Isn’t that a gorgeous photo? There was a double rainbow over Boston last night, and quite a few people took photos and videos of it. Here’s another shot of it over the harbor and seaport.
You can see more views of it here.
Some people said the rainbow must be a positive sign for the Boston Bruins, who are in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. It didn’t work out that way though. The Blackhawks ended up winning game one, after what seemed like an endless triple-overtime hockey game.
In other local news, yesterday was the first day of the trial of 83-year-old Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Opening statements were apparently riveting. It’s a shame the federal courts won’t allow TV cameras, because this trial is going to be an incredible show. Yesterday both sides gave their opening statements. From The Washington Post:
BOSTON — The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the Irish mob boss who allegedly helped scratch out 19 lives and ran this city’s underworld aided by corrupt FBI agents, got underway Wednesday morning almost 20 years after he fled the city on the eve of his indictment.
Now 83 and with just a bit of white hair left, Bulger wore a long-sleeve green shirt and jeans and listened without displaying any reaction as prosecutors laid out their 32 charges against him in a packed South Boston federal courtroom near the gangster’s old hangouts.
“It’s a case about organized crime, public corruption and all types of illegal activities,” federal prosecutor Brian Kelly said during opening statements. “He was no ordinary leader. He did the dirty work himself. He was a hands-on killer.”
Kelly told the story of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, who prayed for his life before he was led to a cellar stairwell. “Barrett’s going downstairs to lie down for a while,” Bulger told an accomplice. Barrett walked down the stairs, and Bulger shot him the back, Kelly said.
Bulger’s rise as the city’s brutal organized crime leader was aided and abetted by corrupt FBI agents, who brushed off Bulger’s racketeering and violence in exchange for his help as an informant to bring down the local mafia, according to a lengthy ruling by a federal judge and other investigations.
On the defense side, (Hartford Courant)
Bulger lawyer Jay Carney made it clear in his remarks to the jury that much of the crime boss’s defense will be spent trying to discredit the government’s three chief witnesses. They are close former Bulger associates who agreed to turn on him for leniency or other considerations.
Carney argued to the jury that the three — John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks — will say whatever they think the government wants in order to protect their cooperation agreements. Among other things, he said, they are accusing Bulger of their crimes.
Martorano was sentenced to 14 years in prison for 20 murders. Weeks, once a Bulger protégé, got a shorter sentence for less serious offenses. Flemmi, Bulger’s long-time partner, got a life sentence, but was not exposed to possible death sentences for crimes in Florida and Oklahoma related to the gang’s attempt to takeover World Jai Alai, once one of the country’s largest pari-mutuel businesses.
Carney compared the federal prosecutors to chefs and the three witnesses to elaborately prepared meals.
‘What [we] are going to try to do is show you what happens in the prosecutors’ kitchen before the witness comes out,” Carney said.
I guess I’ve bored you with enough Boston news for today. Let’s see what’s happening in the rest of the world. Read the rest of this entry »
In this post, I’m going to pull together a number of facts, along with some speculation, to demonstrate how alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be connected to a gruesome 2011 triple murder in Waltham MA, and how the murders are likely to be tied to drugs and drug dealing whether or not the Tsarnaevs were involved. I will suggest possible connections between the murders and two major drug busts that took place in the Waltham-Watertown area in 2011.
The reason this is important is that the FBI clearly wants very badly to pin the murders on the Tsarnaev brothers and Ibragim Todashev. I say this for two reasons:
1. The FBI has taken over the investigation of the murders, supposedly cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
2. On May 21 in Orlando, FL, an FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man who was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev when they both lived in the Boston area. Anonymous sources have told multiple media outlets that the FBI was questioning Todahev about the Waltham murders and that he had “implicated himself” was about to sign a confession to his involvement before he was killed.
I want to emphasize that I am not at all convinced that the Tsarnaev brothers or Todashev had anything to do with the Waltham murders; but it’s clear that the FBI thinks so, and they have more information than I do. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that if the Tsarnaevs were involved, it’s likely to be because of a drug connection rather than anything to do with Islamic “extremism” or terrorism. I also don’t believe the Boston Marathon bombings were inspired by Islamic “extremism,” but that’s a topic for another post.
