Privacy SOS

It’s not just drones: FBI used single engine plane to monitor Tsarnaev associate in April 2013

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Last week the FBI arrested 23 year-old Khairullozhon Matanov, charging him with lying to federal agents and deleting information from his computer in an effort to impede the investigation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Matanov, prosecutors allege, was friends with the Tsarnaevs and was in touch with them the week of the bombings. He is not alleged to have known anything about or participated in any planning for the bombings prior to the attack.

Essentially, the feds are charging him for deleting his internet history cache and then lying about it. He faces decades in federal prison.

I might have more to say about the charges against Matanov, and the DOJ’s inflammatory, fear-mongering indictment against him, but for now I want to draw attention to a few things about the investigation into him that strike me as odd.

First off, new reports show the FBI has been tracking Matanov—including with aerial surveillance—since just days after the bombings. Last year, residents of Quincy reported seeing a low-flying, single engine Cessna plane circling over their neighborhood over and over in small loops. After a resident photographed the plane and published the tail number, journalists traced it to what appears to be an FBI shell company based in Virginia. The FBI has hundreds of single engine Cessnas packed to the hilt with high-tech surveillance equipment. After Matanov's arrest last week, local officials confirmed that the mystery aircraft over Quincy last spring was an FBI plane flying surveillance missions.

Also strange is that subsequent to his arrest, Matanov's Quincy neighbors told the press that they’d seen FBI officials coming and going at his apartment for a year, ever since the bombings.

WBZ news reports that

two neighbors, Tyler Young, and a woman who declined to give her name, [] noted that they saw police going in and out of the building a week after the bombings and throughout the past year. Plain clothes and uniformed officers would also remain outside and monitored the apartment.

“I only had suspicions just because of the police presence that were here,” Young told WBZ-TV.

“About a week after the bombings, there was FBI here, Quincy Police.  I’ve seen them in and out over the year and the last marathon, there was police here the entire day.”

The FBI spent considerable resources monitoring Matanov from the sky and physically at his apartment for over a year, but despite officials’ familiarity with him and his home, they sent a SWAT team to break down his door at four in the morning to arrest him.

What gives? Why were they watching him so closely for over a year, only to charge him with clearing his internet cache and lying to FBI agents?

Matanov's attorney says his client will plead not guilty, and that he did not intend to obstruct justice or interfere with the federal investigation into the bombings.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.