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The mastermind behind the Boston bombing lived on taxpayer money, but the government won't say how much welfare he received or for how long – because the state of Massachusetts is protecting the privacy of the man who collected public assistance while he plotted to kill Americans.
A picture is beginning to emerge of the taxpayer-funded assistance given to the two men accused of the Boston bombings, even as government agencies stonewall requests for information.
The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that dead terrorist suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his wife and young daughter all collected welfare until 2012.
Tamerlan and his now-hospitalized brother, suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also received benefits through their parents for an unknown period of time after they came to the U.S. about 10 years ago.
After those revelations, Massachusetts state agencies refused to provide any more information, citing the dead man's right to privacy.
A Democratic congressman from Massachusetts chided the administration of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
"It's certainly relevant information that should be made public," U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., told the Herald.
"There's a national security interest, No. 1. Secondly, there's also a public interest in finding out whether these individuals were able to exploit the system and get benefits they weren't entitled to."
The paper then made a number of inquiries and found:
- Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his wife and 3-year-old daughter received EBT (food stamp) benefits that ended in 2012. State welfare spokesman Alec Loftus declined further comment.
- Labor Department spokesman Kevin Franck refused to say whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev ever collected unemployment compensation. He said it was "confidential and not a matter of public record."
- Asked about college aid given to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth spokesman Robert Connolly said, "It is our position — and I believe the accepted position in higher education — that student records including academic records and financial records (including financial aid) cannot under federal law be released without a student's consent."
- The Federal Communications Commission would not say whether either brother had a government-funded cell phone, also citing privacy laws.
- Cambridge officials and the family's landlord wouldn't say whether the brothers were ever on Section 8 housing assistance.
Nonetheless, taxpayers are now paying for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's court-appointed attorneys and his medical bills at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
And the public paid for the attorney who successfully fought criminal charges in 2009 when Tamerlan Tsarnaev was suspected of battering a former girlfriend.
However, it remains unclear whether taxpayer money was used to finance the April 15 terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 260.
It's also unclear whether the brothers were part of larger group or jihadist network, and the government may be the one making that more difficult, too.
The biggest controversy in the investigation into the terror attack is the decision by the federal government to read Miranda rights to the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and choose to try him in criminal court rather than designate him an enemy combatant and put him on trial before a military tribunal.
WND reported Saturday that Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., had urged President Obama to hold the surviving brother as a potential enemy combatant, denying him a government-appointed attorney and other legal rights under the "Law of War" so investigators could learn about other possible attacks.
"The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent," they agreed.
However, as WND reported two days later, the Justice Department announced Tsarnaev was arraigned in his hospital room on one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death.
As WND also reported, the timing was a bit odd, according to Andrew C. McCarthy, the lead U.S. prosecutor in the case against Omar Abdel Rahman and his collaborators in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
"It would have been good to keep him out of the criminal justice system for as long as they could have," McCarthy told WND.
"There was no question he was going into the civilian criminal justice system. I would have held him out for as long as it took to get effective intelligence, an effective interrogation of him. I have no way of knowing what information they actually got from him. I wouldn't have been in a rush to bring him into the system, but I don't think there was any question that he was going to be in the system."
McCarthy said it's not actually clear whether Tsarnaev should have been quickly labeled as an enemy combatant, given the definition of that term dictated by Congress in the wake of 9/11.
He said he's not concerned that reading Tsarnaev his Miranda rights would jeopardize a conviction, given the apparent mountain of evidence against him.
As for discovering whether the brothers were part of a network, McCarthy counseled patience even though others are convinced that radical elements in Chechnya are involved, and some insist the Saudi national questioned shortly after the bombing was highly involved.
"All pronouncements about who's involved and who's not involved that are made within days of the event have almost always been wrong. People who have been through this kind of a process before know that you have to roll up your sleeves and start doing real, comprehensive investigative work. Remember, we didn't even know who these guys were. We didn't know their names until Friday," he said.
McCarthy also noted how the investigation really should have been much more extensive before the bombing. The FBI is coming under scrutiny following reports that Russia tipped off the U.S. about Tsarnaev. The bureau did investigate the elder brother but closed the case after finding nothing overly alarming. McCarthy said some changes definitely need to be made on that front.
"We really need a major rethinking of the FBI's protocols that say we're not going to take any notice of the straight-line nexus between Islamic supremacist ideology and terrorism committed by Muslims, which is a terrible mistake. They basically take the position that unless you've gone from radical ideology to radical activity, they don't have any right to continue investigating you," he said.
"You can't wait until something happens to start investigating," he concluded.