Thursday Reads: Updates on Drone Assassinations, West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, and Boston Bombing Aftermath

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Good Morning!!

I have lots of news updates for you today.

First, as I’m sure you heard, the Obama administration has finally admitted that it has killed four American citizens with drone strikes.  Charlie Savage reported in The New York Times yesterday that President Obama will give a speech this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he will

open a new phase in the nation’s long struggle with terrorism on Thursday by restricting the use of unmanned drone strikes that have been at the heart of his national security strategy and shifting control of them away from the C.I.A. to the military….

As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.

Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.

Savage writes that Obama may eliminate drone attacks on groups of men assumed to be associated with al Qaeda that in the past have also killed many innocent civilians. He will also argue for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and renewing efforts to return inmates to their “home countries.” CNN also has a helpful article on the President’s speech and proposed policy changes.

The speech will be at 2PM, and I will post a live blog if people are interested in watching it together. I’m sure it will be live streamed at C-Span and other news sites.

Important update on West, Texas disaster.

Yesterday evening Reuters released their own “Special Report.” on the situation.

(Reuters) – The fertilizer-plant explosion that killed 14 and injured about 200 others in Texas last month highlights the failings of a U.S. federal law intended to save lives during chemical accidents, a Reuters investigation has found.

Known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the law requires companies to tell emergency responders about the hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. But even when companies do so, the law stops there: After the paperwork is filed, it is up to the companies and local firefighters, paramedics and police to plan and train for potential disasters.

West Fertilizer Co of West, Texas, had a spotty reporting record. Still, it had alerted a local emergency-planning committee in February 2012 that it stored potentially deadly chemicals at the plant. Firefighters and other emergency responders never acted upon that information to train for the kind of devastating explosion that happened 14 months later, according to interviews with surviving first responders, a failing that likely cost lives.

It’s a complex story, and you really should read the whole thing, because the West disaster is not an isolated incident.

The lack of preparedness endangers not only firefighters and emergency medical technicians, but also people nationwide living near chemical stockpiles similar to those that exploded in West.

At least 800,000 people in the United States live within a mile of 440 sites that store potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, which investigators say was the source of the explosion in West, according to a Reuters analysis of hazardous-chemical storage data maintained by 29 states.

Hundreds of schools, 20 hospitals, 13 churches and hundreds of thousands of homes in those states sit within a mile of facilities that store the compound, used in both fertilizers and explosives, the analysis found.

The rest of the states either refused to provide Reuters with data, provided “incomplete data” or simply didn’t respond to their requests.

Since 1990, companies have reported more than 380 incidents involving ammonium nitrate to the National Response Center, a federal agency that collects reports of spills, leaks and other discharges within the United States. Eight people were killed, 66 injured and more than 6,300 evacuated in those incidents, according to the center’s data.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because reporting of these kinds of incidents is voluntary!

Update on Boston Bombing Investigation

I spent most of yesterday following breaking updates in the Boston Marathon bombing case, which continues to get stranger by the day.

Early yesterday morning, there were reports of the FBI fatally shooting a man in Orlando, Florida with connections to accused (deceased) Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. While the circumstance of the shooting are still not at all clear, here’s a brief summary of what I gleaned from reading hundreds of news reports.

Initially news reports said that a Chechen immigrant, Ibragim Todashev, had been shot by an unnamed FBI agent after Todashev attacked the agent with a knife during an interrogation at Todashev’s apartment house overnight. Todashev and a friend named Khusen Taramov had been interrogated for hours on Tuesday afternoon, according to Taramov. Then agents had let Taramov go while they continued questioning Todashev.

According to Taramov, he and his friend Todashev had been followed by law enforcement for some time and had been questioned previously. Todashev had been planning a trip home to Chechnya, but the FBI wanted wanted him to postpone it so they could continue to question him. The agents returned to question the two men further after midnight Wednesday when they learned that Todashev had decided to cancel his flight. That is when the shooting took place. At the time, two FBI agents from the Boston field office, two Massachusetts state troopers, and “other law enforcement” officers were present. It’s not clear who the other law enforcement officers were, but Emptywheel questioned yesterday whether they might have been from the FBI High Value Interrogation Group.

Later in the day it became clear that Todashev was considered a suspect in a shocking triple murder that took place in Waltham, MA two years ago on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Todashev lived in the Boston area–in Allston, Cambridge, and Watertown; and was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev through their mutual involvement in MMA mixed martial arts fighting and the two had spoken by phone or Skype about a month before the marathon bombings. Todashev is not suspected of involvement in those.

As I reported here previously, Tamerlan and Dzhokhor Tsarnaev had reportedly been connected to the murders by “forensic” evidence, presumably DNA. One of the murdered men was Tamerlan’s “best friend,” Brian Mess. The three men had their throats slit and their bodies were covered with large amounts of marijuana and $5,000 in cash. After the murders, both Tsarnaev brothers stopped seeing friends and Tamerlan did not even attend Mess’s funeral. Not long after, Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and stayed in Russia for nearly seven months.

