High-ranking FBI officials will face questioning by US lawmakers over whether they failed to spot red flags surrounding slain Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The officials will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed hearing later on Tuesday.
Following a wave of criticism from US lawmakers over the FBI’s potential mishandling of information, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the intelligence committee, said legislators would have to “sort it out” following a briefing with security officials.
In 2011, Russian authorities asked the FBI to question Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who had legal permanent resident status in the US, over concerns he was linked to Islamic extremists. The FBI confirmed Friday that agents had interviewed Tsarnaev and other family members that year following Russia’s request, but “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.”
“There just wasn’t anything there,” said a federal law enforcement official who was briefed on the matter. “We ask that the government get back with us if they develop new information, but they did not. The Russians seemed satisfied, so we closed it.”
At the time of his death, Tsarnaev’s application for citizenship was still under review as a result of that 2011 interview; he was still being investigated by federal law enforcement officials.
House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul wrote to the FBI and other officials, asking why Russia’s request to investigate Tsarnaev did not spur further action. “
If he was on the radar and they let him go, he’s on the Russians’ radar, why wasn’t a flag put on him, some sort of customs flag?” the Republican lawmaker said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham claimed
“the FBI or the system dropped the ball” on the elder suspect. He urged better cooperation with Russia, and changes to privacy laws that would allow closer monitoring of a suspect’s Internet usage.
Speaking with Fox on Monday, Graham revealed a misspelling in Tsarnaev’s name kept the FBI in the dark about the bombing suspect’s early 2012 trip to Russia.
“He went over to Russia, but apparently, when he got on the Aeroflot plane, they misspelled his name,”Graham said.
“So it never went into the system that he actually went to Russia.” Graham further stated that it remained unclear whether Tsarnaev had intentionally misspelled his name in order to hide his trip from authorities.
After his 2011 FBI interview, Tsarnaev’s name was put into the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, which helps US officials screen individuals arriving to the country. Due to the misspelling, the suspected bomber was able to exit and reenter the US without setting off alarms.
In the wake of the twin bombings near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured more than 264 last week, Tsarnaev was killed after a sprawling manhunt that culminated in a fierce shootout early Friday morning. His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was arrested the following evening and hospitalized with serious injuries sustained during his attempts to evade capture.
On Monday, Dzhokhar was charged in his hospital with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, and malicious destruction of property resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Dzhokhar told investigators that he and his brother did not have co-conspirators in the bombing plot, the New York Times reported.
He further accused his brother of being the mastermind behind the attacks.