News you may have missed #831 (Boston Marathon bombings)

Site of one of the Boston Marathon blastsBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Russia had warned FBI Tsarnaev had radical links. The Russian FSB intelligence security service shared with the FBI in early 2011 information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers suspected in the Boston marathon bombings, was a follower of radical Islam. The Russians allegedly told the FBI that Tsarnaev, 26,  had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the US to join unspecified underground groups.
►►FBI interviewed dead Boston bombing suspect years ago. The FBI admitted Friday they interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago but failed to find any incriminating information about him. The FBI probe 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.
►►Ex-CIA/FBI official says Boston bombings were not terrorism. Counterterrorism expert Philip Mudd, with experience in the CIA and the FBI, told Fox News: “What I fear is that people too quickly categorize this as terrorism. This looks more to me like Columbine than it does like al Qaeda. Two kids who radicalized between themselves in a closed circle and go out and commit murder. I would charge these guys as murderers, not terrorists”.
►►Ex-US Attorney General says Boston bombings were terrorism. Michael Mukasey, Attorney General of the United States from 2007 to 2009, says that the Boston attack “was obviously a suicide operation –not in the direct way of a bomber who kills all his victims and himself at the same time by blowing himself up, but in the way of someone who conducts a spree, holding the stage for as long as possible, before he is cut down in a blaze of what he believes is glory. Here, think Mumbai”.

News you may have missed #830 (Boston bombings analysis)

Site of one of the Boston Marathon blastsBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Despite WMD fears, terrorists still focused on conventional attacks. The United States has spent billions of dollars to prevent terrorists from obtaining a weapon of mass destruction even as the bombings in Boston further show that a nuclear weapon or lethal bioagent is not necessary for causing significant harm. However, experts warn that, even though there is a considerably lower probability of a WMD attack versus a conventional strike, the much higher consequences necessitate continued US investment in prevention and preparation.
►►Why isn’t terrorism in the US a whole lot more frequent? While the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon has brought concerns about terrorism back to the forefront of national attention, it is worth remembering that terrorism inside the United States is exceedingly rare. Over the past 40 years, just over 3 people on average have been killed by acts of terrorism per year (remove 9/11, and the average is 1.4 deaths per year). After 9/11 or an event like the Boston attack, we often think “it would be so easy to [fill in the blank] and cause massive damage.” And it’s true. Then why doesn’t it happen more often?
►►Boston bomb investigators can’t decide: foreign or domestic? Even the most experienced investigators are still trying to decide whether the Boston marathon bombs were carried out at the hands of domestic or foreign attackers. The inability to settle that question is proving frustrating to investigators. Former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes told CNN: “I’ve run bomb scenes in Iraq and also in the US”, adding that the attack in Boston “has the hallmarks of both domestic and international, and you can see either side of that”.
►►Smoke color is key clue to analyzing Boston Marathon bombs. As a team of investigators led by the FBI begins deciphering the bombs that killed three people and wounded 150 more in Boston this week, a key clue is already in plain sight on countless videos taken during the blasts: the color of the smoke. Analyzing the color of the smoke can provide information about the explosive that powered the bombs, which in turn provides clues about its sophistication —and, possibly, that of the people who made it.

Analysis: Five dangerous myths about the Boston Marathon bombings

Investigating the Boston bombingsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The endless opinion pieces about the Boston bombings that have flooded the media-sphere since Monday have one thing in common: they are highly speculative and, for the most part, unreliable. At this early stage, nobody outside the security or intelligence establishments has any idea about the identity or motives behind the attacks —and if they say they do, they are lying. Even those on the inside routinely refer to the ongoing investigation as one of the most complex in the country’s post-9/11 history. As the probe continues, and the nation deals with the meaning of the Boston bombings, it is critical that some of the dangerously misinformed and premature notions about the attacks are dispelled.