NOTE: Please treat this as a regular morning reads post. As always, use the comment thread to discuss what I’ve written and/or post your own news links on any topic.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Connections to the Waltham Triple Murder
Law enforcement officials have said that they now suspect that Tamerlan Tsarnaev–and perhaps his younger brother Dzhokhar as well–may have been involved in the the murders of three men in Waltham, one of whom, Brendan Mess, was a fellow boxer and good friend of Tamerlan’s. It has even been suggested that authorities have DNA evidence that could connect both brothers to the crime.
The murders of the three men, Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37, took place on either September 11 or 12, 2011. The men’s throats were cut and their bodies were littered with large quantities of marijuana. In addition, $5,000 in cash was found in the apartment.
In my opinion it is most likely the motive for these murders had to do with drugs. There is evidence that each of the victims was not only a drug user but also at least a small-time drug dealer, active in the underground economy. If Tamerlan was a frequent visitor at this apartment, he was well aware of this; and there is evidence that Tamerlan and his family were also active in the underground economy.
One obvious question is why, if this were a drug-related murder, the perpetrators would leave behind large quantities of marijuana and cash. However, Brendan Mess’ girlfriend told the Boston Globe that Mess and Weissman had hidden in the apartment “a much larger amount of cash. She could not estimate how much.” Therefore, it’s possible that a large quantity of money was taken, and the marijuana and remaining case were left in the apartment to send some sort of message.
A second question is why Tamerlan would kill his close friend. It has been reported that after he turned to religion and gave up drinking and smoking pot, Tamerlan became judgmental about his friend’s lifestyle choices. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar apparently had gone through some type of emotional transition that allowed them to kill and injure total strangers with bombs. Perhaps they grew to see their friends as somehow expendable also.
Mutual friends of Tamerlan and Brendan Mess said they noticed dramatic changes in Tamerlan after the murders. He did not go to Mess’ funeral and he seemed to drop out of sight, no longer going to the gyms he usually worked or staying in touch with former friends. One friend told Rosie Gray of Buzzfeed that immediately after the murders, Waltham detectives who questioned him told him that Tamerlan “may have been with Mess either the day of or the night before” the murders, so Tamerlan was apparently on law enforcement’s radar at the time.
The Waltham Victims and Drugs
As I’ve noted, the three murdered men each had a history of drug use and drug dealing as well as other run-ins with the law. According to The Boston Globe, Erik Weissman was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in 2008 and at the time he told police he had previously been arrested for possession. In 2011, Weissman was in trouble again.
According to court records reviewed by the Globe, on Jan. 17, 2011, Boston police searched Weissman’s Roslindale apartment and seized more than $21,000 in cash, along with drug paraphernalia and a wide assortment of drugs, including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, and Oxycontin.
After the bust, Weissman was broke and homeless, so he moved in with Mess. One important caveat: Weissman’s attorney told the Globe that Weissman was not trying to resolve his case by informing on anyone. He argued that the murders therefore could not be “an act of retribution by a drug supplier who may have been involved with Weissman.”
Also according to the Globe, Raphael Teken did not live with Mess and Weissman; he lived at another address in Waltham, “and two neighbors who asked to remain anonymous said they believed he was a drug dealer, saying he rarely left the house and had a steady stream of visitors.”
Brendan Mess had also been in trouble, though not for drugs. According to the Globe:
On a Sunday afternoon in summer 2010, Brendan H. Mess, a close friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a specialist in mixed martial arts, was walking along a Cambridge street when he came face to face with a police officer. The patrolman was investigating a complaint that Mess, then 24, had attacked a group of people near Inman Square, breaking one man’s nose and leaving another with a bloody mouth.
Rather than cooperate, Mess began yelling at the officer, at one point saying, “I can knock you out if I wanted to,” according to the officer’s report. Soon, three additional officers arrived, and Mess was hit with a chemical spray, wrestled to the ground, and handcuffed.
Even then, police said, Mess continued threatening the officers.
Finally, Mess and Weissman told another friend shortly before the murders that they had big plans for their future in the drug trade. From NPR:
Christopher Medeiros, who described himself a close friend of Mess, said he believes the killings were drug-related. He said Mess and another one of the victims, Erik Weissman, were marijuana dealers and had been trying to start a major growing operation.
