Officials: Dead Boston suspect's name in database
BOSTON -- 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.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday that Tsarnaev's name was misspelled and Tsarnaev's correct name never went into the system.
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 question is why? Michael Ricciuti, the former chief of the Antiterrorism and National Security unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office, told 7News in cases like that the FBI must go by the book.
"The bureau is a very structured organization. The field agent or agents, would do an initial assessment, they would report to a supervisor or squad leader, decision to continue or not would be reviewed up the chain of command. It’s not by whim, it’s not one agent, it’s the bureau as an entity,” said Michael Ricciuti.
7News found inside a rule book used by every FBI field agent, for 40 pages, it lists the rules and procedures for how agents must separate what looks like criminal activity from what isn’t. It's step by incremental step with the least invasive methods first. If within a certain number of days there is not enough evidence, a threat, a crime or a link to a foreign power, the guidelines require they stop.
“The notion that they would continue to investigate someone after not finding a basis to do that would violate the bureaus guidelines and would violate the privacy rights the bureau is trying to respect,” said Ricciuti.
An expert told 7News the bureau can’t just continue to investigate people who "look suspicious,” because they receive many leads that turn out not to be true, and they can't overstep the boundaries of the rules.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.