Back to yesterday’s events. Later reports indicated that Todarov did not have a knife when he “lunged” at the FBI agent, and it was no longer clear which law enforcement officer or officers had shot the “suspect.” A team of FBI agents are in Orlando to review the shooting, and perhaps we’ll learn more about what actually happened.

Multiple news sources have reported that Todashev had implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Waltham murders and that FBI agents were trying to get him to sign a written confession when he became enraged and attacked an agent, who sustained “non-life-threatening” injuries. Apparently Todashev didn’t want to sign whatever document the FBI agents had prepared for him. Since the FBI refuse to tape their interrogations, we may never know what the reported “implication” consisted of.

According to his friend Khusen Taramov, Todashev willingly answered the FBI’s questions.

The ex-roommate said Todashev shared the substance of his previous conversations with investigators with him and that he was completely forthcoming. That’s why he was surprised that Wednesday’s interview ended the way it did.

‘‘He told them everything,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He told everything he knew. … I don’t know why that (the shooting) happened. It’s crazy.’’

But Taramov also said Todashev was afraid before Wednesday’s interview. ‘‘That’s what he asked me before he pretty much died,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He asked me, ‘If something happens can you go out and tell all the truth, what exactly happened.’’’

It is clear that Todashev was prone to violence and people found him intimidating. He was involved in road rage incidents in Boston and Orlando.

Sorry I don’t have links for every detail, but the story is so complex and I’ve gotten information from so many sources that I thought it would be best for me to summarize it in my own words. There has been much more news breaking on this story, and I won’t try to include everything in this post. Anyone who is interested is welcome to ask me questions, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Here is one story from this morning from Fox Orlando: Moments leading to fatal FBI shooting in Orlando still unclear.

Federal and Central Florida law enforcement agencies are still collecting and processing evidence from the shooting scene at a condominium complex on Peregrine Avenue, near Kirkman Road and Universal Orlando, where Ibragim Todashev was shot early Wednesday.

Initially, FBI officials said Todashev, 27, became violent and lunged at an agent with a knife while he was being questioned about Tsarnaev and an unsolved 2011 triple murder in the Boston suburb of Waltham. The agent, acting on an “imminent threat,” then shot Todashev, they said.

Sources say Todashev, a Russian national living legally in Florida, was about to confess to the Waltham slaying when the shooting took place.

However, officials have backed off that preliminary account, and it’s no longer clear what happened in the moments before the fatal shooting.

“I heard a couple of loud bangs and saw a couple of cop cars riding by,” said Jared Morse, who lives in the area. “They wouldn’t let anyone out to see anything or anything like that, so they made us go back inside.”

There is one more possible connection between the Waltham murders and a massive drug bust that took place several months earlier in Watertown MA, in May 2011. It “followed a year-long investigation by federal authorities and resulted in charges against 18 people.” This was mentioned in a Washington Post Story yesterday that some friends of one of the murdered men believed there was a connection. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s likely the Tsarnaev brothers were financing their lifestyles with illegal activities, including drugs and possibly some kind of scam involving luxury cars.

Finally, a must-read article on the Boston saga and the failures of the Homeland Security Department and the Boston Police Department: BRIC-ED IN: WHY THE BPD DIDN’T THINK THAT TAMERLAN TSARNAEV WAS A KILLER. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who lives in a large city that could be a terrorist target. Basically, the article describes how the BPD ignored terror warnings and instead spent millions on surveillance of Occupy Boston and other peace and environmental groups. COINTELPRO all over again. One representative of the Massachusetts ACLU had some suggestions.

According to Kade Crockford, who tracks the BRIC for the ACLU of Massachusetts, it’s about time that authorities reconsider their priorities. “A big question,” she says, “is whether efforts to build a bigger intelligence haystack may actually be less effective than improving traditional policing methods that focus on solving crimes …”

“Perhaps instead of extensively monitoring activists who are petitioning the government through the democratic process, law enforcement resources should focus on investigating and solving actual crimes, starting with murder.”

“Fewer resources tracking peace activists and more focus on traditional homicide detective work might be the best way to ensure a world in which we are both safe and free.”

I’ll end there, and open the floor to anything you want to discuss. Please post your links in the comments and have a great Thursday!

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28 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Updates on Drone Assassinations, West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, and Boston Bombing Aftermath”

  1. Fannie says:

    good morning – and thanks for all the news, will be here around 2 for live discussion on Obama’s speech…………..also tried to click on the link to West article and it doesn’t work.

    Looking forward to your research on the Boston Bombings Case, related to the killing yesterday.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hi Fannie,

      I’m glad you can join me this afternoon. I’d hate to have to listen to an Obama speech all on my lonesome. That link should be fixed now.

  2. Wow, thanks for the spotlight on these three stories. Very much the hot topics of today.

    Re: Obama

    Yes and coming on the heels of the news about Hillary’s outgoing memos as SoS. All very interesting.