“The Friday before he died, (Mess) told me, ‘Listen, I’m getting ready to make this big move,’” Medeiros said. “And I think that’s what cost him his life.”
No, Keating didn’t come out and say it exactly like that, but he made it pretty clear yesterday that he has he has gotten just about zero information from the FBI since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.
Keating, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had just returned from a trip to Russia with a delegation of House members led by California Rep. Dana Rohrbacker. The delegation also included Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn; Steve King, R-Iowa; Paul Cook, R-Calif.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. The purpose of the trip was to
examine some of the apparent gaps in intelligence sharing between the United States and Russia. The Russians had warned the US in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a potential extremist.
“If there was a distrust, or lack of cooperation because of that distrust, between the Russian intelligence and the FBI, then that needs to be fixed and we will be talking about that,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is leading the trip, told ABC News, which first reported details of the trip.
“Our goal is to use Boston as an example, if indeed there was something more, that should’ve been done that wasn’t because of a bad attitude,” Rohrabacher added
Wesley Lowery of the Boston Globe reports that at a press conference at Logan airport after his arrival in Boston Keating noted that:
FBI agents in Boston have yet to provide information about why Tamerlan Tsarnaev was able to move freely in and out of the country after US officials were warned about him, or about the May 22 fatal shooting of one of his friends in Orlando, Representative William R. Keating said on Saturday after returning from a trip to Russia to meet with that country’s top intelligence officials.
In contrast, Keating said Russian officials were anxious to be helpful.
Keating said officials with the Russian Federal Security Service provided details about how they warned US intelligence agents in 2010 that they believed Tsarnaev was preparing to join a terrorist cell in Dagestan, in southern Russia….[and] said he was impressed with what he saw as the forthcoming nature of the Russian intelligence officials. Meanwhile, he said, FBI officials were absent from Capitol Hill hearings about the bombings.
“We had a hearing on homeland security and [the Boston FBI office] were invited,” Keating said. When asked whether agents from the office had shown up, he responded: “No.”
It doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?
Meanwhile, the FBI was involved in a fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev, an important witness who may have had valuable information about the Tsarnaev brothers, the Marathon bombing, and perhaps even a triple murder that took place in Waltham, MA in 2011. Since the shooting, we’ve gotten nothing but obfuscation from the FBI, with anonymous sources leaking contradictory claims about who was present at the shooting and what actually happened. I detailed the various accounts in a post on Thursday.
Keating said he hasn’t been briefed on that by the FBI either, but he did learn from the Russians that they had given Todashev’s name to the U.S. back in April.
Keating said that Ibragim Todashev, the 27-year-old friend of Tsarnaev who was shot and killed by an FBI agent in Orlando on May 22, was mentioned by name in intelligence exchanges between US and Russian officials on April 21. The nature of that citation, he said, remains unclear.
While senior members of the intelligence committee are often given classified briefings on controversial FBI actions, Keating said he has received none from the FBI on the Todashev killing.
A little more on the letter that mentioned Todashev, from The Boston Herald:
Todashev was one of many Russian nationals named in the April 21 letter to U.S. officials, said Keating.
Keating said the missive was not a warning letter about Todashev, but he told the Herald his name came up during intelligence information sharing.
“It was just clear that his name was referenced among others in that letter. It could have been in response to the FBI asking them what they knew,” Keating said, adding it was unclear why Russia shared the information. “We’ll be able to get these letters.”
Keating said he spent more than an hour with Russia’s counterterrorism director and a top deputy at FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, who both candidly shared information on Tsarnaev, his association with militants and his visit to Russia last year.
“I never thought we’d get that level of information and cooperation from the Russians,” Keating said.
Previously, Keating had learned through private channels that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had had contact with two other islamic “extremists.”
Keating said the staffers discovered — through unofficial, nongovernment sources — that Tamerlan Tsarnaev first came on the radar of the Russian security officials when they started questioning William Plotnikov, a Canadian boxer who was linked with extremist groups in Russia.
