(NEW YORK) — Alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name was included on two U.S. terror watch databases in 2011 after Russia separately requested assistance from both the FBI and the CIA to investigate his possible ties to Islamic extremism.
Tsarnaev’s name was included in a database in the spring of 2011 as the FBI tried to determine if he had conducted any foreign travel. Later that year, the CIA requested that his name be included in the broader general terror database out of what a U.S. official called “an abundance of caution.” However, it was later determined that the names and dates of birth provided by Russia to the CIA were all incorrect.
U.S. officials say that in March 2011, Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, contacted the FBI requesting that they investigate Tsarnaev’s ties to extremists. The FBI was able to determine Tsarnaev’s correct identity after it was determined that the name provided by Russia was inaccurate.
Several months later, the FBI closed its investigation of Tsarnaev after determining that he did not pose a threat. However, U.S. officials say they never received a response from the Russian spy agency about their conclusion.
According to a U.S. security official, as part of their investigation, the FBI included Tsarnaev’s name in a database called TECS — the Treasury Enforcement and Communication System — to determine if he had traveled out of the country. It turned out he had not. Entries into this database remain active for only a year.
This is the database that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel on Tuesday had “pinged” when Tsarnaev left the U.S. in January 2012 on a six-month trip to Russia. The trip has been a focus of speculation that Tsarnaev may have made contact with or received terrorist training in the Dagestan region where he was visiting relatives.
The U.S. security official explained that the positive hit when Tsarnaev left the U.S. resulted in the Joint Terrorism Task Force being notified that he had left the country. It is unclear which federal agency within the JTTF would have actually received the notification of his travel and what was done with the information.
By the time Tsarnaev returned to the U.S. in June 2012, the TECS entry had already expired.
In late September 2011, the CIA received a similar request from the FSB for an investigation of Tsarnaev and provided two variations of his name and two possible dates of birth, which was pretty much the same information provided to the FBI six months earlier.
A U.S. intelligence official says the CIA “then nominated him for inclusion in the watchlisting system and, given his status as a U.S. person, shared the information with the appropriate federal departments and agencies specifying that Tsarnaev may be of interest to them.” Among the federal agencies contacted were the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the FBI.
According to the U.S. security official, the CIA nominated Tsarnaev’s name “out of an abundance of caution” for inclusion in the U.S. government’s terror watch list known as TIDE — Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. Maintained by the NCTC, the database of more than half a million names is the base point for relevant federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to produce no-fly lists.
When Tsarnaev returned to the U.S. in June 2012, there was no “ping” of his TECS entry because it had already expired. But there was also no positive hit in the TIDE database because it turned out that all of the personal details provided to the CIA by Russia were inaccurate.
According to the U.S. security official, even if Tsarnaev’s name and details had been accurately provided into the TIDES database, U.S. customs officials would have found that the FBI’s investigation had closed and he had not been determined to be a threat.
Furthermore, even if the TECS entry for Tsarnaev had not expired after a year, that too would have brought up the information that his case had been closed.
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