FBI Did its Job in Tsarnaev Probe, Obama says - KiiiTV.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

FBI Did its Job in Tsarnaev Probe, Obama says

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(CNN) - Federal intelligence officials are looking at whether more could have been done to prevent the Boston Marathon attacks, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

"Based on what I can see so far, the FBI performed its duties. The Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing," Obama said. "But this is hard stuff."

The president called the review by the Director of National Intelligence's office "standard procedure," but it comes amid withering criticism from some lawmakers of how well law enforcement, intelligence analysts and the administration handled a 2011 request by Russian officials to investigate one of the two bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

In 2011, Russian authorities alerted the United States to concerns that Tsarnaev was becoming increasingly radical. The Russians also raised questions about Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, according to several sources.

But the FBI found no evidence of extremist activity and closed the case. Both Tsarnaev and his mother were placed in a terror database, however.

Still, he was allowed to travel the next year to a restive Russian region rife with Islamist terror groups, and returned to the United States after six mysterious months abroad.

Investigators have said they are looking at possible links between Tsarnaev and those groups during his time in the region.

Information sharing

In the days following the attacks, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina led criticism of the administration's handling of the Russian reports -- questioning whether intelligence and law enforcement agencies had properly shared information that could have prevented the April 15 bombings.

Three people died in the attack and more than 260 were wounded. Authorities say Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, also killed a police officer. Twenty people remained hospitalized Tuesday, according to a CNN tally.

"I just find it really unnerving that we could have had him in FBI custody in 2011 and did a whole profile of him, and after the attack that his name did not surface, that we didn't check the database or the database had him missing," Graham said at the time of the older Tsarnaev.

Obama rejected Graham's criticisms Tuesday, saying "it's not as if the FBI did nothing."

"They not only investigated the older brother, they interviewed the older brother," the president said. "They concluded that there were no signs that he was engaging in extremist activity."

Obama said the intelligence review, while not prompted by the criticisms, would "leave no stone unturned."

"We want to see, is there in fact additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack," he said.

Graham responded sharply to Obama after the news conference, saying the Boston attack joins the earlier attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as evidence of administration failures. Three people, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in that attack.

"In Benghazi, multiple requests for increased security were denied and numerous warnings from Ambassador Stevens about the growing threats from al Qaeda were ignored by Washington," Graham said.

"In Boston, both the FBI and CIA were warned by the Russians about a radical Islamist in our midst. Once enrolled in the system as a potential terror suspect, the older brother was able to travel back to Russia unimpeded by (Department of Homeland Security) or any of our intelligence agencies. Agencies under your control were unable to coordinate the information they received on the Boston terrorists.

"If Benghazi is not an example of system failure before, during and after the attack, what would be? If Boston is not an example of a pre-9/11 stovepiping mentality, what would be?" Graham asked.

Russian cooperation

Over the weekend, news emerged that Russian authorities had intercepted a phone call in early 2011 from one of the Tsarnaev brothers in the United States to their mother in Dagestan. The call included a vague discussion of jihad, an official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

That information didn't make its way to the FBI before the bombings, the official said.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had regrets that Russian intelligence wasn't able to provide more information to U.S. officials before the bombing, and said he hoped the incident would spark greater cooperation between U.S. and Russian counterterrorism officials.

Russia has been "very cooperative with us since the Boston bombing," Obama said Tuesday.

"Obviously, old habits die hard," he said. "There's still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back in some cases 10, 20, 30 years, to the Cold War."

Criminal investigation

Amid the political acrimony, the painstaking work of building a criminal case against the surviving terror suspect went on.

While the elder Tsarnaev died April 19 after a firefight with police, his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar is being held at a federal Bureau of Prisons medical center in Devens, Massachusetts, on a charge of using a weapon of mass destruction. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

On Monday, a federal judge appointed prominent defense lawyer Judy Clarke to represent him.

Clarke has represented Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber, and Jared Lee Loughner, who pleaded guilty in the Tucson, Arizona, shooting that killed six and left then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded.

Preliminary talks

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for Dzhokhar have had contacts over the past few days to talk about him resuming providing information to investigators in exchange for eliminating the possibility of a death penalty if he is convicted, two government sources told CNN Tuesday.

The contacts are in the very early stages, and do not indicate a deal is near, said one source, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the private discussions.

Prosecutors have not said they will definitely seek the death penalty in the case, but it is an option under the federal law the 19-year-old is accused of violating. Attorney General Eric Holder would have the final say.

These kinds of discussions are not unusual in such high-profile cases, legal sources say.

Jihadist links?

Monday, news emerged that federal agents are looking into possible links between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a Canadian jihadist killed by Russian troops in 2012, a source being briefed on the investigation said.

William Plotnikov and six others died in a firefight with Russian forces in the southwestern republic of Dagestan in July 2012 -- while Tsarnaev was visiting the region, the source said. The 23-year-old Plotnikov was born in Russia, but his family moved to Canada when he was a teenager.

Tsarnaev flew out of Dagestan two days after Plotnikov's body was prepared for burial, according to the source. Investigators are looking into the possibility he left because of Plotnikov's death, the source said.

Like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Plotnikov was once a boxer.

Investigators also are looking into whether Tsarnaev had any contact with another militant named Mahmoud Mansur Nidal, who was killed by Russian forces in May 2012 during a gun battle in Dagestan's capital, the source said.

DNA discovery

On Monday, law enforcement sources told CNN that investigators had found female DNA on a fragment of one of the pressure cooker bombs used in the bombings.

The sources cautioned that the discovery of a woman's DNA on a bomb fragment doesn't necessarily mean a woman might have conspired with brothers.

One of the sources noted that the DNA on the bomb component could have come from any woman who touched any of the items used to make the device.

The FBI did take DNA samples at the Rhode Island family home of Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, on Monday in an effort to see if the genetic material belonged to Russell or the couple's 3-year-old daughter.

But one of the officials said that even if Russell's DNA matches that from the bomb fragment, it doesn't necessarily mean she participated in the bomb's construction.

Through her attorney, Russell has denied any knowledge of her husband's involvement in the bombings and has said she is cooperating with the investigation.

The DNA could also be from one of the victims, Lawrence Kobilinsky, a DNA expert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told CNN's Erin Burnett on Monday.

'Misha' interviewed

Also Monday, a U.S. government official told CNN that FBI agents have interviewed the man identified as "Misha," an elusive figure whose name has surfaced in the Boston bombing investigation.

Investigators spoke with the man in Rhode Island after reports surfaced suggesting that members of the suspected bombers' family blame a "Misha" for radicalizing Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The man, whose real name is Mikhail Allakhverdov, denies ever encouraging a violent take on Islam and says he was not Tamerlan's teacher, according to a New York Review of Books writer who says he interviewed the man.

Allakhverdov insisted he had "nothing to do with radicalization," and said he was cooperating with the FBI, reporter Christian Caryl told CNN on Monday.

CNN has made repeated efforts to speak with Allakhverdov, but has so far been unsuccessful.