The CIA asked the nation’s main counterterrorism agency to add Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a watch list more than a year before the attack — and an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force was alerted by yet another database when he traveled to Russia early last year, officials said Wednesday.
The disclosures cast new light on the government’s handling of the case of Tsarnaev, 26, who died last week in an overnight gun battle with police after the April 15 Patriots’ Day bombings that killed three and injured as many as 250 others.
The CIA’s request came after Russian authorities raised concerns to agency officials in September 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was viewed as an increasingly radical Islamist and might be planning to travel overseas.
The CIA asked that Tsarnaev’s name be added to a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, The Washington Post reports.
The database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, feeds several government watch lists, including the FBI’s main Terrorist Screening Database and the TSA’s “no-fly” list, the Post reports.
Officials told the Post that Tsarnaev’s name was added to the database, but it was not clear which agency added it.
The CIA’s request came months after the FBI had closed a preliminary inquiry into Tsarnaev after getting a similar inquiry from Russia, officials told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
The FBI inquiry lasted from March to June 2011, Reuters reports.
“There was a concern he might have some kind of ties to terrorism,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told the Post. “We did everything legally that we could do with the little bit of information we had.
“After we did, we found no derogatory information,” Bresson said.
However, the FBI did put Tsarnaev’s name on another database — operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and known as TECS — in March 2011, Reuters reports.
His name remained on the list for a year.
And when Tsarnaev left the United States for a six-month trip to Russia in January 2012, the TECS database “pinged” and sent an alert to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multiagency, FBI-led group in Boston, according to Reuters.
Officials, however, differed on who received the alert — with one telling Reuters that it was the FBI’s lead investigator in the Tsarnaev matter, while another official said the alert would have gone to a Customs and Border Protection officer assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
At this point, the officials said, it is unclear what — if anything — the investigators did with that information that TECS had “pinged” about Tsarnaev’s departure from the United States.
One official told Reuters this issue remained under intense investigation within the government.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress on Tuesday the database notification about Tamerlan Tsarnaev expired while he was out of the United States, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, law-enforcement officials told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the FBI request earlier in 2011 came out of concerns from Russian officials that Tsarnaev was a threat to Russia and would commit a terrorist act there — not in the United States.
The Russian federal police made the query to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the Post reports.
Hundreds of such requests come to the FBI every year from foreign governments, a law-enforcement official told the Post.
The findings were reported back to Russia — and Russian authorities were asked if they had any additional information on Tamerlan that should be investigated by the United States, but they said they did not.
“They were satisfied,” the official told the Post. “We had checked on their information. And no further information was provided.”
In Russia on Wednesday, the father of the Tsarnaev brothers told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that they would travel to the United States on Thursday to assist with the investigation.
Their mother was interviewed on Tuesday by Russian security officials, representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told the Post.
“During the talks, it was decided to take the Tsarnaev parents to the United States,” a source told RIA Novosti after the mother’s interview. “The parents have given their consent to this. They will be involved in the U.S. investigation.”
The Americans who interviewed the parents were kind and polite, Heda Saratova, a family lawyer, told the Post on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the younger suspect who has been charged in the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, has told investigators that he and his brother acted alone and were driven by Islamist views and anger over the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also told interrogators that they had no ties to foreign militant groups, U.S. officials said on Tuesday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remained in fair condition under heavy guard at a Boston hospital on Wednesday.
“These are persons operating inside the United States without a nexus” to an overseas group, a U.S. intelligence official told the Post on Wednesday.
Instead, officials have said, the evidence suggests the Tsarnaev brothers were “self-radicalized.”
U.S. officials briefed on the interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said that he has specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan as factors motivating him and his brother in the alleged plot.
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