Boston Suspect’s Writing on the Wall

Exclusive: Hiding and near death, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly scrawled on the inside of a boat that he did what he did to avenge innocent Muslims killed by U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a rare look at the why behind “terrorism,” writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Quick, somebody tell CIA Director John Brennan about the handwriting on the inside wall of the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding before Boston-area police riddled it and him with bullets. Tell Brennan that Tsarnaev’s note is in plain English and that it needs neither translation nor interpretation in solving the mystery: “why do they hate us?”

And, if Brennan will listen, remind him of when his high school teachers, the Irish Christian Brothers, taught him the meaning of “handwriting on the wall” in the Book of Daniel and why it became an idiom for predetermined, imminent doom.

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (US Government Photo)

CBS senior correspondent John Miller, who before joining CBS served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, broke the handwritten-note story Thursday on CBS This Morning. He described what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scribbled on the side of the boat as he lay bleeding “from multiple gunshot wounds” in the boat. Here, according to Miller’s sources, is what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s note said:

“The [Boston] bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world.  Summing up, that when you attack one Muslim you attack all Muslims.”

My experience with now-CBS-This-Morning’s Charlie Rose is that he does listen closely. Thus, I believe it is to his credit that he seemed determined, with his follow-up question, to drive home what I think is by far the most important point:

Co-anchor Charlie Rose: “Does it [the note] answer questions about motives?”

Miller: “Well it does … there it is in black and white literally.”

Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell: “But they still believe he was self-radicalized and not part of a larger group, right?”

Miller: “That’s right. …”

Note to CIA Director Brennan

If you didn’t understand much about such motives three years ago, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, here’s a chance to learn. I actually felt embarrassed for you when you then-White House counter-terrorism adviser were asked on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after the almost-catastrophe over Detroit, to explain why people want to kill Americans. I’m sure you remember; it turned out to be Helen Thomas’s swan song.

It took the questioning of the then-89-year old veteran correspondent Thomas to show how little you were willing to share (or how little you knew) about what leads terrorists to do what they do. As her catatonic White House press colleagues took their customary dictation, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.” It was a highly revealing dialogue; this is how it went. Remember?

You: “Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

You: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

You: “I think this is a, long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Actually, there is a ton of information explaining why people try, for example, to explode bombs in Times Square, in airliners over Detroit, in remote CIA outposts in Afghanistan just to kill Americans, even when it means killing themselves. [See, for example,’s “Answering Helen Thomas on Why.”]

It was painful to watch you suggest on Jan. 7, 2010, that, apparently in some mysterious way, some folks are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” and your contention that in the case of Abdulmutallab al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf was able to jump-start that privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf.

Your words were a real stretch as to how the well-heeled Abdulmutallab, without apparent prior terrorist affiliations, was suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents.

Perhaps no one told you that the young Nigerian had particular trouble with Israel’s wanton slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza the year before, a brutal campaign defended by Washington as justifiable self-defense. You ought to take the time to learn about these things.

Till next time, Ray.

How to Spin This One

An important element in intelligence analysis is to understand the why, what’s the motive. That doesn’t mean you sympathize with what someone did. It does mean that you understand that knowing why is an important starting point for future prevention of similar acts.

Yet, virtually no one in the U.S. political/media hierarchy has dared to discuss, in a candid way, the issue of motivation. All the American people normally get is boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. So how will the media spin Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s handwritten note?

Well, we’ve already watched CBS’s Norah O’Donnell come up with the familiar “self-radicalization” shibboleth. She tied the concept to a lack of ties with a larger group, but “self-radicalization” is normally employed to create the impression that hard-wired “violent Muslim extremists” simply look in the mirror one day and say to themselves, My, this looks like a good day to self-radicalize.

Also regularly trotted out is the “homegrown-violent-extremists” moniker employed as recently as Thursday by FBI Director Robert Mueller III in Senate testimony.

Other “mainstream media” and government officials will keep blaming terrorism on Islam, as the Wall Street Journal does Friday in repeating the claim that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told the FBI earlier that he and his dead brother “were acting as jihadists motivated by Muslim religious anger at the U.S.” (In other words, pay no heed to what he scribbled on the side of the boat as he thought he was dying.)

