Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of the notorious preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, Daniel Klaidman reports. Plus: the feds now know who “Misha” is.
As investigators sift through the lives of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trying to understand their radicalization and descent into violence, one clue almost seemed expected. Two U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that, during his hospital room interrogation, Dzhokhar told FBI agents that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The charismatic cleric was seen by the Obama administration as a uniquely dangerous terrorist because of his sermons (delivered in fluent, American-inflected English), his intuitive grasp of U.S. culture, and a burning desire to strike his birth nation.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators that he and his brother viewed the Internet sermons of the notorious preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. (AP)
It is unclear the extent to which—if at all—Awlaki’s preachings inspired the brothers to commit terrorism. Indeed, whatever his role, it is likely only a small piece of a complicated, multilayered puzzle. In recent days, there has been speculation that another piece of that puzzle could be a man known simply as “Misha,” whom relatives of the brothers have said held sway over Tamerlan. “This person just took his brain,” Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told CNN. “He just brainwashed him completely.” Now, The Daily Beast has learned that federal law enforcement officials have identified Misha—although one source suggested it might be a less important part of the case than previously thought.
As for Awlaki, while we don’t know the extent of his influence on the brothers, we do know that there is a long trail of hardened terrorists who have acknowledged coming under his sway. Among them are Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, and Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army officer who killed 13 people in a shooting spree at Fort Hood in 2009. Hasan, it turned out, had been in extensive email contact with Awlaki in the months before the shooting, but no evidence ever emerged that Awlaki knew about his deadly intentions.
Even if the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act and all 50 states legalize same-sex marriage, it will still be perfectly legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. Winnie Stachelberg on why it’s time to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.
Just two months before President Clinton would be reelected, the U.S. Senate held a vote on the anti-gay and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Less than an hour later, the Senate voted on a bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would finally prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. As we know, the Senate voted to pass DOMA, and just hours later, ENDA failed to pass the Senate—by a single vote.
Members of GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization, stage a protest on Capitol Hill, May 20, 2010, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty)
It was a double defeat that left our community disappointed, disaffected, and disheartened. I should know. I was there.
As the political director the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, I fiercely lobbied senators from both political parties that September to vote for ENDA, a commonsense bill that would make it illegal to fire someone from their job simply because they were gay.
A new Senate bill calls for background checks on explosives sales. That might prevent another terrorist bombing, but what about the millions of Americans who blow stuff up legally? Caitlin Dickson reports.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a bill on behalf of Sen. Frank Lautenberg that would require background checks on purchases of explosive materials and a permit to build homemade explosives. This bill illuminates the fact that, as of now, explosive powders, such those that were used in the Boston Marathon bombing, can be purchased easily and in large quantities (up to 50 pounds, to be exact) without a background check. If that sounds crazy to some, there are many others who say they depend on explosives for their (entirely legal) livelihoods. They include:
Flames leap and car parts fly as a pipe bomb is detonated inside it Tuesday, May 6, 1997, in Rosemount, Minn. (Jim Mone/AP)
The Farmers Who Grow Your Vegetables
One of the biggest markets for explosives and the materials used to make them is the farming community. Dynamite and other explosives are used to demolish beaver dams that can flood farms and kill off other rodents, while ammonium nitrate—which is currently being investigated as the cause of the West, Texas, explosion that killed 14 people earlier this month—is inexpensive and commonly used as fertilizer. Farmers may also use explosives to loosen soil or break up boulders and tree stumps that get in the way of sowing crops.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on the list, but so are 700,000 other names. Daniel Klaidman on what the terror list can and can’t do.
It was meant as a post-9/11 reform. The TIDE terror list was established to be the federal government’s central repository for information about suspected or actual terrorists who could pose a threat to the United States. TIDE, an acronym for the clumsily named Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, was part of a government overhaul to end the kind of bureaucratic stovepiping and communications failures that became evident after the attacks. At the time, there were as many as a dozen separate watch lists strewn across the government, many of which were not accessible to the very federal agencies charged with defending the country against terrorism. Consolidating the data into a master list, officials argued, would minimize the chances that potential terrorists could slip through the cracks.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, center, and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, second from left, are show at the site of the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, approximately 10-20 minutes before the blast. (Bob Leonard/AP)
But the Boston Marathon case illustrates the limitations of terror watch lists in a democracy where keeping tabs on potential terrorists must be balanced against the civil liberties of citizens. Moreover, in some ways the establishment of the massive, unwieldy list has created other problems that work at cross purposes with its original objective.
Reuters has reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers implicated in last week’s bombings, had been listed in the TIDE system as far back as 2011. Initially, Russian authorities asked the FBI to look into him. They suspected he’d become a radicalized Islamist and feared he might turn to violence in Russia. But an FBI investigation, including interviews with Tamerlan and some of his relatives, turned up nothing to support the Russians’ claim. On multiple occasions after that, the FBI sought additional information from the Russians but never heard back. Absent more evidence, officials say, agents were barred from using more intrusive investigative techniques like wiretaps or undercover informants. Then, in August 2011, the FSB, Russia’s state security service, made a nearly identical request of the CIA, which ran its traps on Tamerlan but also came up empty. The brief episode prompted the agency to “nominate” Tamerlan for inclusion on the TIDE list. His inclusion in the database, which is overseen by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, is prompting questions about whether he should have been more prominent on the FBI’s radar screen—especially after returning from a six-month trip to his native Russia in 2012.
