One word and you know what I’m talking about.
You know how it is. You turn on the t.v. The network promised a new show but instead throws on the episode that you’ve seen before. Same plot. Same punch lines. Same tired, hack characters working on the same old problems. You’re asking, “Why?”
No answer. They couldn’t care less. We’re not going anywhere.
Crazy thing, the same is going on with the news channels. Let’s recap…
Another attack on American soil and more American casualties. Two brothers from Dagestan, Tameran Tsaranev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsaranev, 19, refugees in the US, are believed responsible for two IED attacks at the Boston Marathon. During the manhunt following the attack, the elder brother, Tameran, was killed in a shootout and Dzhokhar was captured and remains in federal custody. A police confession given by the surviving younger brother, Dzhokhar, cements their involvement.
Questions of who knew what, when abound. It is there where we begin our analysis.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, “Russian authorities contacted the US government with concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev not once, but multiple times” when the Russians raised concerns that Tamerlan may have had links to radical Islam.
Reports from an official source in Makhachkala, Dagestan, confirmed that the Russian internal security service reached out to the FBI last November with some questions about Tamerlan. They provided a copy of his case file to bureau agents.
Dagestan police had first targeted Tsarnaev last summer when, during routine surveillance of an individual known to be involved in the militant Islamic underground movement, the police witnessed the two of them meeting at a Salafi mosque in Makhachkala.
After six such meetings at this same mosque, the militant contact later disappeared. Tsarnaev also left before investigators had a chance to speak with him. According to the Dagestan police, the matter was referred to the FBI that never responded.
The FBI, Boston interviewed Tsarnaev in early summer in 2011 at which time they found no evidence to corroborate the Russian’s suspicions that Tamerlan might pose a credible threat. Law enforcement officials decided that the referral was made more out of the fear that Tamerlan would constitute a threat to Russia rather than the US.
Therefore, Tsarnaev was never deemed a threat by US officials so his name was not placed on a terrorism watch list or a “no fly” list when he traveled to Russia last year.
Tsarnaev’s details were entered into TIDE, a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, because of the earlier FBI contact. No additional details concerning the FBI’s findings have been released.
What is TIDE
For starters, TIDE is an unwieldy database. It holds more than half a million names and serves to document information on people who U.S. authorities see as known, suspected or potential terrorists from around the world.
It was certainly my experience that because of its sheer size and apparent lapses in the quality of its information, agents did not routinely monitor everyone registered there because the system and its records ceased to have value for obvious reasons.
According to official statistics, “As of 2008, TIDE contained more than 540,000 names, although they represented about 450,000 actual people, because some of the entries are aliases or different name spellings for the same person. Fewer than 5 percent of the TIDE entries were U.S. citizens or legal residents”, according to a description of the database on the NCTC website.
The TIDE database was established in response to the 9/11 attacks but its overall effectiveness in the war on terror has been called into question. In testimony before Congress, intelligence and security agencies acknowledged that in one significant case, although Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been listed in the TIDE database, they missed clues to his failed attack that would lead him to be forever known as the Detroit “underpants bomber.”
In the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, because he was not deemed an active threat, his name was only briefly on a list that would have triggered monitoring. Otherwise, Tsarnaev was not put on the “no-fly” list that would have banned him from boarding an airplane in the US nor was he named on the Selectee List, which would have required him to be given extra security screening at airports.
His name was entered in another database, this one maintained by the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection bureau that uses it to screen people crossing U.S. land borders and entering at airports or by sea.
Tsarnaev was flagged on that database when he left the United States for Russia in January 2012 but no alarm was raised, presumably because the FBI had not identified him as a threat after the interview.
DHS Secretary Napolitano said that Tsarnaev’s travel did set off warning bells, at least when he left. But that raises the question of how could DHS know that Tsarnaev was traveling without having him on a watch list? More importantly, did DHS let the FBI know?
Well, did they?
It doesn’t look that way.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) remarked to news sources that, “It was clear to me that the homeland security shop had information about the travel to Russia, the FBI did not, and they’re not talking to each other and they’re going back to the pre-9/11 problems here,” Graham said.
The FBI denied that DHS would have known about Tamerlan’s travel although DHS claims that it did. In addition, the bureau claimed that Tsarnaev’s name was misspelled on airline passenger manifests so there would not have been an alert generated in the first place because there would be no match of this misspelled version of his name with FBI records.
If the spelling issue wasn’t bad enough, when he returned from Russia six months later, he had already been automatically downgraded in the border database because there was no new information that required him to continue to get extra attention. It stands to reason that he did not get a secondary inspection on his re-entry at New York’s JFK Airport. It is also unclear exactly what the procedure was for such a downgrade except that it probably freed up digital space for another person’s misspelled name.
