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.
“He went over to Russia, but apparently when he got on the airplane, they misspelled his name, so it never went into the system that he actually went to Russia,” Mr. Graham said.
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.
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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.
“One of two things happened,” Mr. Graham said. “The FBI either dropped the ball or our system doesn’t allow the FBI to follow this guy in an appropriate fashion.”
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.
When it comes to following up on the warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Russia, Mr. Carney also said the FBI “thoroughly investigated it.”
“The FBI followed up on the information that it received about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder brother; they investigated it thoroughly and did not find terrorist activity domestic or foreign,” he said.
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.
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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.
“How do you boil down the 10,000 other cases to that one [guilty] guy?” he asked, before adding. “And what do you do about the false positives?” referring to innocent people wrongly suspected, arrested or interrogated.
Mr. Graham said Sunday and Monday that a foreign agency’s suspicion should be enough to mark an U.S. resident for federal investigation, but Mr. Mudd noted that Russian intelligence and security agencies have waged war for two decades with Islamic extremists in the North Caucasus and “have an interest in getting us to chase Chechens in this country.”
However, even Internet postings are not sufficient evidence to open an investigation, Mr. Mudd said.
“If it’s looking at websites, I can tell you that’s protected [free] speech,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do in an open society.”
But Mr. Graham also issued a stark warning, saying lawmakers must make sure they have the strongest laws on the books because there will be future attacks on American soil.
“You knew this day was coming and there are more days like this coming,” Mr. Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I can tell you, I hate to say it, but there are more of these people coming after us, and the new way of hitting American is do to it inside, and there’s efforts afoot by international terrorists to recruit American citizens for their cause and we can’t be right every time. So, this is the future and we need to get ready for it.”
• Sean Lengell and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.