You know how it's supposed to work. There's a movie about the future with a bad guy and some good guys. The good guys scan a picture of the bad guy into a computer, the computer quickly cross-references the image against enormous, ominous databases, up pops his name, and they go after him.
Not so much in real life.
For a few hours each year, during the Boston Marathon, the 600 block of Boylston Street is the most photographed place on Earth, what with all the family, friends, tourists, news crews, and commercial photographers. So it was a perfect setting for the FBI to make use of facial-recognition technology. But even though Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's images existed in official databases, the brothers were not identified that way—because we just aren't that advanced yet.
Facial-recognition technology turns a photograph into a biometric template that can be matched with photos attached to names in other databases. Last summer, the FBI launched a $1 billion facial-recognition program called the Next Generation Identification (NGI) project as a pilot in several states. Once fully implemented, the security program is designed to include some 12 million searchable mug shots as well as voice recognition and iris scans. The FBI would not confirm if the program is being piloted in Massachusetts, but even if it were, it may not have been useful since it is unclear whether the brothers had criminal records. But the FBI also has access to the State Department's passport and visa facial-recognition databases, and can get similar DMV information from the 30-odd states that have it, including Massachusetts. Both brothers had Massachusetts driver's licenses, so it would seem they would be traceable. (Tamerlan's name was also included in a federal government travel-screening database in 2011 after the FBI investigated him for possible terrorist activity at Russia's request, but the government's databases related to immigration, customs, and border-related interactions do not yet have facial-recognition capabilities.)
But in order for facial recognition to work, you need a high-quality frontal photo of the face you want matched. If you have that, research shows, you can pick a suspect out of more than a million mug shots 92 percent of the time. But the image that the FBI captured of the Tsarnaevs from surveillance camera images was grainy and taken from far away, which would have drastically limited the effectiveness of the technology.
Paul Schuepp, CEO and president of Animetrics, one of the facial-recognition companies the FBI contracts with, says that by the time the suspects' faces were zoomed in on, there were only a few dozen pixels per face. "When you've got like five pixels between the eyes, you're done," he says. "There's just not enough data on the face [and] the computer has a impossible time." Schuepp says that the Tsarnaevs' faces were also angled away from the camera, and Tamerlan's sunglasses and hat didn't help either. "Some [news] networks were saying they got good pictures, but the pictures really sucked," he says.
Instead, the FBI released the photos of the two suspects last Thursday and depended on old-fashioned eyeballs to do the work. "It’s likely that the breakthroughs in the case were made by sharp-eyed investigators," Bloomberg News reported, "spotting one of the suspects dropping a bag at the site of one of the two bombings in the surveillance footage, then matching the face with an image from the security camera of the 7-Eleven in Cambridge" that was the scene of an armed robbed on Thursday. Jeff Bauman, the runner who lost both his legs in the explosion, also helped ID the suspects after he woke up in the hospital.
"Even at a distance, as a human being you could recognize that person," Schuepp says.
But facial-recognition technology has been used successfully in another bombing case; it helped in the investigation of of the Times Square bombing attempt in in 2010. And the FBI is hard at work to expand the NGI program. Bloomberg News reported that "the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the NYPD have also expressed interest in more exotic technologies, including one that analyzes people's gait for clues as to whether they're carrying a bomb. Programmers are developing machine vision techniques that can link images of the same person across different video cameras or spot behaviors that are out of the ordinary for a certain setting (e.g., leaving a bag unattended in a public place)."
Civil libertarians worry that eventually these kinds of technologies could soon become all too effective, tracking people in the streets whether they’re suspected of a crime or not. And the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group, calls the NGI a huge boondoggle. "With technology moving so fast and assaults on our freedoms, privacy and otherwise, occurring with increasing frequency," charged the group in a September 2012 statement on the NGI project, "there is little hope of turning back this technological, corporate, and governmental juggernaut."
In the winter of 2012, President Obama stood on a podium at the National Defense University to honor the 20th anniversary of a program that successfully dismantled nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, declaring, "We simply cannot allow the 21st century to be darkened by the worst weapons of the 20th century." He reaffirmed his commitment to continue investing in nonproliferation, because "our national security depends on it." But his administration's recently released budget proposal reflects the opposite agenda: It makes big cuts to nuclear nonproliferation programs while beefing up funding for the United States' nuclear-weapons stockpile.