Rarely has there been any official or quasi-official acknowledgement of the main problem. But there was a major exception in the fall of 2004 in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board. Directly contradicting what President George W. Bush was saying at the time, the board stated:

“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.”

That’s not spin. That’s the assessment of professionals who were reading the handwriting on the wall.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing ministry of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

24 comments for “Boston Suspect’s Writing on the Wall

  1. Jett Rucker
    May 22, 2013 at 15:12

    The idea of a pen or marker in working order in a boat stored over the winter seems a stretch.

    WHY IS THERE NO PHOTOGRAPH of this manifesto? Is somebody hiding something?

  2. AnneC
    May 22, 2013 at 01:50

    Although I wondered about how and when the note was written in the boat, it looks like the real question about radicalization really hinges on the older brother. The detail-impaired reports in the corporate press indicated that older brother had worked his heart out to represent the US as a boxer. Then he was denied permission (a visa?) and found himself unemployed. The mother was shown in western dress when she first came to this country. One report said she was fired from her job about the time she started to cover her hair. There was no information about the chronology of these events. It does not sound like this family was living the American dream. At some point the FBI came around and told neighbors and probably employers they were investigating these people. This probably did not make them popular in the neighborhood. The father is suffering from cancer and went back to his native country for treatment. Did he have adequate health insurance?
    On top of family issues, gloating in the press about “shock and awe”, etc. and lack of concern by many US citizens about collateral damage might have given focus for the rage of the older brother. This article clarifies the reasons young men would be likely to tell us, but I also wonder about the family problems that contributed to this terrible tragedy.

  3. Ron
    May 20, 2013 at 19:46

    Americans need to learn the difference between aggression, and retaliation!! Short and simple as to why they hate us! One can start by going back to the 1953 coup d’ etat, of the friendly Iranian government by Briton and the good ol USA!It’s all down hill from there.

  4. Chuck Klaer
    May 20, 2013 at 18:18

    Unless and until the story of how these two brothers became “radicalized” enough to develop a mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore plan, bomb and action, my concern is that everyone will conclude that there is no chance that any person .. any person who has been held, and abused for 10 plus years at Guantanamo prison with little or no contact with a responsive justice system or anything near and dear to them, could be expected to turn the other cheek if allowed to be released from custody. The President and our Congress most likely will demagog on and on as hunger strikers die one after the other in search of freedom.

  5. Otto Schiff
    May 20, 2013 at 00:15

    Since the end of WW2 The US has started dozens of wars.
    Do we expect to make friends that way?

  6. Judy L.
    May 19, 2013 at 21:44

    If I’m reading this correctly, Mr. McGovern believes that because the U.S. wrongly attacked Iraq and Afghanistan and killed innocent people, the Tsarnaev brothers were justified in attacking and killing innocent people at the Boston marathon. I’m not buying it. I was totally against those invasions and occupations and still am. I am also against the Israeli occupation of Gaza. But to find any connection between those actions and the Boston marathon is find rationality where there is none. This kind of “reasoning” leads to perpetual war. “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Enough!

    • Tubularsock
      May 20, 2013 at 02:47

      Judy you are not reading McGovern correctly. He is saying blowback is the cause. At no point does he condone the actions of killing innocent people nor does he justify these attacks. There really is no difference between our military “boys” actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers. War is never based on rationality nor is blowback.

  7. 1/4horse
    May 19, 2013 at 18:52

    ms-in-a-bottle –found floating longafter wave after wave of seeming predestination– being 1kinda longshot. But__
    note-ina-boat . . .

    no. turd-in-the-punchbowl, they could givashit, and ain’t gonna stop: mostly now going to show how __absent their total control of all intel&info fit to print, and/or as all the more easily exposed via their slowly bought’n’sold alt-msm BluffHo&AOLery__ without money/Power alone jus wot kinda _ ss _ oles yur left with,, as usual, on yer televivs


    panem et circenses,come2town– indeed Panic –armed with all the brains, bombast, but Bombs that money can buy

    right-in-your-ff _ _ _ing-ff _ _e

    and, watchagonnaDoaboutit, no longer care less

    which’s why fact,fiction,stories like this seem more&more killer-klowns-from-outer-space

    dangerous. real. real. dangerous

    . . . mcgovern. mr ray mcgovern– “CIA analyst for 27 years” –from the-writing-on-the-wall2hearing-it-straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth, HERE, talk directly2terrist central, not only home2those now57varieties-of-virgin everafter, but in fact the very origin of its whole intellect and entelechy . . .

    note-ina-boat . . .
    . . . idobelieve’n’spooks, idobelieve’n’spooks

  8. Bruce
    May 19, 2013 at 16:34

    CBS: Company Broadcasting System.

