Boston bombings show need for US Russia cooperation - Putin

Suspect was on two US watchlists; CIA told Russians it had no suspicious information

Thu, Apr 25, 2013, 11:09

Russian president Vladimir Putin said today that the Boston bombings showed the need for Russia and the United States to work more closely on security matters and proved his policy on the restive North Caucasus region was correct.

In his annual question-and-answer session, Mr Putin said: “If we truly join our efforts, we will not allow these strikes and suffer such losses.”

Despite being told in 2011 that an FBI review had found that a man who went on to become one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings had no ties to extremists, the Russian government asked the CIA six months later for whatever information it had on him, US officials have said.

After its review, the CIA also told the Russian intelligence service that it had no suspicious information on the man, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with the police early Friday. It is not clear what prompted the Russians to make the request of the CIA.

The result of the US inquiries into Tsarnaev’s background was that even though he was found to have no connections to extremist groups, his name was entered into two different US government watchlists in late 2011 that were designed to alert authorities if he traveled overseas.

The picture emerging yesterday was of a US counterterrorism bureaucracy that had at least four different contacts with Russian spy services about Tsarnaev in the year before he took a six-month trip to Russia in 2012 but never found reason to investigate him further after he returned from the trip, or any time before last week’s attacks in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 260.

After the CIA cleared Tsarnaev of any ties to violent extremism in October 2011, it asked the National Counterterrorism Center, the nation’s main counterterrorism agency, to add his name to a watch list as a precaution, a US intelligence official said. Other agencies, including the State Department, the Homeland Security Department and the FBI, were alerted.

That database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, which contains about 700,000 names, is the main repository of information from which other government watch lists are drawn, including the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database and the Transportation Security Administration’s “no fly” list.

The information conveyed to the watch list included a transliteration from Cyrillic of Tsarnaev’s name - “Tamerlan Tsarnayev” - two dates of birth (both of which were incorrect, officials said) and one possible variant spelling of his name.

The first Russian request came to the FBI in March 2011, through the bureau’s office in the US Embassy in Moscow. The one-page request said that Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010” and was preparing to travel to a part of Russia “to join unspecified underground groups.” In response, counterterrorism agents in the FBI’s field office in Boston, near where Tsarnaev was living, began a review to determine whether he had extremist tendencies or ties to terrorist groups. The review included examining criminal databases and conducting interviews with Tsarnaev and his family.

The agents concluded by June 2011 that they could not find any connections to extremists, and in August the results of the assessment were provided to the Russians, according to the US official. At the time, FBI agents requested additional information on Tsarnaev and also asked to be informed of any further developments.

In closing out its report, the FBI’s field office in Boston added Tsarnaev’s name to a second watch list, the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, or TECS, which was set up to send an electronic message to customs officials whenever Tsarnaev left the country.

Shortly thereafter, the FBI repeated its request to the Russians for more information. The Russians, however, did not respond with anything new. But a month later, the Russians sent the same request for information on Tsarnaev to the CIA that they had sent to the FBI earlier. That request prompted the CIA to review its databases for information on Tsarnaev, but the agency came to a similar conclusion as the FBI. Around that time, the FBI learned of the request to the CIA and for the second time since providing its findings to the Russians in June, it went back and asked them for additional information on Tsarnaev, according to the official.

The official said the Russians never provided any additional information on Tsarnaev until after he was killed as he and his brother, Dzhokhar, tried to evade police officers who were chasing them in Watertown, Mass. When Tamerlan Tsarnaev left the country on January 12th 2012, for a six-month trip to Dagestan and Chechnya, predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus region of Russia, his flight reservation set off a security alert to customs authorities, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

But Tsarnaev’s departure apparently did not set off a similar alert on the TIDE watch list because the spelling variants of his name and the birth dates entered into the system - exactly how the Russian government had provided the data months earlier - were different enough from the correct information to prevent an alert, a US official said.

When Tsarnaev returned in July, the travel alert “at that point was more than a year old and had expired,” Napolitano said. The new details about the investigation and the coordination between U.S. intelligence emerged as the deputy FBI director, Sean Joyce, and other top counterterrorism officials briefed lawmakers for a second day Wednesday. But members of the House Intelligence Committee left closed briefings on Capitol Hill with many unanswered questions about what or who radicalized the suspects.

New York Times/Reuters