Two weeks after Boston, Barack Obama will have to walk a line between heartfelt and funny at this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. For Clinton speechwriter Mark Katz, that’s an eerily familiar challenge.
Around noon on Friday, April 28, 1995, I was the first to arrive outside the Oval Office. The president’s longtime secretary Betty Currie greeted me with what was in the process of becoming a ritual: “Hey, Funny Man!,” she exclaimed, whereupon I snapped my head around to see if a funny person was indeed standing behind me. A moment later, the president popped his head out of the door to hand something off to her and saw me standing there, a clutch of papers in hand.
Barbara Kinney/The White House
“Hey Mark, do you have a funny speech for me there?”
“Yes I do, sir!” I said enthusiastically. Despite the fact that I was the president’s designated humor speechwriter, I wasn’t quick enough to say anything funnier than that.
The Oklahoma City Federal Building tragedy kept this hilarious Mark Katz classic from being delivered.
(Undelivered) Remarks of President Bill Clinton
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner
April 29, 1995
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I especially want to welcome those viewers watching this speech live on C-SPAN.
Welcome. Welcome. Welcome. There, I think that’s everybody.
I know that calling the White House press corps together in one room in these days of an ambitious Republican Congress raises the relevant question: is the President funny? You bet I am. The Constitution makes me funny. The power of the presidency makes me funny. And if that weren’t enough, Warren Christopher and Janet Reno spent the afternoon punching up my material.
Most of you also know that Mike McCurry and his wife Debra just gave birth to their third child, Christopher, last Friday. So it won’t be long before young Chris is old enough to work in the press office.
Mike has served me well and I trust he’s done the same for you. I particularly liked his new policy, instructing the press office staff to send him a note each day chronicling a good deed they’ve done for the press corps—or kick in a dollar to a pizza fund.
This of course was an expansion of my idea, where each day everyone at the White House kicks in a dollar and we just order pizzas.
By and large, Mike’s plan has really had some great results. I’d like to share with you tonight some of the notes the press staff has sent to Mike in the past few months:
• To Mike from Ginny: I told Wolf that—Ito or no Ito—he’s still got the best looking beard on CNN.
• To Mike from George: I snubbed Eleanor Clift in public, just like she asked me to.
• To Mike from Rica: I told Brian Williams that when the Klieg lights hit him in a certain way, he looks just like Tom Brokaw.
• To Mike from Rahm: I held the door open for Elizabeth Drew............She still wouldn’t leave my office.
However, because not every person was able to meet Mike’s challenge every day, there was about twenty bucks in the pizza fund. The First Lady offered to manage the fund. She has invested it wisely and I’m pleased to announce we’ll be serving surf and turf instead.
Bipartisan buddies John McCain and Chuck Schumer say their immigration bill—pathway to citizenship included—will pass, despite doubts after the Boston bombing. Eleanor Clift reports.
The two senior senators leading the effort for immigration reform, New York’s Chuck Schumer and Arizona’s John McCain, said Thursday that immigration questions raised in the aftermath of the Boston bombing will not deter their effort, and that they think they can get 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million people who are now in the country illegally.
Senators Chuck Schumer and John McCain speak in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2013. (Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor, via Getty)
Schumer did the math: He counts 50-plus Democrats plus six to eight Republicans who would get them to the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, but that’s not his goal.
“We’re looking not to get 60 votes–that’s the minimum,” Schumer, a Democrat, said as he raised the stakes, adding, “It would be wonderful if we could get a majority on both sides.”
The former presidential contender is back, this time as head of a new ‘institute’ for ‘peace’ comprised of anti-Semites, 9/11 truthers, and dictator lovers. James Kirchick reports.
In December 2011, when Ron Paul was leading the Republican presidential-primary pack in the Iowa caucuses, the former Texas congressman’s notorious newsletters resurfaced in the national debate.
Ron Paul speaks during a rally in August at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida in Tampa. (Joe Raedle/Getty, file)
The newsletters’ content—a toxic stew of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sympathy for right-wing militia movements, and support for a litany of conspiracy theories—had been revealed by this writer in 2008. But Paul’s latter-day resurgence, particularly with young voters and the Tea Party, provoked a renewed round of interest in his shady associations and fringe beliefs. The title of a front-page article in The New York Times, “Paul Disowns Extremists’ Views but Doesn’t Disavow the Support,” neatly encapsulated Paul’s strategy of appealing to the far right while stopping just short of explicitly endorsing their views.
The Times story focused on the role of Lew Rockwell, Paul’s former congressional chief of staff and later vice president of the company Ron Paul & Associates, which published the newsletters. Paul always denied authorship, insisting that unknown staffers produced the publication; several sources subsequently fingered Rockwell, now the head of a small think tank in Alabama called the Ludwig von Mises Institute, as the lead writer. In an interview with the Times, Paul distanced himself from Rockwell. “They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people,” he said of Rockwell and Murray Rothbard, another libertarian writer who published a separate newsletter with Rockwell that, among other Lost Causes, supported the gubernatorial candidacy of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. “I thought, we’re so small, why shouldn’t we be talking to everybody and bringing people together?”
