Feds Won't Say if Tsarnaevs Had Gov't-Funded Phones

On Thursday, the Boston Herald reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) refused to answer questions about whether Boston terror suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had a government-paid cellphone because of privacy laws. 

The Herald reported Wednesday that “Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his wife and 3-year-old daughter collected welfare until 2012 and that both Tamerlan and Dzhokhar received benefits through their parents ‘for a limited portion’ of the time after they came to the U.S., which was around 2002.”

The Lifeline phone subsidy program, referred to as the “Obama phone” program by its critics, charges paying cell phone customers an average monthly fee of $2.50 per household to fund the now $2.2 billion program that provides lower-income individuals with free cell phones and service.

Lawmakers from both parties have recently expressed concern about fraud and abuse in the Lifeline free cell phone program, as well as the phones’ increasing use by criminals.

"I hear from law enforcement that these phones are often found at crime scenes and are used in drug deals," said Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AK). "Why? It's because you can't trace them."

According to the FCC, the top five companies involved in the Lifeline program cannot verify the eligibility of 41% of the over six million Lifeline phone users. 

On the question of whether any kind of cellphones were used to detonate the bombs, the Atlantic reported Wednesday on the ease with which the Boston terrorists could have used a cellphone to remotely detonate their bombs. However, a Wednesday report by the Associated Press said U.S. officials believe the explosives were triggered “by a remote detonator of the kind used in remote-control toys.”

Cellphones were, however, used to communicate and possibly coordinate during the terror attack, according to the Justice Department criminal complaint. The document states that, in the minutes leading up to the first explosion, one of the suspects was actively using and possibly “manipulating” his cell phone:

The Forum Restaurant video shows that Bomber Two remained in the same spot for approximately four minutes, occasionally looking at his cell phone and once appearing to take a picture with it. At some point he appears to look at his phone, which is held at approximately waist level, and may be manipulating the phone. Approximately 30 seconds before the first explosion, he lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking on his cell phone, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds. A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion. Virtually every head turns to the east (towards the finish line) and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm. Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm. He glances to the east and then calmly but rapidly begins moving to the west, away from the direction of the finish line. He walks away without his knapsack, having left it on the ground where he had been standing. Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack.

The document does not specify what type of cellphone the suspect was using. 


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