GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 1, 2013

Bomb probes eye FBI role, Mass. benefits

From Wire Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — Inundated with papers after a request for information on public assistance received by the immediate family of suspected terrorists, the chairman of the state’s House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight says that information is under review.

“Clearly, if our public tax dollars were in any way used to help support the horrific, horrific events that occurred here, it is something that would appall all of us,” Chairman David Linsky, D-Natick told reporters after a brief meeting at which he made a statement before the committee recessed.

That probe comes as President Obama vowed Tuesday to leave no stone unturned in reviewing whether any sensitive intelligence was missed that could have stopped the deadly Marathon terrorism attacks.

Obama called it “standard procedure,” but said the review, which will last only 90 days, would help determine if all the information was shared properly.

“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing,” Obama told a White House news conference, describing how the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings who died in an escape attempt.

But he said it would help determine whether “there were additional things that could have been done.”

Federal lawmakers have suggested that an intelligence breakdown may have contributed to the attacks.

“Just because the FBI didn’t find derogatory information about the suspects doesn’t mean it wasn’t there to be found,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House intelligence committee. “But nor should we leap to a conclusion of malfeasance. Instead this review may produce one important component of the ‘lessons learned’ from the attacks,” he added Tuesday.

Officials in Russia Tuesday confirmed that Russian agents placed the elder Boston bombing suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told The Associated Press.

U.S. law enforcement officials have been trying to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was indoctrinated or trained by militants during his visit to Dagestan, a Caspian Sea province that has become the center of a simmering Islamic insurgency.

The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He told the AP that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian — an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov — according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.

Back at the State House in Boston, the Tsarnaevs’ welfare benefit package has drawn the attention of many lawmakers, including Gloucester Republican and state Senator Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who last week vowed to press for access to all of the Tsarnaevs’ benefit records.

The House audit oversight committee is seeking to learn more about both Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as well as their immediate family, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev. A request by the committee for information on welfare and health benefits received by family members resulted in reams of documents, which the committee has not made public, Linsky said.

“The Tsarnaevs’ parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, are former grantees of transitional assistance benefits and both brothers previously received benefits as members of the household,” DTA Interim Commissioner Stacey Monahan wrote in a letter to Linsky that was provided to the State House News Service. “The Tsarnaev parents were eligible to receive benefits as legal, non-citizen residents who were granted asylum status and met the basic eligibility criteria for DTA, including household income levels, presence of dependent children and other factors. Both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan have resided in the country legally.”

Health and Human Services Communications Director Alec Loftus said the office is investigating whether Tamerlan received benefits during his time overseas.

“Following reports of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s travels overseas, DTA launched a review to determine if proper notifications were made by the household,” Loftus said.