The Russians then discovered that Tsarnaev was active on a jihadist website and listed his home in the United States. That led to the initial tip from the Russians, who asked the FBI for more information about Tsarnaev.
Tsarnaev later traveled to Dagestan and he met with both Plotnikov, as well as another extremist, Mansur Mukhamed Nidal, according to the findings from the congressional staffers.
Plotnikov and Nidal were later killed in separate skirmishes with the Russians. Tsarnaev left Russia shortly after Plotnikov’s death.
So, to summarize, the information we know about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia has come either from Russian intelligence officials or independent research by Keating staffers. The Russians have reportedly been surprisingly forthcoming and anxious to help.
Meanwhile, we’ve gotten no explanation from the FBI or Homeland Security of how Tsarnaev managed to fly out of JFK airport and back with no alarms being set off–despite the fact that he was on two terrorist watch lists.
Furthermore, the FBI has killed a man who may have had valuable information about Tsarnaev and they refuse to explain the circumstances under which he was killed. Instead they are “investigating” and they say the “investigation” could take months.
What is wrong with this picture?
We’re heading into a heat wave here in the Boston area. It’s supposed to be hot and humid for the next few days with temps in the high 80s or low 90s. It will be a shock to my system, since it has been rather chilly here recently.
I’m going to focus on the ongoing Boston bombing story again, but you can treat this as a regular morning reads post/open thread. Don’t feel you have to comment on this topic. I haven’t paid much attention to other news for a few days, so I hope you’ll update me on the latest news in the comment thread!
A week ago, I wrote a post about the death of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed in an apartment in Orlando, FL by an FBI agent from Boston in the early hours of Wednesday May 22. Todashev was being questioned by representatives of the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, and “other law enforcement personnel” about his relationship with deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and possible connections to an unsolved 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts. Todashev had reportedly been questioned for hours on Tuesday and was shot shortly after midnight. The FBI had been following him for about a month, calling him daily and questioning him on several different occasions.
At the time I wrote that post, there was a great deal of confusion about the circumstances of the shooting and that confusion has only increased during the past week. At first, anonymous law enforcement sources claimed Todashev had been killed after he attacked the agent with a knife. By he next day sources were walking back that claim, some saying Todashev had something in his hand but it wasn’t a knife, others suggesting it was a pipe or something similar.
I’ve been following this story closely, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Presumably, the events in question were fairly straightforward. A man was shot dead with at least four–perhaps more–law enforcement officers present. How hard would it be to figure out if the dead man had a knife in his hand or not? Something was obviously not right.
During the past week, the reported details of the Todashev shooting have continued to change. On May 25, the Boston Globe offered a new version of events, again based on anonymous sources.
An FBI agent from the bureau’s Boston office fired the shot, or shots, that killed a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev early Wednesday morning during an interview about an unsolved Waltham homicide, say officials briefed on the investigation.
Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter formerly from Allston and Cambridge, was shot in the kitchen of his apartment after overturning a table and attacking the agent with a blade, the officials said. The Globe has reported that the shooting came after Todashev had implicated himself in a grisly 2011 triple homicide in Waltham. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was friendly with one of the Waltham victims, and authorities suspect he may also have taken part in the slayings.
Two law enforcement officials said that the Boston FBI agent felt he was in grave danger when Todashev attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.
“This was a tough guy; he was a dangerous individual,” one law enforcement official said, speaking of Todashev. The official asked not to be named because the official was not authorized to discuss the case.
Okay, but with at least four trained law enforcement officers present, why was it necessary to kill a potentially valuable witness? Is it really credible that they couldn’t control one not very large (about 5’8″) man?
Yesterday morning there was another version. In this one, first reported by Fox Boston, Todashev not only knocked over a table, but also slammed the FBI agent’s head into a wall and attacked him with a sword. Yes, a sword. As in previous stories, the claim was that Todashev had been about to sign a confession about his involvement in the Waltham murders when things got out of control.
During the interview, investigators took notes and everything appeared to be going well. Eventually, Todashev was asked to write down, in his own handwriting and in his own words, what he had been telling authorities about his role in the murders when in the words of one source – all hell broke loose.
Todashev allegedly began writing, but then flipped a table over, knocking the Boston FBI agent into the wall hitting his head.