    Re: Boston bombing, especially that last piece. Especially your pithy summary:

    “Basically, the article describes how the BPD ignored terror warnings and instead spent millions on surveillance of Occupy Boston and other peace and environmental group”

    Thank you! This is what I’ve been thinking and couldn’t quite put into words.

    Re: West Texas. Going to go read right now. Thanks for the continued frontage coverage of this story.

    • That Reuters article isn’t half bad. I really like this nugget:

      “The problem with the Emergency Planning act is that it relies on small fire departments to plan and train for fires and explosions involving any number of highly hazardous chemicals, said Neal Langerman, chemical and health safety officer at the American Chemical Society. Those fire departments are often staffed by volunteers, funded by charitable contributions and lacking high-tech equipment.

      “The West, Texas, first responders were doing the best they could under the circumstances,” Langerman said. “The failure was in the community, county and state leadership to provide emergency planning and implementation guidance.”

      “I don’t think it’s appropriate to beat up on what the first responders did at the time of detonation, but everything that led up to it – preparedness and preparation – was lacking,” Langerman said.

      West Mayor Tommy Muska, a member of the volunteer fire department, said he does not want to engage in second-guessing. “I think our fire department did an excellent job in protecting the people,” he said. Ten first responders died in the disaster.

      Langerman said he has seen the same problem again and again, and not just in Texas: Many first responders across the United States lack the training and resources to respond to hazardous chemical accidents, he said.”

      Well yes, this just goes to show leaving all public welfare issues up to the charity and generosity of even the most well-meaning citizens among us is a joke.

      The entire West Texas fertilizer plant explosion is a cautionary tale about disaster capitalism. Is the rest of the county listening?

      Thank again. Sorry to be so ranty ;)

  3. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/05/22/anti-abortion-leader-faces-criticism-after-comparing-rape-to-car-accidents/

    Right to Life president Barbara Listing said Wednesday that women should purchase additional health insurance if they feared being raped, because the sexual crime was like a car accident.

    “Nobody plans to have an accident in a car accident, nobody plans to have their homes flooded. You have to buy extra insurance for those,” she told reporters.

  4. ecocatwoman says:

    All star fantastic post bb. What can I say but WOW!

    The shooting in Orlando took place less than 10 miles from my house. Considering the answers to what happened will be coming from the FBI I don’t expect we’ll ever get a true rendition of the shooting. Like you said yesterday, there seemed more than enough FBI guys to restrain Todashev. Of course, one “good guy” with a gun can stop a “bad guy” who is unarmed.

    With my past involvement with animal rights I can tell you that the mentality of survelliance, infiltration & prosecution of peaceful protesters, either for animal rights, the environment, anti-war or anti-discrimation, has always bothered me. All too often criminal and/or violent activities are blamed on those least likely to commit them. These are people who are primarily compassionate and are protesting against violence. Yet KKK & white supremacists get a pass until they actual kill a bunch of people. Logic? Why bother with that, it’s a waste of time for law enforcement.

    Going to catch a few winks & will return to savor your prose & the links. Thanks for such a rich post with important topics. Not sure I’m up for an Obama speech, but we’ll see if I can muster the fortitude necessary since I know the discussion here will sparkle with wit and intelligence unlike the idiotic media coverage all too often force fed to us daily.

  5. NW Luna says:

    Gene change identified in white tigers

    …The team identified a small alteration in the white-tiger version of SLC45A2 that appears to inhibit the production of red and yellow pigments. This change has no effect on the generation of black pigment – explaining why the whites still have their characteristic dark stripes.

    A number of the white tigers found in zoos have health issues, such as eyesight problems and some deformities. However, Luo and colleagues say these deficiencies are a consequence of inbreeding by humans and that the white coats are in no way indicative of a more general weakness in the Bengal variant. Establishing this fact means that re-introducing them to the wild under a carefully managed conservation programme might be worth considering.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Reintroducing? Okay that’s clearly STUPID! The first white tiger reported was by an Indian Rajah who was out on a tiger hunt. The tiger was captured and kept in captivity and bred. There were never, to my knowledge, many white tigers living in India. Seems to me to be a rare mutation. And because it’s rare, they’ve been bred in captivity like crazy or simply by crazy, greedy humans. And over breeding generally does lead to genetic problems cropping up (hemophilia in European royalty, hip dyplasia & cancer in certain breeds of purebred dogs, etc). When will humans stop messing with Mother Nature? All we do is fk it up. Additionally there are few places left for the wild tigers that remain in India. So, yeah, let’s release some without decent camouflage so they will be easier to slaughter. Rant off!

  6. bostonboomer says:

    A man and woman arrested in Woolrich on suspicion of conspiracy in yesterday’s incident.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22635318#TWEET766124

  7. Ugh, watching Gohmert on Cspan blather on about union bosses having secret conversations with government officials. Oohgggaaadahh boogadah. Now Steve Pearce touting Scott Walker as a victory over the unions….

  8. Gohmert…”one of the best moments in video…my friend Andrew breitbart….”

    Headdesk