Read more MoJo stories on America's atomic arsenal
"I'm baffled as to why they would do that," says Barry Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national-security policy think tank, said of the Obama administration. "Nonproliferation goes straight to the heart of their policy." Obama's budget proposal for 2014 would cut $400 million from nonproliferation programs while spending an additional $560 million on extending the life of our atomic arsenal (compared to the fiscal 2012 budget).
Experts say the most consequential cuts to nonproliferation efforts in Obama's budget—some $79 million—are slated to come from a program called the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. GTRI takes highly enriched uranium from other countries and sends it to the United States or Russia to be converted into non-weapons-grade material. The program also protects vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian energy and research sites around the world. Since 2009, GTRI has removed more than 3,000 pounds of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, enough to make dozens of nuclear weapons.
We have capped this explainer. Major developments will be covered on our main political blog.
UPDATE 36: Monday, April 22, 1:59 p.m. EDT: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against people and property resulting in death.
UPDATE 35: Monday, April 22, 1:26 p.m. EDT: Multiple sources are reporting that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arraigned at his hospital bed, and that the complaint against him was sealed.
UPDATE 34: Saturday, April 20, 1:01 p.m. EDT: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in a heavily guarded hospital room atBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. As press attention turns to deciphering the bombers' motives and the coming trial, Josh Gerstein of Politico has written a piece explaining some legal issues surrounding the case, including the pre-trial interrogation rules facing federal prosecutors and whether Tsarnaev may face the death penalty; Slate's Emily Bazelon explains the history and law behind the "public safety exemption" to the Miranda rules under which Tsarnaev is being questioned.
UPDATE 33: Friday, April 19, 11:12 p.m. EDT:BarstoolSports.com has posted dramatic amateur video of a pitched fire fight, said to be a recording of police closing in on Tsarnaev's boat hiding place on Friday evening.
And a photo has surfaced that appears to show law enforcement officials administering medical care to the suspect shortly after his arrest.
UPDATE 32: Friday, April 19, 10:34 p.m. EDT: Tsarnaev was not given a Miranda warning because of the "public-safety exemption in cases of national security and potential charges involving acts of terrorism," United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz said. But the Obama administration is emphatic about giving Tsarnaev a civilian trial, according to NBC correspondent Pete Williams.
UPDATE 31: Friday, April 19, 10:14 p.m. EDT: Following a press conference held by Mass. Governor Deval Patrick and law enforcement, President Obama delivered a statement addressing the capture of Tsarnaev, the tragedy in Boston, and also the explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant on Wednesday. "All in all, this has been a tough week, but we have seen the character of our country," Obama said.
Here's the video and a link to the full statement.
UPDATE 30: Friday, April 19, 10:00 p.m. EDT: According to the Boston Police Department, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in serious condition. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.
UPDATE 29: Friday, April 19, 9:42 p.m. EDT: The FBI wanted poster for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been updated with "Captured":
UPDATE 28: Friday, April 19, 8:45 p.m. EDT: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been taken into custody. He was found hiding in a boat resting on a trailer in a Watertown backyard.
UPDATE 27: Friday, April 19, 7:15 p.m. EDT: Moments after law enforcement officials lifted the city's lockdown, an exchange of gunfire was heard in Watertown. The Boston Globe and local television are now reporting that police have cornered a suspect.
UPDATE 26: Friday, April 19, 2:09 p.m. EDT: Here is the FBI wanted poster for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspect in the Boston Marathon attack:
More MoJo coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings
UPDATE 25: Friday, April 19, 1:08 p.m. EDT: At noon on Friday, Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC with five other Muslim community leaders. While they emphasized that the suspects' motive are not yet known, CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said in a prepared statement that, "as God tells us in the Quran, if you murder one person, it is as if you murdered all of humanity." He stressed that, "we're very angry," and another participant stated that, "unfortunately every faith in it has heretical elements...but nobody can separate us from being Americans."
