US lawmakers question Boston intelligence 'failures'
Photographs released by the FBI April 18, 2013, show Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. US lawmakers expressed concern Tuesday over possible intelligence sharing failures after officials admitted a spelling mistake meant the FBI was not informed when Tamerlan Tsarnaev flew to Russia last year.
Investigators are probing the six-month trip made by Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the troubled regions of Dagestan and Chechnya -- home to fierce Islamist and separatist groups -- and whether he was radicalized or trained there.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had said Monday that an Federal Bureau of Investigation official told him Tsarnaev's trip was not flagged to the agency because his name was misspelled in the system, possibly on a plane ticket.
Graham pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the issue Tuesday.
She acknowledged "there was a mismatch there," adding that an immigration reform bill now under debate would cut down on such problems by requiring passports to be digitally readable.
"How could the Homeland Security Department know this guy was leaving the country and the FBI not?" a frustrated Graham told reporters. "Somebody needs to fix that."
US lawmakers have questioned why authorities were not keeping a closer eye on the 26-year-old -- killed in a shootout with police last week -- even after he was interrogated by the FBI in 2011 at Russia's request.
An official at the US embassy in Moscow said a delegation from the embassy has travelled to the Russian North Caucasus region of Dagestan to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
"A group from the US embassy in Moscow travelled to Dagestan yesterday (Tuesday).. to interview the parents," said the official, saying the trip was in line with the cooperation between the FBI and Russian authorities over the investigation.
Asked whether US officials had been alerted to Tsarnaev's travel abroad, Napolitano acknowledged that "the system pinged when he was leaving the United States" for Russia in 2012.
But she added that "by the time he returned, all investigations in the matter had been closed."
A year earlier, Tsarnaev had been questioned by the FBI at the request of Moscow, but investigators apparently concluded he was not a threat.
"We will learn lessons from this attack, just as we have from past instances of terrorism," Napolitano said, speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration.
Senate Republican Susan Collins, who attended a briefing with other Intelligence Committee members, expressed frustration at the lack of sharing of "critical investigative information" among agencies.
"That is troubling to me, that this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001, that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively -- not only among agencies but also within the same agency in one case," she said, referring to the September 11 attacks.
Saxby Chambliss, the committee's top Republican, said it appeared there had been some "stonewalls and some stovepipes" built up around some agencies, but that they seemed unintentional.
"I don't see anybody yet who dropped the ball, (but) that may develop," Chambliss told reporters after the briefing by FBI deputy director Sean Joyce.
Members of Congress were meanwhile given classified FBI briefings about the ongoing investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19, who is hospitalized and in custody on terror charges.
The two ethnic Chechen brothers, who had been living in the United States for over a decade, are accused of the twin marathon bombing on April 15, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.
It was not immediately clear whether Tsarnaev's departure set off a government alert because he was on a terror watchlist or on a broader, central repository of some 500,000 names, known as the TIDE database.
The committee's Democratic chair Dianne Feinstein warned of the "long, arduous task" of piecing together the attack and what may have motivated the suspects, but insisted intelligence agencies were working well together.
"I have never in my lifetime seen an effort as positive as this one is in terms of the cooperation and communication between law enforcement and investigative agencies, and I believe they will get to the bottom of it eventually," she said.
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