Calling for a “thorough review,’’ Sen. Rob Portman said Wednesday that “we need to get to the bottom’’ of what federal investigators knew about two brothers accused of killing three people and wounding scores of others with two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
In a conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman, R-Ohio, said he has “unanswered questions’’ about whether the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were communicating with one another about warnings from Russian officials that the older brother – Tamerlan Tsarnaev – may have had links to Islamic terrorists in Chechnya.
Portman, who serves on a Senate committee with jurisdiction over the Homeland Security Department, said “the bigger issue is how can we deter future attacks? And that means doing a thorough review of why – given the information that we had on the older brother – there weren’t more actions taken to stop him from building the bombs and conducting these devastating acts of terror?’’
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shoot-out with police on Friday. His younger brother Dzhokhar was arrested after being wounded and is in serious condition in a Boston hospital. The Justice Department has charged him with terrorism and read him his Miranda rights, which allows him to have an attorney and not talk to investigators.
The FBI interviewed Tamerlan in 2011 after being tipped off by Russian intelligence. But the FBI dropped the inquiry even though last year Tamerlan traveled back to Russia.
The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that the Russians warned the FBI about Tamerlan more than once, including after his Russia visit. While the FBI apparently was unaware of the Russian trip, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee Tuesday her agency learned of Tamerlan’s trip at the time of his travel.
“Prior to his going to Russia there was information provided to the FBI about the potential for him being interested in jihadist-type activities,’’ Portman said. “But then the question is, did Homeland Security know that, because obviously they would have been involved in his back and forth from Russia?’’
“So we’re asking questions about that,’’ Portman said. “So I do think there are unanswered questions with regard to the FBI, but also with regard to the Department of Homeland Security and the degree to which the two were talking.’’
In addition, Portman was critical of the Justice Department’s decision to advise the younger brother – who unlike his older brother is an American citizen — of his right to remain silent.
Portman asked why the federal government “chose to treat the younger brother in the normal criminal justice system rather as someone who had information that could deter further attacks and therefore not give him the ability to be protected by a defense lawyer who’s obviously going to tell him not to talk?’’