When asked by Mother Jones about the Al Qaeda prophecy video posted by a YouTube user by the name of deceased suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a CAIR spokesman responded: "I mean, it's Al Qaeda-inspired stuff, man. It's a lot of crazy on the internet."
The group also thanked "the media for not jumping to any conclusions." (This is debatable.)
UPDATE 24: Friday, April 19, 12:45 p.m. EDT: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick just held a press conference in which he urged Bostonians to stay in their homes, and warned that the crime scene may go through the weekend.
UPDATE 23: Friday, April 19, 12:15 p.m. EDT: BuzzFeed is reporting that this is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Twitter account. Here are some highlights:
I don't argue with fools who say islam is terrorism it's not worth a thing, let an idiot remain an idiot
UPDATE 21: Friday, April 19, 12:10 p.m. EDT: CBS reports that the suspects' uncle said that the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was "a loser." Watch:
UPDATE 20: Friday, April 19, 12:00 p.m. EDT: BuzzFeed reports that the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has released a statement on the bombings, blaming the suspects' American upbringing.
Tragic events have taken place in Boston. A terrorist attack killed people. We have already expressed our condolences to the people of the city and to the American people. Today, the media reports, one Tsarnaev was killed as [police] tried to arrest him. It would be appropriate if he was detained and investigated, and the circumstances and the extent of his guilt determined. Apparently, the security services needed to calm down the society by any means necessary.
Any attempt to draw a connection between Chechnya and Tsarnaevs — if they are guilty — is futile. They were raised in the United States, and their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of this evil in America. The whole world must struggle against terrorism — that we know better than anyone else. We hope for the recovery of all the victims, and we mourn with the Americans.
Also, the president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center released a statement about the patient who died here this morning:
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center received an unknown male patient with significant injuries at 1:20 this morning.
After he arrived, he suffered a trauma arrest and expired at 1:35 a.m.
We have no information on the identity of the patient and cannot speculate on whether he has any connection to any criminal activity. Nor are we prepared to speak to the exact nature of his injuries.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is open for business. But we will be restricting access to some entrances to ensure the safety of our patients, staff and visitors.
UPDATE 19: Friday, April 19, 11:50 a.m. EDT: The Boston Police Department is reporting that the vehicle associated with the armed carjacking by the two suspects in Cambridge has been located.
UPDATE 15: Friday, April 19, 11:13 a.m. EDT: CBS Boston interviewed Ruslan Tsarni, said to be the uncle of suspects in the bombings:
UPDATE 14: Friday, April 19, 11:05 a.m. EDT: A spokesman for the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth stated that a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing is "a registered student on campus." The university has announced that the campus will be closed today and evacuated.
UPDATE 13: Friday, April 19, 10:37 a.m. EDT: A user by the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev has posted a video to his YouTube playlist extolling an extremist religious prophecy associated with Al Qaeda. It is not clear yet whether the user is the same Tsarnaev as the deceased bombing suspect.
UPDATE 12: Friday, April 19, 6:37 a.m. EDT:NBC and the Associated Press report that the remaining suspect is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old resident of Cambridge. The deceased suspect, who was killed in a firefight with police this morning, is his 20 26-year old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev. According to NBC, "both men had international ties, had been in the United States about a year and had military experience." Meanwhile, much of the Boston area has been locked down—with schools closed and authorities asking businesses not to open—and thousands of police have been called in for a manhunt involving a door-to-door search in Watertown.
UPDATE 11: Friday, April 19, 6:37 a.m. EDT: Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis told reporters Friday morning that the remaining suspect was someone the police "believe this to be a terrorist," and "a person who's come here to kill people."
UPDATE 10: Friday, April 19, 6:17 a.m. EDT: Around 5:20 a.m., doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston held a press conference announced that a patient who had been brought in at 1:20 a.m. under police guard with "multiple injuries, a combination of blast, potentially gunshot wounds." Doctors said they were "unable to count" the number of gunshot wounds the patient had. They spent 15 minutes unsuccessfully trying to revive the patient, but he was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. The surgeon who treated the patient was asked whether he believed him to be the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, he responded that "You give the best care to every patient that comes to you, regardless of who it may or may not be."
