WASHINGTON (AP) — The name of the dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect was included in a federal government travel-screening database in 2011 after the FBI investigated the man at Russia's request, two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on Monday.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev's name was entered into the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS, as a routine procedure when the FBI looked into whether Tsarnaev was involved in terrorist activity, the law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. TECS is the system used by U.S. officials at the nation's borders to help screen people arriving in the U.S.
Tsarnaev died in a police shootout Friday. His brother, Dzhokhar, was charged in his hospital room Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and he could get the death penalty. The brothers are accused of setting off two explosives that killed three people and wounded more than 200 others at the marathon.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday that Tsarnaev's name was misspelled and Tsarnaev's correct name never went into the system.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that her agency knew of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's trip to Russia last year even though his name was misspelled on a travel document. A key lawmaker had said that the misspelling caused the FBI to miss the trip.
Napolitano said that even though Tsarnaev's name was misspelled, redundancies in the system allowed his departure to be captured by U.S. authorities in January 2012. But she said that by the time he came back six months later, an FBI alert on him had expired and so his re-entry was not noted.
"The system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned all investigations had been closed," Napolitano said.
The Russia trip is now seen as potentially important to determining how and when Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older Boston bomber who died in a firefight with police, apparently became radicalized, and whether he had ties to others.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was investigated by the FBI at Russia's request and his name was included in a federal government travel-screening database after that, law enforcement officials have told The Associated Press. One official told the AP that by the time of the flight Tsarnaev would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting him to terrorism.
The testimony came during the third Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on sweeping immigration legislation. As at the previous two hearings, the proceedings were overshadowed by the events in Boston.
Napolitano also defended the security procedures that occur when someone applies for asylum to the U.S., as the Tsarnaev family did about a decade ago. She described an extensive process with multiple screenings.
She said any asylum applicant is thoroughly interviewed and vetted, run through databases, fingerprinted and vetted again when they become eligible for a green card and ultimately citizenship.
Napolitano also said the process has improved in recent years. And she said the new immigration bill would build on that.
According to one of the officials, an airline misspelled Tsarnaev's name when it submitted the list of passengers on Tsarnaev's flight to Russia in January 2012. Airlines are required to provide the U.S. government with a list of passengers on international flights so the U.S. can check their names through government databases, including the terrorist watch list.
But because Tsarnaev's name was misspelled, it was not matched with the 2011 entry in the TECS system, the official told the AP. However, the official said, even if his name had been spelled correctly and U.S. officials recognized that Tsarnaev, the subject of a 2011 FBI inquiry, was on the flight, he would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting Tsarnaev to terrorism.
In 2011, Russia asked the FBI to look into Tsarnaev. The FBI was told Tsarnaev had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the U.S. to join unspecified underground groups. The FBI interviewed Tsarnaev and his relatives and didn't find any terrorism activity. FBI agents conducted an "assessment," an inquiry with a relatively low level of intrusiveness. Agents carrying out assessments obtain publicly available information, check government records, peruse the Internet and request information from the public. Checking investigative leads through assessments can avoid the need to proceed to more formal levels of investigative activity.
In 2011, the FBI said, it checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for derogatory phone conversations, possible use of online sites associating with promoting radical activity and associations with other persons of interest, Tsarnaev's travel history, plans and education.
The FBI did not find any derogatory information on Tsarnaev and a criminal case was not opened. The FBI shared its results with Russia in the summer of 2011. The FBI asked Russia for more information on Tsarnaev but never received any.
Russia did not volunteer any information to the U.S. about Tsarnaev's 6-month visit in Russia in 2012, the FBI said.
The law enforcement official said Tsarnaev did not use an alias when he traveled to Russia from the U.S.