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In Hindsight of Boston Marathon Bombing, Trying to Figure Out What Went Wrong

April 30, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, investigators are pursuing several inquiries, both stateside and abroad, into what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers and whether they acted alone. Ray Suarez discusses the latest developments in the investigation with Evan Perez, who is covering the case for The Wall Street Journal.
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GWEN IFILL: We turn to the investigation into the Boston bombings, and to Ray Suarez, who has the latest.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s been just over two weeks since the attacks and investigators are pursuing several lines of inquiry both here and abroad.

Those include, according to several news organizations, widening the investigation to see if others may have helped the suspects before or after the bombings, and continuing to speak with the widow of the 26-year-old suspect who was killed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

And, as the president said at his news conference, the director of national intelligence will oversee a review of how 17 agencies handled earlier tips and questions about the older brother.

For the latest, we turn to Evan Perez, who is covering the case for The Wall Street Journal.

And, Evan, first of all, it’s a good reminder that there are 17 agencies involved with questions like these. What are the kinds of questions that they’re going to be asking themselves about the last several months?

EVAN PEREZ, The Wall Street Journal: Well, you know, this happens after every one of these types of events.

And I think it’s sort of a natural response that happens, especially from the White House. Obviously, something went wrong here. Two bombs exploded and people died. So they want to know if there is anything else that they could have done. We know, for instance, that the Russian security agencies in 2011 expressed some concern about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother.

And we know those concerns were sent over to the FBI and to the CIA. The FBI looked at it, investigated for about three months, didn’t find enough, asked the Russians for more information. They never got any. And so right now, I think — the president spoke about this today — was, you know, I’m not sure that we can say a ball was dropped, per se.

RAY SUAREZ: He defended the FBI.

EVAN PEREZ: He defended the FBI and said they did what they could based on what — the authorities they have under the law.

The Russians didn’t provide further information when they were asked. It’s only now that they have come forward and said, well, we had some wiretaps that had her speaking with some suspicious people, and him, and his mother — Tamerlan and his mother discussing very — in very broad terms, the concept of jihad.

So, now we know a lot more. Perhaps the FBI could have done more then. But that’s hindsight.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, the criminal investigation continues. And now they’re looking more closely at Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow. What do we know about her?

EVAN PEREZ: Well, we know that the FBI has been wanting to talk to her for — you know, face-to-face for several days here since the bombings or since they identified Tamerlan and Dzhokhar.

So they have been wanting and they have been trying to negotiate with her lawyers to, A., get more time to talk to her, and also to get some DNA samples. As we reported yesterday, the FBI found some female DNA on remnants of the bombs. And so they want to know whether — you know, basically cross her off the list, if that’s the case, that she had nothing to do with it.

She basically has said, you know, that she had nothing — she was completely shocked about the events. And I think what they want to know is, you know, the key period between the bombings on Monday, April 15th, and Friday, what was going on then? Where was Tamerlan? They know a lot more about Dzhokhar because he was at a dorm. And he was in college. And he’s in and out. And there’s more recordings of what he was doing.

Tamerlan is a little bit more of a mystery, and I think she might be able to shed some light on that.

RAY SUAREZ: The net seems to be widening to up to a dozen more people who may have some idea about the whereabouts of the two brothers.

EVAN PEREZ: Right.

There are plenty of associates, I think, that the FBI is very interested in, some more than others. There is some concern that perhaps some of these folks might have helped get rid of evidence, unwittingly, perhaps not on purpose, but a brother might have asked one of them to get rid of some materials and so on. And so the FBI has been essentially looking into that.

They have been doing a lot of searches. One of the big problems with the case right now is trying to figure out where they put the bombs together. It’s still somewhat of a mystery. They did searches of the home the brothers shared in Cambridge and found no residue. And so these are messy things to put together. These are black powder bombs.

So it’s very unusual for you not to be able to find this. You would have to be really good at cleaning up to be able to erase all proof of this. So that’s something that I think they hope these folks can help them figure out.

RAY SUAREZ: All during this time, more attention has been focused on the journey that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar’s mother, has taken during these years.

EVAN PEREZ: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: We see a couple of years ago a woman in stylish clothes and stylish hairstyles, and now a woman in black with her head covered, a very different kind of person.

EVAN PEREZ: Well, yes.

And, you know, her religious turn sort of mirrors her son’s. And it appears what has happened — what happened is after a few years here in the United States, the family was struggling. The boys are beginning to party. They’re starting to enjoy American life. And she becomes worried. And she turns to religion as sort of a way to bring them back.

It happens a lot with immigrant families. And I think she was trying to do that. She used religion. And it looks like, at least from what we can see right now, she is key to the beginning of his religious turn. He at some point goes off in a different direction. She says that she never put him into — on to the path of extremism. But it’s clear that she was very key, at least in the beginning, for his religious turn.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a lot of speculation about someone named Misha. Who is it? Have we talked to this person? And what have they said for themselves?

EVAN PEREZ: The FBI was very mystified.

This is something that was brought up by members of the family, who — the Tsarnaev family, who essentially said that they were very worried that there was this mysterious Armenian figure who was very key to radicalizing Tamerlan.

The FBI tracked done this person. He is of Ukrainian, Armenian descent, lives in Rhode Island. They have interviewed him. They have gotten his computer. They have gone through everything. At this point, they believe he had nothing to do with this. He has told and said in interviews that he hasn’t seen Tamerlan in three years, and that if indeed he knew about this, he would have tried to stop it.

So I think the FBI believes him and thinks that this might just be another one of those blind alleys that these cases tend to generate.

RAY SUAREZ: Evan Perez of The Wall Street Journal, thanks for joining us.

EVAN PEREZ: Thank you.