UPDATE 8: Friday, April 19, 4:32 a.m. EDT: Boston police confirmed in a press conference Friday morning that the explosions and gunfire Friday night in Cambridge, Boston, and Watertown, Massachusetts were connected to the Boston Marathon suspects whose photos were released Thursday afternoon. The suspect pictured in the black hat is reported dead, while the suspect with the white hat is reportedly still at large. Police have established a 20-block perimeter around where they believe the suspect is.
The Middlesex County District Attorney's office released the following statement:
Police are investigating a fatal shooting of MIT campus police officer by two men who then committed an armed carjacking in Cambridge, Middlesex Acting District Attorney MichaelPelgro, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas, and MIT Police Chief John DiFavaannounced this evening.
At approximately 10:20 p.m. April 18, police received reports of shots fired on the MIT campus. At 10:30 p.m., an MIT campus police officer was found shot in his vehicle in the area of Vassar and Main streets. According to authorities, the officer was found evidencing multiple gunshot wounds.
He was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital and pronounced deceased.
Authorities launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the shooting. The investigation determined that two males were involved in this shooting.
A short time later, police received reports of an armed carjacking by two males in the area of Third Street in Cambridge. The victim was carjacked at gunpoint by two males and was kept in the car with the suspects for approximately a half hour. The victim was released at a gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. He was not injured.
Police immediately began a search for the vehicle and were in pursuit of the vehicle into Watertown.
At that time, explosive devices were reportedly thrown from car by the suspects. The suspects and police also exchanged gunfire in the area of Dexter and Laurel streets. During this pursuit, an MBTA Police officer was seriously injured and transported to the hospital.
During the pursuit, one suspect was critically injured and transported to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased. An extensive manhunt is ongoing in the Watertown area for the second suspect, who is believed to be armed and dangerous.
UPDATE 7, Friday, April 19, 2:25 a.m. EDT: The FBI has just released two more photos of the suspects showing an "up close" view of their faces.
UPDATE 6, Friday, April 19, 1:40 a.m. EDT: A police officer was shot and killed at MIT this evening. Another officer was wounded, a high-speed chase took place, and the local police scanner reports automatic weapons fire and grenades. One suspect has been taken into custody, the other is at large. It is not known whether this event is related to the Boston marathon bombings. We have more details on this incident in a separate post.
UPDATE 5, Friday, April 19, 12:40 a.m. EDT: A photo that first got broad attention on Reddit, and whose authenticity was debated by journalists on Twitter for hours, appears to be legitimate. It shows a new, high-resolution shot of suspect #2 (white hat, far left). The New York Times reports: "Shortly after finishing the Boston Marathon this week David Green, 49, was walking to meet friends when two bombs exploded in front of him as he faced east on the corner of Fairfield and Boylston Streets. He snapped a photograph with his iPhone before rushing to help those wounded. It was time-stamped at 2:50:15 p.m."
What appears to be suspect #2 can be seen at far left David Green
The debate over the photo's veracity ended when it was established he posted it on Facebook on Monday, long before the FBI released its cache of photos and videos. See a very large file of the photo here.
UPDATE 4, Thursday, April 18, 10:30 p.m. EDT: Bloomberg has a major scoop: Jeff Bauman, the young runner who lost both his legs in the explosion and whose iconic photo has come to symbolize the tragedy, woke up in the hospital and helped ID the suspects.
"Minutes before the bombs blew up in Boston, Jeff Bauman looked into the eyes of the man who tried to kill him." bloom.bg/12r6GZB
UPDATE 3, Thursday, April 18, 10:20 p.m. EDT: CNN reports that "other footage, still unreleased, shows that the two suspects stayed at the scene to watch the carnage unfold, a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation…'When the bombs blow up, when most people are running away and victims were lying on the ground, the two suspects walk away pretty casually,' said the official, who has seen the unreleased video. 'They acted differently than everyone else,' he added."
