Spelling Error Led to Overlooking Russian Warnings About Boston Bomber
An NBC News report released this week confirms that the Russian government warned the United States twice that Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was associating with radical Islamists, but a variation on the spelling of his name prevented the FBI from stopping him after returning from possible terrorist training in Russia.
Russian intelligence authorities sent two different memoranda, NBC reports, with details on Tsarnaev and his family. The Tsarnaevs had been in Massachusetts for more than a decade upon the arrival of the first memorandum in March 2011. Three months later, an FBI search determined that Tsarnaev had "no links to terrorism," according to the FBI's account. They closed the case.
In September 2011, Russian authorities warned the United States government yet again, repeating many of the same concerns as in the first note. An associate of Tsarnaev's whom he called his best friend and two others were found murdered that month in a triple homicide that many now suspect was Tsarnaev's doing. The murders did not trigger any further suspicions with the FBI, however, as there was no evidence tying Tsarnaev to the killings. The one person who could testify that Tsarnaev did it, an associate named Ibragim Todashev, was killed by FBI agents during an interrogation before he could sign a statement tying Tsarnaev to the murders.
According to NBC, "There is no indication that the FBI reopened their file" after the second memorandum from Russia was sent. Tsarnaev was put on a "hot list" of potentially dangerous individuals, however, that should have triggered questioning upon returning from the Russian republic of Dagestan. Tsarnaev was not questioned because his name was listed as "Tsarnayev" on the government's records.
NBC News bases its report on a congressional investigation, the results of which the network claims will be released in the near future. While none of the information in the report is new, it is significantly more detailed than anything known about surveillance of Tsarnaev until now. Days after the bombing, it was known that Russia warned the United States about him and that he had traveled to Russia to train to commit terrorist acts. Reports also found that Tsarnaev was on a terror watch list but was never spoken to after his return from Russia.
What was not known is how he managed to make the trip without triggering any security checks or being questioned upon returning to the United States. The knowledge that an alternate spelling of Tsarnaev ("Tsarnayev") was responsible for the success of his trip raises many concerns about the effectiveness of Homeland Security.
The United States has accused Russia of not being sufficiently forthcoming in the Tsarnaev matter in the past, suggesting that officials withheld valuable information about the Tsarnaev family in their notes to the FBI.