I am seeing too much poor reporting on the Tsarnaev brothers. The FBI put out a statement on Friday that said that they had looked into Tamerlan Tsarnaev “in early 2011” at the request of “a foreign government” that we know now to be Russia. Here is how the FBI explained it.

The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.

I don’t know why they couldn’t give us specific dates instead of saying “early in 2011” and “in the summer of 2011,” but we have a ballpark idea of when the request came in, when they did their investigation, and when they gave the Russians the conclusions of their investigation. We haven’t seen a complete list of Tamerlan’s travel to and from Russia, but we know he traveled there in January 2012 and stayed in Dagestan for about six months. We know that someone using his name created a YouTube page one month after he returned from that trip to Dagestan. We know this from, among other things, the reporting in today’s New York Times.

After Tamerlan’s visit to Dagestan and Chechnya, signs of alienation emerged. One month after he returned to the United States, a YouTube page that appeared to belong to him was created and featured multiple jihadist videos that he had endorsed in the past six months. One video featured the preaching of Abdul al-Hamid al-Juhani, an important ideologue in Chechnya; another focused on Feiz Mohammad, an extremist Salafi Lebanese preacher based in Australia. He also created a playlist of songs by a Russian musical artist, Timur Mucuraev, one of which promoted jihad, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors statements by jihadists.

Yet, in the same article, we read this:

Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist who specializes in Russia’s security services, said he believed that Tamerlan might have attracted the attention of Russian intelligence because of the video clips he had posted under his own name, some of which were included on a list of banned materials by the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B.

Let’s do some chronology.

In “early 2011” the Russians asked us about Tamerlan Tsarkaev.
We investigated him and gave the Russians the results of our investigation “in the summer of 2011.”
Tsarkaev traveled to Russia in January 2012.
He returned from Russia in six months later.
He (allegedly) created a YouTube account a month after that.

There is no way that the YouTube account is what spurred the Russians to request an investigation because he created it approximately fourteen to seventeen months after the Russians made the request.

This is also relevant to the timing of Tamerlan’s supposed radicalization or increased interest in Islam. We read that he adopted more traditional Muslim dress and grew a beard after he returned from his trip, but now we know from the FBI that the Russians alleged “in early 2011” that he was “a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010.”

Finally, I also want to note the discrepancy in the FBI’s statement which says that the Russians were concerned because Tamerlan appeared “prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.” Yet, so far as we know, he didn’t actually travel to the region for ten to twelve months. Did having the FBI grill him and his parents about his activities in the spiring of 2011 cause him (or his handlers) to delay his trip?

In any case, the reporting by the New York Times is sloppy. Why quote Andrei Soldatov and refer to him as “an investigative journalist who specializes in Russia’s security services” if you know that his conjecture is completely wrong and in opposition to the laws of time and physics?

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