So what about the lessons learned from 9/11 – government wide information sharing and cooperation?
Republican Senator Susan Collins said there were problems in sharing information ahead of the Boston bombings, too.
“This 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,” she said.
This mirrors the July 2004, 9/11 Commission Report that reported that failures of policies, procedures, and dysfunctional inter-agency relations contributed in no small way to the successful attacks.
Part of the failure was the CIA’s inability to communicate intelligence information to the FBI. In this case, the CIA asked the main U.S. counterterrorism agency to add the name of one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers to a watch list more than a year before the attack, according to U.S. officials.
According to reports, “The agency took the step after Russian authorities contacted officials there in the fall of 2011 and raised concerns that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was seen as an increasingly radical Islamist and could be planning to travel overseas. The CIA requested that his name be put on a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. The CIA’s request came months after the FBI had closed a preliminary inquiry into Tsarnaev after getting a similar inquiry about him from Russian state security.”
It wasn’t done.
What did we miss?
In an interview with the Belgian press, Secretary of State John Kerry said,
“We just had a young person (Tamerlan Tsarnaev ) who went to… Chechnya, who blew people up in Boston. So he didn’t stay where he went, but he learned something where he went and he came back with a willingness to kill people.”
Kerry’s assessment contradicts that of federal law enforcement officials who, believe “the brothers had apparently been radicalized by material on the Internet rather than by contact with militant groups overseas.”
You might imagine that the State Department wasted little time in trying to walk back Kerry’s statement. In a hastily arranged, follow up presser, Patrick Ventrell, Acting Deputy Spokeman, U.S. Department of State, responded to media questions of the event.
QUESTION: Let me just – because I want to be clear on this point. From reading the transcript – no U.S. press were present, so we are reading the transcript – it seems that Kerry is suggesting that Tamerlan was radicalized during his time in Russia. You’re saying that that is not what he meant to say and that he was speaking more broadly about radicalization.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. I’m clarifying his remarks and saying that he was simply expressing broad concern about radicalism. This isn’t about new details about the ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: So when he learned something, it was about radicalism, but he learned about radicalism; he wasn’t radicalized? That doesn’t make too much sense to me.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re not getting into any more details about the –
QUESTION: Right. But you put out a statement and the clarification doesn’t clarify anything. So did he learn – was he radicalized in Russia?”
I hope that everyone is clear on that. Any questions?
The Verdict Is In
Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI, defended the FBI’s performance in the Boston bombings at two closed hearings in Congress on Tuesday.
Days later, the FBI was accused of having “dropped the ball” regarding the older Tsarnaev brother. “The FBI missed a lot of things is one potential answer, or laws do not allow the FBI to follow up in a sound, solid way,” Senator, Lindsey Graham said.
Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counter-terrorism, had his own take.
“This is the fifth case I’m aware of where the FBI has failed to stop someone,” he told Fox News Sunday, going on to cite the cases of al-Qaida recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, Little Rock shooter Carlos Bledsoe, the accused Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik and alleged American-Pakistani terrorist David Coleman Headley.”
“This is the latest in a series of cases like this … where the FBI is given information about someone as being a potential terrorist. They look at them, and then they don’t take action and then they go out and commit murders,” King said.
It could be months or more likely years before anyone knows anything beyond that reported in the media. I doubt that we’ll even remember this as the years pass. The nuts and bolts of operations and the cause for their failure to stop this attack may remain classified to prevent them ever being known.
Terrorism on our soil and bloodshed in our streets fueled by feckless politicians and faceless bureaucrats unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to keep America safe. The bottom line after all this time: We haven’t learned a thing.
Sounds like a re-run.
I hate re-runs.
Brett Braaten is the author of Homeland Insecurity: Failed Politics, Policies, and a Nation at Risk. His book brings his no nonsense, insider’s account of the current state of national security to help you decide whether you, your family, and your country are truly safe. Brett’s career as a writer and speaker is informed by 30 years of experience as a federal agent with U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security. Brett Braaten draws back the curtain on the vast federal law enforcement bureaucracy to give a rare glimpse of behind the scenes agency responses to politics and policies that impact national security, sovereignty and the economy. “As a former special agent with both the U.S. Customs Service and later Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I enjoyed a great career. In retrospect, it was job satisfaction that most of us spent time looking for as we did our jobs in a system that fostered more obstacles than solutions.” Contact Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org .Visit his website, at www.homeland-insecurity.com for his thoughts and analysis of current issues affecting national security and the well-being of American families.