it comes through a choke point."
November 2009 - The New York Review of Books reports that the NSA is constructing a data storage and mining center in the Utah desert which will store "yottabytes" of data on surveillance subjects. The articles reports:
"Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite “libraries,” the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist."
Since 9/11, the FBI and the NSA have established a working relationship. In a February 2013 conference on cybersecurity, FBI Director Mueller will affirm:
"the FBI often will be the first responder because of our nationwide coverage. But the investigative team, at a minimum, should include the expertise of both DHS and NSA..we also understand that we must work together on every substantial intrusion and share information among the three of us..."
August 2010 - The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds law enforcement's claim of authority to secretly plant GPS tracking devices on private automobiles, even without a warrant. Two months later, US citizen Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old college student in California, finds a GPS tracking device attached to the underside of his car. The FBI admits to planting the device without a warrant, although it has no evidence of wrongdoing. Afifi is half Egyptian. When agents arrive to demand their device back, they ask Afifi if he has been to Yemen for any type of training, and whether he knows anyone "extreme or abnormal." Afifi answers "no" and the agents tell him he is "boring."
September 2010 - Over 70 FBI agents raid the homes and serve subpoenas to prominent antiwar activists in Minneapolis, MN, Chicago, IL, and Grand Rapids, MI. Agents seize documents, computers, cell phones, passports, family photos and children's artwork.
January 2011 - Chechen jihadists attack the Moscow airport with a pressure cooker bomb, killing 36 people.
March 2011 - Russian intelligence warns the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a non-US citizen holding a resident visa, has "changed drastically since 2010," had become a "follower of radical Islam," and was "prepar[ing] to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups." The warning is forwarded to both the FBI's Washington DC headquarters and the Boston field office. The warning establishes probable cause that a crime of the most serious nature may be in planning stages. Hearsay is accepted in probable cause proceedings. The evaluation of hearsay evidence is based on the "veracity" and "basis of knowledge" of the informer.
May 2011 - Obama signs the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, the latest extension of the law which for the last ten years has allowed warrantless surveillance on US citizens. The extension includes three key provisions: roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and the surveillance of "lone wolves" - individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities who are not directly linked to terrorist groups. The PATRIOT Act allows the use of "national security letters" by the FBI in the place of court-ordered search warrants. National security letters are demands for almost any kind of records on US citizens, including web browsing histories and patterns from Internet service providers (ISPs,) credit card statements, library records, and store records and receipts. In March 2008 it was confirmed, by both a Department of Justice investigation and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, that the FBI has "misused" the letters to compile vast dossiers on innocent Americans. The Washington Post reported:
"The FBI has increasingly used administrative orders to obtain the personal records of U.S. citizens rather than foreigners implicated in terrorism or counterintelligence investigations, and at least once it relied on such orders to obtain records that a special intelligence-gathering court had deemed protected by the First Amendment, according to two government audits released yesterday."
Between 2003 and 2006 the FBI issued nearly 200,000 national security letters.
April 2011 - The Russian intelligence alert compels the FBI to interview Tamerlan Tsarnaev in its Boston office, less than a mile away from the location where the bombings will take place.
April 2011 to October 2011 - Russian intelligence continues to alert the FBI about Tamerlan over the next year, at least once after October 2011. The Boston Globe reports later that: "Russian authorities alerted the US government not once but "multiple times" about their concerns over Tamerlan."
October 2011 - FBI Director Robert Mueller vows, in congressional hearings, more use of the "lone wolf" provision of the PATRIOT Act, which is designed for non-US citizens with no direct ties to terrorism, but which civil liberties defenders fear will be turned against law-abiding US citizens engaged in protected speech.
January 2012 - Corroborating the accuracy of Russian intelligence, Tamerlan travels to Chechnya as Russian intelligence predicts. He stays for six months. The nature and extent of his contacts abroad is unclear.