  9. Fullblad
    May 19, 2013 at 16:18

    I realize Mr. McGovern is trying to make a reflective point about motive, blow back and such. However to presume guilt by hearsay evidence is quite another matter. Who knows if or when this note was penned and for who’s benefit? I find it very very odd that the authorities are just releasing this story of a written confession now. One would think that information of a written confession would be released almost immediately. Perhaps McGovern is completely off on a totally wrong tangent is his unquestioning support of the state’s ever changing and additional story lines. Too many very legitimate and unanswered questions swirl around this whole narrative for the likes of a McGovern and others of his ilk to pronounce their unimpeachable judgements of guilty when they really only know what they’ve been told by proven liars and murderers.

  10. Iqbal Latif
    May 18, 2013 at 07:51

    The writing on the wall: On ”Collateral damage and ‘F*** America.” Please stop this self-flagellation Mr. Ray McGovern

  11. Iqbal Latif
    May 18, 2013 at 06:46

    Freedom of mind is antitheses if Islam. Your deductions are totally wrong.This is rage of impotence. The yearning to widen Islam’s global reach and rebuild a global Islamic caliphate under Muslim rule helps to explain these ‘salifist mindset’ from Cole to 9/11 to Boston, the urge is to be the power broker and vice gerant of Allah on earth.

    ‘From the first Arab-Islamic Empire of the mid-seventh century to the Ottomans, the last great Muslim empire, the story of the Middle East has been the story of the rise and fall of universal empires and, no less important, of imperialist dreams.”

    There is a reason why even the most liberal will be the most hardened ideologue. Silent majority doesn’t mind supremacy of Islam and regaining of the paradise lost of the Caliphate where Islam reigned supreme.

    Professor Karsh’s book is very significant, it rejects the customary hypothesis that Western Colonialism created the grave plague of Islamic fanaticism stretching from Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia. The author writes that the principal origin of Islamic radicalism is not merely a reaction to the Western prying in their nations affairs but rather a profound and ingrained craving in the predetermined Islamic belief to expand Islamic authority throughout the world.

    Karsh says that “Arabs and Muslims unabashedly dream for the restoration of Spain” under Muslim control even though Spain has been lost to the Islamic world for centuries since the Fall of Granada in 1492. Osama bin Laden himself lamentably referred to “the tragedy of Andalusia” after the September 11, 2001 attacks as if to suggest that Muslims were still the legitimate and equitable owners of Spain rather than measly invading occupiers. Same is the feeling of Lashker-e- Tyaaba and TTP vis a vis Hindustan in Pakistan. The desire of unfurling the Mughal flag on hte Red Fort never dies.

    The wish to repair Islam’s past medieval regal glories and convert the world permeate the approach of a substantial portion/segment of the Muslims. Muhammad himself shaped the contemporary political Islam when he said “to strive for a new universal order in which the whole of humanity would embrace Islam or live under its domination.” Muhammad’s dream was realised after his death with the growth of Islamic power from Arabia into North Africa, Turkey, Spain and Central Asia under ensuing Caliphs of Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Ottomans.

    This yearning to widen Islam’s global reach and rebuild a global Islamic caliphate under Muslim rule helps to explain 9/11. September 11 was a reaction to the essential veracity that America’s place as a great power essentially suspend all ” Islamic aspirations of global supremacy.” Muslims are vigorous contestants on the large-scale stage not as toothless foot soldiers, rather one strain run common in all Islamic fundamentalist movements from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and TTP; the wish to fashion a broad based Muslim caliphate. Conventional Muslim beliefs and perceptions are underlying cause of an underlying anger and rage, rage of inability to control vast swathes of the lands of infidels.

