Thursday, March 13, 2014

Was The FBI Hiding Something About The Boston Bombings?

Ibragim Todashev
Last night, during The Omnivore's weekly 2hr drive, I listened to This American Life's Dead Men Tell No Tales episode. It is an investigation of the FBI's killing of Ibragim Todashev during an interrogation on May 22, 2013.


If you remember, following the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI and other authorities were interviewing associates of the bombers--especially of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the older brother). One of these people, Ibragim, lived in Florida. He was questioned in connection with a set of earlier Boston murders (three drug dealers) who had their throats slit execution style.

Whatever happened during the questioning (no report has yet been released) at some point an FBI agent shot Ibragim seven times, killing him. Several associates (including his girlfriend and several acquaintances) were subsequently questioned and then, in many cases, jailed and deported.

The FBI claims that Ibragim became enraged during the interrogation and the shooting was self-defense--but the reporter says that even most complicated police shootings take at most two months to investigate--and don't result in either questionable charges (in one case, a guy who sort of vaguely knew Ibragim was picked up on a very questionable charge and then interrogated. The charge was,  basically, yelling at a guy Ibragim had once had a fight with--"Witness tampering" or some such).

The reporter thought, maybe, it looked like ... a cover-up. She thought it might be FBI overreach or incompetence., Other people, specifically, the theory that was interesting to Ibragim's friends and family, was that maybe he knew something about the bombings that the FBI didn't want to come out.

In the end, maybe they had to kill him to keep it quiet.

This is the long form Boston Magazine piece. It's a good read. The TAL episode is about an hour long: it's a very good listen.

What Happened To Flight 370?
And where is Adam Lanza's death certificate? Where is flight 370? With a missing jumbo-jetliner and 200+ passengers speculation abounds and conspiracy theories blossom as to what happened, could have happened, or might have happened. People who think the Sandy Hook massacre was some kind of hoax point to delayed death records (it took an FOIA request to get the kid's reports) as evidence something's amiss with the official story.

Well, no, not quite amiss: they take it as proof their theory is correct.

What's The Point Here?
The Omnivore isn't relating these events because he thinks Adam Lanza was flying Flight 370--it's because the Boston Magazine piece actually does something that's ground breaking in this kind of dialog. It's, wait for it, actual research.

Susan Zalkind was a friend of one of the three drug dealers that Ibragim and Tamerlan allegedly killed. The dealer in question wasn't the guns and thugs type of drug-dealer either--he was a happy-go-lucky pot seller who she used to hang around and smoke weed with. She'd stopped doing that several years ago--but she wanted to know if this Ibragim guy--now dead--really was the throat-slitting executioner of her former friend.

As a trained journalist she went to work. She flew down to Florida and interviewed his girlfriend (later jailed and deported for, uhm, talking to her). She spoke to people who'd known him--she spoke to the guy he beat up one night at a bar. She talked to his Mixed Martial Arts trainer (in Boston). She tried to talk to all the various law-enforcement involved and got nowhere ... but her magazine had a crime reporter who had inside contacts in law enforcement ... and actually knew one of the guys in the room that night.

She talked to an ex-FBI agent who worked terrorism cases about the behavior of the the FBI (weak charges, wide net, high-pressure, and deportations).

What she did, in the piece, was put together a theory of what might have happened. This theory was based on evidence, expert opinions, and months of research and interviews.

Here's what they came back with:
  1. The FBI's behavior is actually pretty typical for terror-cases. You throw anyone out of the country you can (the people deported were often on expired visas or otherwise here quasi-legally). You cast a very wide net. You use any possible charge to detain and question (even if the charge will not stick).
  2. Ibragim was a pretty violent person. He had several assault charges and was known to "go off" on people. He was trained. He was dangerous with his hands.
  3. The night of the questioning the tactic was to try to get him to confess to the murders. They probably didn't have hard evidence (the case is still open) but they would tell him they did, that he was finished unless he confessed, and would put extreme pressure on him to do so. That's how these things work.
  4. It was a 5 hour interrogation in his sweltering-hot tiny apartment with three other agents. The idea that he snapped and went after them is not unreasonable.
In short it doesn't look at all like he had some special knowledge about the bombings. It looks like they wanted him for some murders he may well not have committed and under intense pressure an already unstable, dangerous, and violent guy attacked armed agents.

With predictable results.

So What?
The takeaway here is this: if all you have done is analyze pictures from your desk on your computer you don't actually know anything. Internet investigation isn't a substitute for the real, hard, often expensive work of actually going and talking to people--of finding people with real domain in the area you are researching--of putting together a hypothesis that fits the facts instead of choosing facts that fit your hypothesis.

I'm not sure what's going on with Adam Lanza's death certificate (was it ever released? Apparently some database shows his death date as being the day before the massacre leading to wild conspiracy theories). I do know this: no one alleging the whole Sandy Hook thing was faked has gone up there and talked to people (first responders in the building, parents, etc.). There is no real journalism in the Sandy Hook Hoax continuum. 

There has not been months of tracking down people with specific expertise in how these investigations play out (why does a coroner delay the release of a death certificate? I'm not sure--but I doubt it is because there is literally no body and not releasing the faked paper is the only way to cover that up).

I don't know what happened to Flight 370--but the fact that no one seems certain doesn't mean it was aliens either.  The ocean is a huge and deep place. The universe isn't predictable but, so far as we can perceive, anyway, it's mostly logical. Big conspiracies and wild possibilities are at the far, tapered ends of the bell curves: those narrow corridors of possibility are usually too small to fit your pet conspiracy theory into.

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