The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a complaint in the United States District Court of Massachusetts, demanding the FBI and US Attorney Carmen Ortiz release documents related to the Massachusetts Joint Terrorism Task Force. The complaint, filed Thursday afternoon, also asks for records of the FBI’s involvement in the shooting death of Ibragim Todashev.
According to the complaint, the ACLU sent Freedom of Information Act requests to both the FBI and US Attorney’s office on December 9, 2013. The requests asked for records related to the JTTF itself and specifically the task force’s involvement with Todashev, who was shot by FBI agents during an interview in May 2013.
The FBI denied access to the Todashev records in January, saying the release would interfere with the ongoing investigation into Todashev’s death, according to the complaint. There has been no action on the task force portion of the requests, according to the ACLU.
According to the ACLU, the US Attorney’s office confirmed they received the request but provided none of the documents requested.
Boston.com contacted the US Attorney’s office, which did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The FBI declined to comment.
“We’ve been concerned about the JTTF for a while now,’’ said Christopher Ott, spokesman for the ACLU. “This is about transparency and accountability from federal and local law enforcement alike.’’
According to the complaint:
The federal government's collaboration with Massachusetts state and local police, especially through the JTTF, has for years been shrouded in secrecy. According to the FBI, JTTFs are run out of the agency's field offices and conduct investigations, together with local agencies, into actual or potential terrorist threats. The Massachusetts JTTF conducts hundreds of investigations in Massachusetts every year. Yet little is known about their structure and function. For example, there is no publicly available list of agencies that participate in the Massachusetts JTTF, and it is unclear what protocols and chain of authority govern local police officers when they work with this federal task force.
In May 2013, Todashev was killed in his Florida home during an interview with FBI agents and Massachusetts State Police officers. The FBI said Todashev was a friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and was confessing to their involvement in a 2011 murder in Waltham when he suddenly attacked the agents in the room. Both the FBI and Florida State Attorney cleared the federal agents of any wrongdoing. The state police were not implicated in the shooting.
In its complaint, the ACLU outlines why they believe more openness about the Todashev case is important:
The public and the media have posed serious questions about whether the killing of Todashev was justified. Just as important, and even if deadly force was justified, the public and the media have raised concerns about the overall transparency, functioning, and oversight of the agencies involved in the investigation. Those broader questions do not intrude on any investigation. And they are crucially important.
To put it mildly, the government's disclosure of a 16-page report, supported by only a single drawing, does not answer the public's questions about the Massachusetts JTTF in general or about its involvement with Todashev in particular.