The FBI did not know that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older Boston Marathon bombing suspect, took a six-month trip to Russia because his name was misspelled, according to a key Republican senator on national-security issues.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Monday that he had spoken to an assistant director at the FBI about the agency’s failure to monitor Tsarnaev after interviewing him in 2011 following a tip from the Russian government that he could be dangerous. Late Friday, the FBI said it found nothing “derogatory” after that initial questioning.
Tsarnaev, 26, died early Friday morning after a gunfight with police in Watertown, Mass. Younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was taken into custody Friday night and is in as hospital being treated for gunshot wounds.
The revelation that the FBI looked into Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible link to terrorist groups but gave him a clean bill of health, has drawn several days of criticism from lawmakers and now the promise of congressional probes.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Monday that she would hold a closed-door briefing with FBI officials, as soon as Tuesday. And Republican Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said his committee would be looking into the matter as well.
Mr. Graham said Monday that the Boston Marathon bombing provides Congress with a “good case study” into whether law enforcement officials need to be equipped with more tools to monitor people suspected of having ties to radical Islam.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday defended the FBI, saying the agency did “extraordinary work” in responding to the Boston attack, identifying the suspects and working with state and local authorities to bring them to justice.
Also Monday, a former U.S. official who helped hunt Osama bin Laden defended the FBI over lawmakers’ charges that the bureau “dropped the ball,” pointing to the limits of what is legal and possible in a large, free society.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Phillip Mudd, a career counterterrorism official who held senior posts with both the FBI and the CIA, retorted: “Be careful what you wish for.”
“If you want to surveil those guys, first of all you’ve got pay for it,” he said. “No one in this country seems to like paying taxes.”
Mr. Mudd noted that lowering the bar for opening investigations would mean creating thousands of new cases, most of which would be useless.