FOX 25′s Bob Ward was told the agent looked up to see Todashev waving in his direction what was described as a Banzai ceremonial sword.
Fearing for his life, the FBI agent drew his weapon and fatally shot Todashev. The entire incident taking only seconds.
During the course of the day, the story continued to change as more anonymous “sources” weighed in. WESH Orlando’s “sources” told a slight different tale than Fox Boston’s.
Sources said Todashev might have been lunging toward a sword, but he was not in possession of it.
Law enforcement officials said Todashev was in the process of confessing to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., and was working on writing out the details of the crime when he snapped and turned violent.
Officials said Todashev pushed a table and possibly threw a chair.
Sources said a sword was inside the apartment, but the weapon was moved to the corner of the room before questioning began. Law enforcement said when Todashev lunged, the FBI agent believed he could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room, and that’s when the agent opened fire.
Because of course the best law enforcement technique is to move any sharp objects to the corner of the room before questioning a suspect? WTF?!
Finally, last night several news outlets–among them The Washington Post–reported that Todashev had been unarmed when he was shot.
One law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Wednesday that Todashev lunged at the agent and overturned a table. But the official said Todashev did not have a gun or a knife. A second official also said Todashev was unarmed.
An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.
The shooting followed hours of questioning by the law enforcement officials that had begun the night before.
And exactly why did the other officers “step out of the room?” The source doesn’t say.
This story is becoming just plain ridiculous, and as Emptywheel wrote yesterday, it makes the FBI look just plain stupid. Last night on twitter, someone compared it to the old “Get Smart” recurring bit, “Would you believe…”
— streetwiseprof (@streetwiseprof) May 30, 2013
But as ridiculous as this story seems, we need to understand that something like this could happen to any one of us. A man was killed in an apartment with multiple law enforcement officers present, and after more than a week, we still don’t know for sure what happened.
At 7PM yesterday, the Florida chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) held a press conference with Todashev’s wife, her mother, and a close friend of Todashev’s in attendance and called for the Department of Justice to initiate a civil rights investigation of the shooting.
[T]he Tampa director of that group said not only was 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev unarmed when he was shot by the agent May 22, he was hit seven times, including once in the head….the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter on Wednesday cited unnamed sources within the FBI as saying Todashev was not armed at the time of the shooting.
“We did confirm today with sources within the FBI that he was unarmed,” CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Hassan Shibly told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon. Later, Shibly told reporters that CAIR has an “intermediary” who said the FBI told him Todashev was unarmed. Shibly did not identify the intermediary.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Shibly showed what he said were photos of Todashev’s body after the shooting. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner’s office released the body to Todashev’s next of kin, he said.
The photographer was Khusen Taramov — a friend of Todashev’s who lives in Kissimmee — and photos show at least a dozen wounds, although some may have been exit wounds, Shibly said.
In addition, Todashev’s widow Reniya Manukyan claimed that she has evidence to show that her husband could not have committed the murders in Waltham in September 2011.
Todashev’s widow said Wednesday that she has records proving her husband was with her in Atlanta on Sept. 11, 2011, so he could not have been in Massachusetts on the day of the triple killing. Manukyan was married to Todashev for about three years, she said.
In another interaction on Twitter last night Boston Globe reporter Wesley Lowery told me he wasn’t ready to accept the latest version of events until he can independently confirm it from official sources. His reporting on the Boston bombing generally and the Todashev story specifically has been very good, and I’ll be watching to see what he finds out.
Once again, I’ve used up most of my space on a Boston bombing story, but I still have room for a few more quick links, with an emphasis on law enforcement and civil liberties.
Cory Doctorow: Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state. At the link you can watch a short, powerful documentary about public surveillance in the UK.
Rob Fischer at The New Yorker: Watching the Detectives–a piece about “Floyd v. Floyd v. City of New York, a landmark challenge to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies.”
NYT: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I. Obama is about to nominate James Comey as FBI Director–a man who was in the Bush DOJ during the torture deliberations.
Emptywheel: When NYT Accused Jim Comey of Approving Torture
And another Boston link: Dirty Old Boston Facebook page shows the city as it really was