April 2012 - National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower William Binney reveals he believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion "transactions" — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States. Binney tells Glenn Beck:
“As long as you don’t say anything that’s upsetting them, I think you’re fine, but if you cross the line and say something that they don’t particularly care to have said about them, then you can become a target and they can start really spying on you and going into all of the data that they’ve stored about you that they’re collecting over time.”
August 2012 - Upon his return to the states, Tamerlan apparently opens a Youtube channel which includes posts of speeches by Islamist militant leader and Chechen separatist Abu Dujana. Two videos in the channel, including one of Dujana, have since been deleted. It is not clear when or by whom.
December 2012 - Abu Dujana is killed by Russian forces in a gun battle in the capital city of Makhachkala in Dagestan, where Tamerlan's father lives. The city is also home to Abu Dujana.
January 2013, sometime around Martin Luther King Day - Returned from Chechnya, Tamerlan disrupts a sermon at a mosque in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in which the speaker is comparing the prophet Mohammed to Martin Luther King, who was an advocate of non-violence. Yusufi Vali, a spokesman for the mosque, says that Tamerlan shouted that the speaker was a "kafir" [an unbeliever], and that he was contaminating people’s minds and was a hypocrite. Tamerlan is shouted down by the congregation and warned against any more outbursts. Vali says it is the second outburst by Tamerlan that he recalls, the first one taking place in November 2012.
FBI director Robert Mueller
April 14, 2013 - Two pressure cooker bombs explode at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people are die including an eight year old boy. An MIT police officer is kllled in the line of duty in an incident suspected to be related. Hundreds of people are injured. The nature of the weapons causes a inordinate number of lower limb amputations.
April 19, 2013 - Two unnamed law enforcement officials tell AP and Reuters that Tamerlan had been interviewed by the FBI two years earlier. The FBI initially denies it. Tamerlan's mother goes on Russia Today and says Tamerlan had been interviewed. The FBI reverses its denial, whether this is related to the RT interview is unknown. The mother contends that the FBI maintained regular contact with the family over years, and that the brothers had been "set up."
April 21, 2013 - Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security and former federal prosecutor Rep. Mike McCaul goes on CNN's State of the Union and asks why Tamerlan was not "flagged."
US Attorney General Eric Holder
April 23, 2013 - NBC News reports that Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, a US citizen, says from his hospital bed that he and his brother learned how to make pressure cooker bombs from online instructions, and bought supplies at a fireworks store in Seabrook, NH. The store owner says he has Tamerlan's driver's license on file as required. It is not known whether the FBI or law enforcement ever accessed, through a warrant, the brothers' browsing histories on the Internet, or tracked their travels to the fireworks dealer where major purchases were on record under Tamerlan's driver's license. All surveillance measures are explicitly allowed under a search warrant, and under the PATRIOT Act, even without one.
April 24, 2013 - The New York times reports that Tamerlan's name has been added to numerous terrorist watch lists by both the FBI and the CIA, at the prompting of the Russian government.
April 25, 2013 - The mother and father had planned to travel to the US, but then an unnamed law enforcement source says that Russia has recordings of calls between the mother and the brothers in which they "vaguely discussed jihad." The source says that none of the calls discussed specifics of any attack against America. After the FBI hints that they could be detained upon arrival, the Tsarnaevs change their travel plans.
April 30, 2013 - Obama says in a press conference that, in the Tamerlan Tsarnaev investigation, "the FBI performed its duties" and that "the Department of Homeland security did what it's supposed to be doing."
MIT officer Sean Collier
MIT Officer Sean Collier
MIT Officer Sean Collier
Cambridge Police Department
May 9, 2013 - Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis tells a congressional committee that the FBI did not tell his department about its investigation about Tamerlan Tsarnaev until 3 days after the attack. The department has three detectives and a sergeant assigned to the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force.
May 10, 2013 - The FBI issues a statement which implies that the Boston Police Department should have known about the Tamerlan Tsarnaev investigation, because it had access to the database where the information was located.
Boston: Boylston Street where the second bomb went off
Boston: Boylston Street where the second bomb went off
Rebecca Hildreth
Op-Ed: Calling for the FBI Director to resign over the Boston bombing
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