The exhibits at his new presidential library provide the proof that he did more than a pretty good job. Take a tour with Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon.
Mention the name George W. Bush in mixed company, and you're likely to spark a lot of debate and emotion—hot and cold, good and bad. Not a lot of neutral reaction. He was elected in the most controversial contest in American electoral history and governed during one of the most tumultuous decades. And so, not surprisingly, people have strong opinions about him.
Steel beams from the World Trade Center are dispalyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks portion of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas on April 24. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)
But as time has passed, and we take a step back and view those times and events in the rear-view mirror, a more balanced picture is emerging, reflected in a poll released this week by The Washington Post. That is why history's evaluation of political leaders like Winston Churchill and Harry Truman are so much different that the judgment they received during their tenure.
George W. Bush is not preoccupied with his legacy—nor with his popularity. He never has been. He has always led based on core conviction and strong principles and has believed that time and distance would allow for context.
Sure, it might be more difficult for the Democrats to hold on to their majority in the Senate without Max Baucus. But liberals, the Montana senator was never your friend, so don’t mourn his departure, says Jamelle Bouie.
The stereotypical congressperson is venal, petty, self-interested, and oblivious to the consequences of his or her actions. In other words, a terrible person.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D–Montana) presides while Treasury secretary nominee Jack Lew testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in February. (Melina Mara/the Washington Post, via Getty)
In reality, this isn’t fair. Are most lawmakers compromised in one way or another? Yes. Are most angling for whatever political advantage they can take? Absolutely. But by and large, the people we send to Congress are doing the best they can to do good work and represent their constituents.
Montana Sen. Max Baucus, however, isn’t one of them.
Below is a guest post from Robert W. Patterson on how contemporary conservatives incorrectly remember the legacy of the Republican Party of the 1950s-1980s.
When reminiscing about the “good-old days,” Republicans often recall the 1980s, when the Reagan coalition won three presidential landslides. But to get back in the game, party leaders may need to look farther back — to a deeper GOP magic of which the Gipper and George H. W. Bush were the last acts.
GOP dominance in national elections after World War II did not start with Dutch Reagan but actually peaked with him. In the presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, Republican candidates went 7 for 10, and averaged 367 electoral votes. Since 1992, Republicans have gone 2 for 6 — 1 for 6 in the popular vote — and their electoral-vote average has plummeted to 211.
Their epic battle ended in 2008. But the forces of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are squaring off anew in L.A., splitting over mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti. David Freedlander reports.
Call it Game Change: Hollywood.
Five years after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s epic primary battle captivated the nation and tore apart longtime Democratic allies, the two sides are squaring off again. The prize this time is not the Democratic nomination for president but the mayoralty of Los Angeles.
(L-R) Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. (Getty; AP)
Over the weekend, former president Bill Clinton stumped in the city for city comptroller Wendy Greuel, a staffer in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during his administration. The duo hosted a town hall meeting and made a requisite stop at Langer’s Deli downtown. While they were out on the hustings, David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 effort and a top adviser during his first term, tweeted: “Not an Angeleno but will never forget Eric Garcetti bundled up during frigid last days of Iowa, canvassing relentlessly for then Sen Obama.”
The Newtown tragedy has prompted 15 states to loosen gun restrictions. Miranda Green on why the pro-gun side is winning.
If you live in Arkansas, you can now carry a concealed gun into a bar, or a liquor store—or a church.
“If you look at firearm sales over the last couple of years they have skyrocketed. Look at the number of people who have applied for and received concealed-carry permits, it certainly appears to anybody that more Americans are purchasing firearms.” Concealed weapons training class in West Valley City, Utah, 2012. (George Frey/Getty)
College staffers can bring guns on campus. Folks with a permit from other states can pack heat in Arkansas without filing any paperwork.
These are among the half-dozen legal changes in the state that passed only four months since the Newtown massacre, and Arkansas has plenty of company. While the Senate failed to pull the trigger on expanded background checks last week, 15 states have already passed 25 gun rights measures this year.
The week of shock and sympathy after the Boston bombing is over—now vitriol is in and unity is out. Howard Kurtz on how politicians and pundits need to find someone to blame.
Bill O’Reilly, by his own admission, was so “angry” that it was driving him “crazy.”
In the wake of the Boston bombing, he was upset at Tom Brokaw for saying the country should examine its use of drones that are killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and turning young people against America.
From left: Rush Limbaugh, Tom Brokaw, and Bill O'Reilly. (AP (1); Getty (2))
“Let me get this straight, Tom,” the Fox News host thundered. “We shouldn’t use drones to attack al Qaeda leadership or Taliban terrorists hiding in the mountains of Pakistan? We shouldn’t do that? So how exactly would you fight the war against terrorism, Tom? Do you want to invade Pakistan?”
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.