TODAY   |  April 20, 2013

Questions surround FBI records on suspected bomber

NBC national security analyst Michael Leiter joins TODAY to discuss new information released by the FBI regarding a past inquiry into the life of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> what are investigators doing now? michael leiter served as the director of the national counterterrorism center under presidents bush and obama. good morning to you.

>> good morning, matt.

>> let's talk about something else that's come up. the older brother, tamerlan, came onto the fbi radar back in 2011 . i know you have a copy of something now that i have as well. this is a statement from the fbi . the question is once he came on the radar, what happened to him? bear with me. this is from the fbi . once the fbi learned the identities of the two brothers today, the fbi reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011 a foreign government asked fbi for information about tamerlan tsarnaev. it was based on information that he was a follower of radical islam and strong believer and he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the united states for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups. where did it go from there, michael?

>> a couple of points, matt. first, we have to put this in context. the fbi and the national counterterrorism center that i led receives about 10,000 pieces of intelligence on terrorism each day so this was one of those. what the fbi did was interview him, try to get more information from the foreign intelligence service that provided this tip, probably looked at some of his communications. they didn't see any further indication of terrorist intent and at that point they dropped the investigation.

>> that's the question. they drop it completely. i think some people might say doesn't he remain on some kind of a list? even if it's on the end. now when bombings in boston take place you go back to that list and say we know this guy lives in boston .

>> i think that's absolutely right. i don't know if that occurred. my take is it should have. you would be looking at the area around boston or did you have any individuals that were accused of being radicalized in the past. there's certainly the case. i'm sure there will be lots of questions about whether the fbi went far enough and did enough investigation before the fact and i do have great sympathy for them because there are legal restrictions and substantive challenges to keeping surveillance and the like on everyone that you have a report of potentially being radicalized.

>> they say the fbi did not find terrorism activity domestic or foreign and those results were provided to the foreign government that brought him to the attention in the first place in the summer of 2011 . the fact that the fbi is issuing a statement like this this morning makes it clear they know they will be questioned about this over the coming days.

>> they do. it's absolutely fair to look back at this and figure out if we could have done something better. it's always possible that something did go wrong. what i would urge having lived through this personally in other situations, we have to show a little bit of patience and a little bit of nuance in our understanding of the practical and legal challenges that the fbi faces every day with many people like this individual.

>> well put. message received. thanks very much.