The CIA asked the top US counterterrorism agency to add the deceased Boston bombing suspect to a terror watchlist more than a year before the attacks, officials said on Wednesday.
The spy agency made the move after Russian officials contacted their CIA counterparts in September 2011 about concerns they had over the possible terror ties of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed during a shootout with police last week.
Tsarnaev’s younger brother Dzhokhar, 19, has been charged with federal terror offences including the use of a weapon of mass destruction in the twin blasts on April 15 that killed three and wounded 264 people at the Boston Marathon’s finish line.
Because the older Tsarnaev was a legal permanent US resident, the CIA then shared the information with the appropriate federal departments and agencies, telling them that he may be “of interest” to them, a US intelligence official said.
The data, “nearly identical” to information the FBI received six months earlier in March 2011, included two possible dates of birth, Tsarnaev’s name and a possible name variant, the official added.
“No information was incorrectly entered in the watchlisting system, and all the information was shared precisely as the foreign government provided it.”
Tsarnaev’s name was added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, although it was unclear which agency placed it there. The National Counterterrorism Center maintains TIDE, the main US terror database.
The database feeds information to several government watchlists, including the FBI’s main Terrorist Screening Database and the “no-fly” list of the Transportation Security Administration.
Among the information provided by Russia’s Federal Security Service were two possible dates of birth, his name in Cyrillic letters and a possible variant of his name.
The CIA shared the data with the National Counterterrorism Center, Department of Homeland Security, State Department and FBI for watchlisting purposes.
The latest disclosure from the CIA reveals that US intelligence agencies may have known more about Tsarnaev’s possible extremist links than previously thought.
Lawmakers have expressed growing concern that the case shows continuing problems with government agencies’ failure to share information in a fluid manner – identified as a key problem in the leadup to 9/11 – more than a decade after the suicide airliner attacks on September 11, 2001.
They are pressing government agencies to find out why US authorities did not monitor Tsarnaev more closely in the time that followed the tip from Russia.
During that time, Tsarnaev made a trip to the restive Russian region of Caucasus, a known hotbed of extremist activities.