FBI Once Questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Late yesterday as news about the search for his brother was just beginning to break, we learned that the Federal Bureau Of Investigation was investigating his elder brother for at least some period of time several years ago:

The FBI admitted Friday they interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago and failed to find any incriminating information about him.

As first reported by CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev, the elder brother of at-large bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, at the request of a foreign government to see if he had any extremist ties, but failed to find any linkage.

Both Tsarnaev brothers were legal permanent residents of the U.S. There is no evidence so far that either brother received any tactical training.

CBS News correspondent John Miller reports it is likely Russia asked to have the elder Tsarnaev vetted because of suspected ties to Chechen extremists.

The FBI is likely to have run a background check, running his name through all the relevant databases, including those of other agencies, checking on his communications and all of his overseas travel. Miller reports that culminated in a sit-down interview where they probably asked him a lot of questions about his life, his contacts, his surroundings. All of this was then written in a report and sent it to the requesting government.

The information became public after Tsarnaev’s mother talked about it in an interview with Russian television:

Although the FBI initially denied contacting Tsarnaev, the brothers’ mother said they had in an interview with Russia Today.

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said her son got involved in “religious politics” about five years ago, and never told her he was involved in “jihad.”

She insisted the FBI “knew what he was doing on Skype” and that they counseled him “every step of the way.”

Tsarnaeva, who is a U.S. citizen currently in Russia, told Russia Today the FBI had called her with concerns about her elder son, although she did not specify when exactly she was contacted.

“They used to come [to our] home, they used to talk to me … they were telling me that he was really an extremist leader and that they were afraid of him,” Tsarnaeva said. “They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremist sites… they were controlling him, they were controlling his every step…and now they say that this is a terrorist act!”

A few members of the Tsarnaev family, including his father and an Aunt who lives  in Toronto, have made similar comments insinuating that they don’t believe that the two brothers actually committed the acts that they are accused of, although other members of the family such as an Uncle who lives in Maryland seem to fully accept the accusations against the two men. I’m sure we’ll see more of the Tsarnaev family drama in the future.

As for the FBI investigation, it’s interesting but not necessarily indicative of anything. I agree with CBS’s John Miller that the country that made the request for an inquiry was most likely Russia given that this is the nation that deals most directly with Chechen extremists, and that’s interesting only because, as far as we know, neither of the brothers had any contact with those types of groups. All we know so far is that Tamerlan took a trip to Russia last year that lasted for six months. Where he went and what he did during that period is as yet unclear. However, I bet our Russian friends might be able to help us with that one.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gustopher says:

    Some questions leap to mind:

    – What did the FBI discover then?

    – How many of these requests do we get and act on per year?

    – What were the Russians telling us? What have we since discovered that they were not telling us?

    I don’t like the idea that we are reporting things back to the Russians about people living in our country legally. At least, not as a routine matter.

    If we had a functional congress doing oversight, we might get answers to these questions. Alas, the loyal opposition will be asking questions like “Bengazi! Bengazi! Ben, ghazi?”

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Gustopher: I don’t like the idea that we are reporting things back to the Russians about people living in our country legally. At least, not as a routine matter.

    In general, I agree with you, but this was a very odd situation. This was about a citizen of a former USSR satellite, and exchanging info about suspected radicals is something that nations ought to do.

    For example, if there was an event where William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and Kathy Boudin were attending in a foreign country and that country were to ask our government for info on their terrorist pasts, I’d hope that we’d pass along details to that country.

    I’d hope that, but I wouldn’t expect that from our current administration.

  3. Gustopher says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: and I would want oversight on how broad our cooperation with foreign governments is. I don’t know that this is an “odd situation” at all. Call me odd, but I think this cooperation may be a greater threat than anything the Tsarnaev brothers could do on their own.

    If there are a mere handful of requests each year and we looked at Tamerlan Tsarnaev and decided that he wasn’t worth checking up on regularly, that’s a very different story than if there are tens of thousands of requests per year.

    Also, if there are a large number of requests that we act on, there’s a very real possibility that our law enforcement is being used to gather information on Russian and former-Russian-sphere dissidents living in the US.