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April 18, 2013

Can the new media help identify the two persons the FBI are seeking in the Boston bombings?

Array500The question in the title of this post is prompted by my desire to help the FBI identify and question the two persons appearing in these pictures now posted on the FBI's websiteThis Washington Post article provides background on this latest crime investigation development, as well as the modern challenges posed by modern media:

The FBI on Thursday released photographs of two men said to be suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three spectators and injured more than 170 other people.

Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Boston, appealed to the public for help in identifying the two men, whom he cautioned should be considered “armed and extremely dangerous.”

Appearing at a news briefing with U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, DesLauriers said the two men, both carrying what appeared to be heavy bags on their backs, walked together through the crowd of spectators. He said the man identified as Suspect No. 2, wearing a white cap, was seen leaving his bag at the site of the second explosion Monday.

“We initially developed a single person of interest,” not knowing whether the man was acting alone or with others, DesLauriers said. The FBI later determined that there was a second suspect, he said.

“Today we are enlisting the public’s help to identify the two suspects,” he said. Photos of the men were displayed on easels set up in the briefing room, and DesLauriers said the images would also be published on the FBI’s Web site.

“Somebody out there” knows who the men are, DesLauriers said, adding: “We consider them to be armed and extremely dangerous.” He warned the public: “No one should approach them.... Do not take any action on your own.” He urged people instead to contact law enforcement....

With the investigation proceeding, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation flew to Boston to attend an interfaith prayer service, console victims of the bombings and their relatives and thank medical personnel and first responders....

Wednesday’s whirlpool of reports demonstrated the extraordinary promise and power that new technologies bring to criminal investigations, but also the risk and unreasonable expectations that now permeate such probes. When federal authorities asked the public for help Monday, they received thousands of video clips and still images of the bomb site.

Some people, empowered by smartphones and ever more sophisticated technology, didn’t leave the detective work to the professionals. They joined forces on sites such as Reddit.com to examine crowd pictures, searching for — and then virally distributing — image of backpacks that resembled the shredded bag in photos the FBI released Tuesday.

Black backpacks turn out to be ubiquitous, and when five of them were found in a single photo of the crowd on Boylston Street, the search quickly drew criticism from readers worried that innocent people could be harmed by being identified as suspicious. Others questioned whether black backpacks were even the most important lead, recalling the search for white box trucks that steered investigators astray in the D.C. sniper case a decade ago.

UPDATE As of 10am on Friday morning, April 19, 2013, here is the latest news via this NBC News update, which is right now headlined "Boston on lockdown during marathon manhunt for white-hat suspect":


Boston and its surburbs, universities and transit system were on total lockdown Friday as police hunted for marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- on the loose after his accomplice brother was killed in a stunning chain of events that left one cop dead and another injured, officials said.

Authorities were confronting a double-edged nightmare: a ruthless killer at large in a densely populated area and a four-mile stretch of road possibly littered with explosive devices tossed from the suspects' getaway vehicle during a wild chase and firefights.

A possible associate of the brothers was also being sought.

Two unidentified people were taken into custody at the Cambridge, Mass., home where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan grew up, but they were not being described as additional suspects. Three dozen FBI agents were surrounding the house....

"There is a massive manhunt under way," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said. "We are asking people to shelter in place." The lockdown initially affected more than 300,000 people in Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, Brighton, Allston and Belmont, but by 8 a.m., the entire city of Boston was paralyzed, officials said.

Watertown, where the second suspect was last seen, was the epicenter of the search. Frightened residents were trapped in their homes as convoys of heavily armed officers and troops arrived by the hour.

Harvard University, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Emerson University were all closed and students were told to stay inside. Boston public schools were shuttered for the day.

The overnight violence began near MIT about five hours after the FBI released surveillance photos of the two men suspected of planting two bombs near the finish line of Monday's Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding 176.

Tips about the identity of the suspects were still pouring in when the Tsarnaev brothers robbed a 7-Eleven then fatally shot an MIT police officer in his vehicle at 10:20 p.m., law enforcement officials said.

The brothers -- of Chechen origin, but legal permanent residents of the U.S. who moved here a decade ago -- then carjacked a Mercedes SUV, briefly holding the driver captive before letting him go and taking off, sources said.  During a chase between Cambridge and Watertown, the suspects threw explosives out the window, sources said.

April 18, 2013 at 05:53 PM | Permalink


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Urge Congress:

To fund a national database, to impose a three day waiting period, and to require a full background check for any person seeking to purchase a hooded sweatshirt.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 18, 2013 7:19:45 PM

"“Somebody out there” knows who the men are, DesLauriers said, adding: “We consider them to be armed and extremely dangerous.” He warned the public: “No one should approach them.... Do not take any action on your own.” He urged people instead to contact law enforcement.... "

Yes leave it all up the highly efficient government workers who did such a great job preventing this bombing, and 9/11, and all other recent mass murders.

How about requiring all law abiding citizens be armed, trained, and impose a duty to kill? See a young male wearing a hoodie, and carrying a pressure cooker? Plug him right there or get a ticket for a $100 fine. Public self help is how poverty stricken, Islamic places maintain such low rates of crime.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 18, 2013 7:27:46 PM

One has to think that this produces an ID within twenty-four hours. The image of "suspect number one" is not great, but the image of "suspect number two" is more identifiable and to the extent that they are working together, identifying one makes identifying the other much easier. The video clips at the FBI site leave an impression of a leader (supsect one) and a follower (suspect two); suspect one in particular comes across as supremely confident.

The images also should prove very helpful in identifying other images of the same people from citizens at the scene.

Of course, it also tends to exonerate all sorts of people who might otherwise be suspects (all of those people with the black backpacks) who can't possibly be them. Apparently, there is a review of whose cell phones were used at the time, since apparently some other video shows one being used and the video presumably also puts a very narrow window on when the events in question prior to the explosions happened. This cross-check should make confirmation of an ID from the public quite possible.

At gut first impression, these two young men, maybe in their twenties or early 30s, look like New Englanders in dress and mannerism, which would tend to argue against a foreign terrorist act theory. The fact that you seem to have two people who superficially appear functional working in concert together as a conspiracy also would seem to disfavor the mentally ill person at the end of his rope (a la the Aurora Theater Shooting) kind of theory of their motive. The images certainly suggest that domestic terrorism of some kind is the motive.

Of course, having at least twenty-four hours of notice that they'd been mostly likely fingered on video and more to know how the bombing came out, you'd think that they would have destroyed all of the evidence that they could and run long and far by now if they could. Even if they are ID'd very soon, the manhunt could take a long time.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 18, 2013 7:31:23 PM

With so many people looking for the second individual I have no doubt he will be found, hopefully taken into custody, and given a fair trial and brought to justice. We have to show the world that a senseless incident like this doesn't mean we have to abandon the rule or law. We are a nation of laws and this person won't be able to hide for much longer.

Posted by: Steve.Tate | Apr 19, 2013 3:40:29 PM

I want the names of the lawyers who coddled and enabled the mass murderers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 19, 2013 6:16:33 PM

Steve.Tate --

"We have to show the world that a senseless incident like this doesn't mean we have to abandon the rule or law."

We don't have to show the world anything. If we are to show it something, however, I hope it's that "following the rule of law" doesn't mean "being turned into a procedural pretzel at the expense of substantive justice."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 20, 2013 1:47:02 AM

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