UPDATE 2, Thursday, April 18, 10:15 p.m. EDT: Journalists, Redditors, and citizens across the country are sharing and in some cases claiming to add to the photos the FBI has released:
This picture is incredibly awful. Martin Richard, 8-year-old victim, circled in blue. Suspect in red. fm4.fm/ZB4Cdj
UPDATE, Thursday, April 18, 5:45 p.m. EDT: One of the suspects' hats may be this Bridgestone Golf hat:
ORIGINAL POST: The FBI has released images of two "persons of interest." "No one should approach them…Do not take action on your own," they said during the press briefing. Here is the FBI's YouTube clip of the two individuals; each had a backpack:
Immediately after the December tragedy, Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that owns Freedom Group, decided to sell the company as a way to avoid negative publicity during the ensuing gun-control debate. In order to create a starting price to auction off the gun manufacturer, Cerberus is planning to place its own bid, in conjunction with other investors, in which it will have a minority financial stake.
But it's looking like those necessary extra investors are not interested. As the Journal reports that "negative publicity around guns has already weighed on the process. Citing [PR] concerns, some investment banks declined to aid Cerberus in the sale." Columnist Robert Cyran writes at Reuters that "this cold shoulder from lenders could make selling Freedom Group more difficult." The Journal, citing people familiar with the potential bid, says that "it remains possible that there will be no buyer for Freedom Group."
In this case, it seems that Wall Street has a better sense of American public opinion than the Senate, which failed to pass a bipartisan background check bill on Wednesday. Here's Reuters: "While lawmakers in Washington are only gingerly tackling the idea that some guns are more dangerous than others, this turned out to be an easy distinction for several [of the banks'] reputational risk committees to make... [A]iding a big maker of semiautomatics is a publicity disaster waiting to happen."
As Cyran puts it, '"Making assault rifles, it turns out, has joined pornography on the list of activities with risks that money can’t hide."
President Barack Obama's new budget has much of his own base up in arms, particularly over $230 billion in proposed cuts to Social Security. On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) convened a meeting of House Democrats to hear a closed-door debate on the proposal, which would cost retirees hundreds of dollars a year by tying the growth of monthly Social Security benefits to a new, lower measure of inflation called chained CPI. It was unclear whether the meeting changed any minds, but it certainly highlighted the divisions between the president and his party.
Speaking to reporters after the debate, many Democrats complained that Obama put the cuts on the table far too early. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House rules committee, likened Obama's negotiating skills to the eagerness of a five-year-old. "When I was a kid, I couldn't play hide and seek," she said. "The pressure was just too much on me. I would hop up and say, Here I am! This is the way this negotiation is taking place. We're trying to get a grand plan out of Republicans. It would be better instead of hollering up, Here I am! to get that agreement first, before you put it in your budget."
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said she could envision putting chained CPI in the budget, but only as a product of negotiations, not as an initial offer, and only as part of a grand bargain with additional revenues, and investments in other progressive priorities. "We don't know what the other side is willing to offer," she said. "We cannot give anything on a silver platter."*
Other Democrats were outright opposed to the president's plan. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) looked positively distraught. "I can only say that the Progressive Caucus is dead set against it," he said. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she had no idea why Obama is embracing what was initially a Republican idea. "Chained CPI was a bad idea when [GOP Speaker of the House John] Boehner had it, and it's a bad idea now," she said, adding that measure would hurt seniors much more than the recent tax hikes on high-earners hurt them. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that switching to chained CPI would cut about 2 percent of seniors' retirement income over 20 years. By contrast, the hit that the rich got from Obama's New Year's tax increases was only 0.6 percent.*
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said she hopes her party doesn't cave and line up behind the president. "This is so serious because…it will last forever," she said. "If we institutionalize the chained CPI, we will literally throw generations into poverty."
Pelosi suggested that many in her caucus thought chained CPI should be preserved as an option for making Social Security solvent in the long run, not as a way to pay down the national debt. "The deficit is not about Social Security," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J). "What puzzles me is why the president would do this."
But nearly every House Democrat who spoke to reporters after the event suggested that, other criticisms aside, Obama's chained CPI proposal is bad politics. "Our brand is the party that brought you Social Security," Holt said. Slaughter added that she has been swamped with calls by unhappy constituents opposing the president's idea. "I'm at a loss for words," she said. "There are so many people living hand to mouth, day to day."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Rep. Velázquez and Rep.Schakowsky's names.