    ”There is, and was, no sympathy towards Western philosophy, according to the extremists. Islam promises its one billion plus faithful the rule of the world, and what they have discovered is that they are at the bottom most wrung of the ladder as a result of their own failure. The rage of impotence combined with blind craving to manage the human race through the ‘will of Allah’ is what propels hatred within the fringe elements.

    It is dreams of rediscovering the history of Islam’s golden age and the re-conquest of the world, like old Spain, that propels many lunatics to impose the ‘will of Allah’ on the unwilling. This is not about terror, rather this is about imposing a way of life through a ‘regime of terror’. Appeasement only makes their work easier.”

    (Waiting for Allah- Iqbal Latif, Defeatism in the Islamic World has become a currency and self-inflicted pain has become pleasure November 28, 2003 – The Iranian)

    The Muslim world’s deep rooted yearning for the glories of the old Islamic Empires make their societies vulnerable to the control of a dictators or autocrats. Most of the Islamic dictators relentlessly summon the idea of a restoration of past Islamic prominence. The idea of the entire ‘Ummah’ have a Muslim world’s political sway. Muslims unfalteringly need to turn their sponsorship of pan-Islamic global hallucination and turn ‘religion’ a matter of individual belief rather than a tool of global domination. Unless this happens they will certainly not prosper in the contemporary world or be charitable to other philosophies.

  12. Paul G.
    May 18, 2013 at 03:12

    Amazing the number of commentators who try to spin or deny the note’s validity. What is the problem, wake up and smell the gunpowder. Most of the Muslim terrorists who have been caught have said basically the same thing: Israel vs Palestinians, Iraq, Afghanistan, US troops in Saudi Arabia(Bin Laden) and now drones, Libya.

    The government, especially, and Americans don’t want to hear the real truth; because the only effective solution is to change the policies. Oh my goodness that would be giving in to the “enemy”, besides AIPAC would crucify any Congress critter or official who tried. Since there is going to be no changing the problem, the motivation-especially Israel- we are locked into being perpetually attacked.

    Hmmm, “perpetual” isn’t that the term used in the original neo-conservative, Project for a New American Century statement in reference to war. Fits right in to their plan. Keeps the MIC and Homeland Security establishment humming, not to mention distracting the public as the Financial Sector gleefully picks our pockets.

    • Sateesh M
      May 20, 2013 at 20:24

      So True Mr. Iqbal. Absolutely spot on.

  13. incontinent reader
    May 17, 2013 at 15:58

    Ray- You made the same or similar cogent points, and in much detail, in an article you wrote nine years ago, and it is still good reading.
    (See: or:

    I believe the National Defense Science Board’s conclusions to which you referred were in its Task Force report on “Strategic Communication”, dated September 23, 2004, specifically in Chapter 2, page 40 et.seq. The report can be found at:

    It was not released to the public until after the 2004 election, and it is no wonder why. However, I question whether the Task Force itself really got it, since they didn’t take the extra step and openly question the validity or wisdom of the policies, but instead concluded that the U.S. had not effectively communicated its policies and intentions, and focused on ways to improve the marketing of the message to the Muslim world.

    Only a very few people had the courage a decade ago to question the policies, and it seems like, of those in power today, very few understand their implications and consequences any better, or if they do, are willing to go public with it. Add to that the Government crackdown on those who investigate further and in the process disclose official wrongdoing or policy flaws that impinge on some aspect or other of “national security” (whether or not our national security is in fact harmed), and one might say that our officials’ critical thinking has regressed.

    • ray
      May 17, 2013 at 20:27

      many thanks! wow; nine years ago! Time surely goes by quickly when one is having such fun…. :((
      But thanks for the reminder; still some useful stuff in that Dec. 2004 article (in my totally unbiased! opinion). :)) Ray

  14. socrates2
    May 17, 2013 at 15:29

    May I add that governments by example set the tone of potential “counter-narratives?” Much like chess, one can *manipulate* the opponent’s (or potential opponents) “moves.”
    Live peace, benevolently promote the general welfare and peace will ensue. Rage is fed by perceived slights to one’s “tribe.” Retaliatory moves are learned. After all, the brain is an adaptable survival machine…
    Very little that one sees or reads of activities abroad (or at home!) gives the impression that current government policies desire to *model* peace and conciliation or promote the general welfare.
    Quite the opposite.
    Be well.

