April 25, 2013

Maine's Collins: Boston missteps 'troubling'

The CIA added the name of the dead Boston bombing suspect to a 745,000-person terrorist database in 2011, but it didn't help stop the attacks.

The Associated Press

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This combination of undated file photos shows Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The CIA added the name of dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to a U.S. government terrorist database 18 months before the deadly explosions, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. The CIA's request came about six months after the FBI investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also at the Russian government's request, but the FBI found no ties to terrorism, officials said. (AP Photo/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young, File)

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Because of the subsequent FBI inquiry, Tsarnaev's name was added to a Homeland Security Department database used by U.S. officials at the border to help screen people coming in and out of the U.S. That database is called the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS.

The FBI's Boston office opened a preliminary review. They interviewed Tsarnaev and his family members but found nothing connecting him to terror activity.

The FBI shared that information with Russia and also asked for more information on Tsarnaev, but never heard back. The FBI's review into Tsarnaev was closed in June 2011.

Then, in late September 2011, Russia separately contacted the CIA with nearly identical concerns about Tsarnaev. The Russians provided two possible birthdates for him and a variation of how his name might be spelled, as well as the spelling in the Russian-style Cyrillic alphabet.

The CIA determined that Tsarnaev should be included in TIDE, and the National Counterterrorism Center added him into the database. The spelling of Tsarnaev's name in TIDE was not the same as the spelling the FBI used in its investigation. The CIA also shared the information with other federal agencies in October.

In January 2012, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia and returned to the U.S. in July. Three days before he left for Russia, the TECS database generated an alert on Tsarnaev. That alert was shared with a Customs and Border Protection officer who is a member of the FBI's Boston joint terrorism task force. By that time, the FBI's investigation into Tsarnaev had been closed for nearly six months because the FBI uncovered no evidence that he was tied to terror groups.

On Jan. 21, 2012, the airline on which Tsarnaev was traveling misspelled his name when it submitted its list of passengers to the U.S. government for security screening. Airlines are required to provide the list of passengers on international flights so the U.S. can check their names through government databases, including the terrorist watch list. Because his name was misspelled, there was not another alert like there was three days earlier.

In July 2012, Tsarnaev returned to the U.S., and another alert was generated in TECS. This information was again shared with the Customs and Border Protection officer on the FBI's Boston joint terrorism task force. But because the FBI had closed its investigation into Tsarnaev a year earlier, there was no reason to be suspicious of his travels to Russia.

"Later on, these agencies will be judged," said Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "But right now, it's way too soon to criticize or to start making political arguments or who failed or whatever."

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