To begin with, the Boston Marathon bombings were not necessarily terrorism. They were clearly calculated and indiscriminate, but in order for them to qualify as terrorism, their planners must have a broad political or ideological objective. Terrorism is a tactic used to further a political goal. There is a reason why we don’t refer to school shootings, such as the one that took place on December 14, 2013, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, as terrorism. They are calculated and extremely violent, but they do not contain a political motive. Before we can attach a terrorist label to the Boston bombings, we have to uncover the motive of the perpetrator(s). Barring that, the incident must be treated simply as a criminal act. Read more of this post

Technical analysis offers first clues about Boston Marathon bomber(s)

Site of one of the Boston Marathon blastsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Counterterrorism experts probing Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon are bound to start searching for the culprits by focusing on the technical specifications of the attacks. According to the Boston Police Department, three people were killed and at least 144 were injured —many of them critically— by the blasts, which rocked downtown Boston at 2:45 p.m. local time. The second explosion was carefully timed to coincide with the initial blast, and occurred just ten seconds later, fewer than 100 yards down the road from the site of the first explosion. At least one report stated that law enforcement teams found and dismantled up to five additional devices at the site, which had failed to detonate. But one police official later denied these reports, saying that “closer examinations led [the police] to doubt that [the devices] were bombs”. If additional devices were indeed present at the site of the blast, it is likely that they failed to detonate due to the collapse of the wireless network in Boston, which was knocked down by a sudden spurt in usage following the initial blasts. If, as it appears, these bombs were types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and if suicide terrorism was not involved, chances are the devices were remotely triggered using the diodes commonly found inside the speakers of inexpensive cell phones. Depending on the constitution of the bombs themselves, they could contain ball bearings, screws, or other metal fragments stuffed inside a container around some type of explosive. Read more of this post

Israel may have helped FBI nab American Jewish informant

Akamai Technologies logo

Akamai logo

The government of Israel may have tipped off US federal agents about the activities of an American Jew, who was arrested by the FBI earlier this month for sharing confidential information with an undercover FBI agent. Elliot Doxer, a 42-year-old finance department employee of Massachusetts-based Akamai Technologies, is charged with providing inside company information to a Bureau agent posing as an Israeli spy. According to court papers, the FBI counterintelligence operation against Doxer began after he emailed Israel’s consulate in Boston, in 2006, identifying himself as a Jewish American “offering the little [information] I may have […] to help our homeland and our war against our enemies”. A year later, an FBI counterintelligence team posing as Israeli Mossad operatives contacted Doxer and offered to satisfy his request for $3,000 in return for inside information on Akamai, a company whose role in the architecture of Internet’s worldwide infrastructure is instrumental. But how did the FBI know about Doxer’s attempt to contact the Israeli consulate in Boston? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #391 (Russia-US spy swap edition II)

  • Expelled spies to experience life in changed Russia. Like those before them, the sleeper spies who were deported to Russia last week in one of the biggest espionage exchanges in decades will probably miss the United States, picket fences and all. But what perhaps most distinguishes this affair from its cold war precursors is what awaits these Russians in their motherland.
  • Past Russian spies have found post-swap life gets a bit sticky. While life in Moscow may be duller than New York, Boston, New Jersey, Seattle and Washington, DC, where the 11 Russians charged last week allegedly lived as long-term, deep-penetration agents, it won’t be too bad, either, if their predecessors’ experience is any guide.
  • Life a nightmare for spies returning to Russia, says Soviet dissident. Vladimir Bukovsky, 67, a Soviet dissident exiled to Europe in a 1976 prisoner swap, says the Russian spies expelled from America to Russia last week “will go from living affluent lives with real freedom, to living under constant surveillance by the Russian secret services”.

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FBI busts alleged Russian spy ring, 11 arrested [updated]

Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman

Ten members of an alleged Russian spy ring operating in America’s East Coast were arrested in a series of coordinated raids on Sunday. US Department of Justice insiders said that the arrests, which took place in Arlington, New Jersey, New York, and Boston, marked the culmination of an FBI counterintelligence operation initiated during the second administration of President Bill Clinton. It appears that the alleged Russian agents were non-official-cover (NOC) operatives, otherwise known as ‘illegals’, a term used to identify deep-cover intelligence operatives not associated with the diplomatic representation of the Russian Federation in the United States. Eight of the arrestees were married couples and all were using fake identities. Almost all are fluent in several languages; they include “Vicky Pelaez”, who worked for a New York Spanish-language newspaper, another woman identified as “Anna Chapman” (see photo), and “Mikhail Semenko”, who is said to be fluent in English, Spanish, Russian, and even Mandarin. An eleventh alleged member of the spy ring, named as “Christopher R. Metsos”, remains at large and is wanted by the FBI was captured by Greek-Cypriot authorities at Larnaca airport earlier today, while trying to board a flight for Hungary. Read more of this post

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