  15. socrates2
    May 17, 2013 at 15:14

    Some of us who get paid to understand the human animal and his mind must agree with McGovern’s insights and Thomas’s questions.
    The inherent appeal of the tribal impulse, the narrative impulse, the revenge impulse (evolution embedded for survival in the simian brain) and their contribution to identity-formation appear to be good starting points.
    It’s as easy to understand as the “Batman” archetype. A typical individual who lacks validation (i.e. refuses to be relegated to marginal, underdog, “loser” status) in his environment, for any number of reasons, seeks validation and an (“winner”) identity by formulating *his* inner narrative.
    In this inner narrative the reservoir of rage that grew during his impressionable, formative (often “victim”) years usually finds a “heroic” outlet.
    Recall, every man is the hero of his inner narrative, be it as an indomitable, all-powerful champion or as a martyr.
    Hollywood has usurped these archetypes for every other action/adventure film. Surely, you’ve seen Clint Eastwood’s award-winning “Grand Torino” performance to get the idea.
    True to form, the narrative and the rage-“reservoir” (in need of an outlet) “merge.” The boy/man “finds” his identity and acts out accordingly.
    Do Joan of Arc, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Lone Ranger, Batman ring any bells? Hello!…
    Incidentally, the armed services and police academies channel and condition this rage and identity search. “Follow orders (to punish and destroy) and you ‘belong’.” How convenient…
    Yes, these impressionable, empathic young men witness collateral damage to innocents. Naturally their youthful rage and energy gets “fitted”/channeled into the mental “structure” mapped by psychologists from Freud to Bernays to Jung to Miller.
    As long as governments, armies and power groups inflict terror and “collateral damage” on innocent populations, some young impressionable individual with rage will create his counter-narrative and take action in the hope of ending “the horror, the horror…”
    Sometimes collateral damage will result.
    Our betters have always known this. Hence, the permanent “need” for seriously armed, quasi-military police forces and the endless snooping on all innocent activities.
    Be well.

    May 17, 2013 at 15:12


  17. rosemerry
    May 17, 2013 at 14:52

    I must agree with Dano. To gain understanding and sympathy for the perfectly normal and widespread disapproval of US foreign policies and demonising of Muslims in the Homeland as well as in their own lands, why would anyone choose to attack such an event? The lad had no previous antisocial acts, was not a “fanatical pious believer” (like those alleged to be the 9/11 leaders ag Atta!!??) and the boat note is improbable. What evidence is there against him? Was he tortured? Were the other backpack wearers arrested?
    Brennan and the rest of the neocons and ignorant Mercans cannot be expected to have any decent deepseated humanitarian beliefs. Look at the education standards and the media.

    • carrie
      May 17, 2013 at 15:15

      The boat “note” is a needed since the judge will probably throw out the 16 hour interrogation.

  18. Dano5
    May 17, 2013 at 14:36

    It doesn’t quite add up. Why set up and detonate bombs at the Boston Marathon finish, of all places?? I’d say that the percentage of those killed or wounded who were also against the Iraq & Afghanistan wars was probably pretty high.

    If it really was retaliation for those wars and policies, you’d think he’d target the crowd at a gun show, or a Blue Angels show, or a Tea Party gathering, or some place where a bunch of right-wingers were hanging out, no?

    • David Hamilton
      May 17, 2013 at 15:44

      Well, those wars and policies are characterized by widespread wanton and indiscriminant killings of innocents by Americans. Americans have been caught even doing it for sport, grinning about it in a most ruthless and merciless way. So, his attack in Boston fits with the idea of retaliation in kind. Why do Americans attack wedding parties and funerals? Unlike today, I bet Custer knew to be on the lookout for retaliation, after he massacred an entire Indian village. Or, do you think he was blindsided by a bunch of self-radicalized savages?

  19. carrie
    May 17, 2013 at 14:14

    We are now to believe Dzhokhar either had a marker or found one in the boat? I grew up on a lake with a boat. We never needed a marker to ski and would never leave one in a boat stored outside over the winter. Let’s face it, the FBI screwed this up so bad they have to lie to get this kid convicted for life.

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