Russia warned U.S. about Tsarnaev, but spelling error let him escape

140324-boston-bombing-tamerlan-tsarnaev_b041bd87b42c8d8228fc782d2b529c8c.nbcnews-ux-960-700It wasn’t just a spelling error. “In June 2011, the FBI investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev was closed. According to the report, ‘the assessment found no links to terrorism.'” Did they know what to look for, or how to evaluate the data they received from the Russians? As I explain in detail in my forthcoming book Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We’re In, the FBI was at that time busy deleting all references to Islam and jihad from counter-terror training materials — at the behest of Muslim pressure groups, some with links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Were agents on the Tsarnaev case able to understand what they were getting from the Russians, and if so, were they able to operate freely enough to act upon it properly, or did they fear that doing so would render them vulnerable to charges of “Islamophobia”?

“Russia Warned U.S. About Tsarnaev, But Spelling Issue Let Him Escape,” by Tom Winter for NBC News, March 25 (thanks to Pamela Geller):

The Russian government warned U.S. authorities that Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a violent radical Islamist more than a year and a half before the April 2013 bombing, but authorities missed multiple chances to detain Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for terror training, according to a soon-to-be released Congressional report.

In one instance, according to the report prepared by investigators for the House Homeland Security Committee and copies of documents reviewed by NBC News, Tsarnaev was supposed to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport because he was considered potentially armed and dangerous, but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database.

“This sounds like a huge hole and an opportunity missed,” said Ed Davis, who was Boston’s chief of police at the time of the Marathon bombing.

NBC News has reviewed a copy of the report and copies of documents referenced in the report and constructed a timeline that shows how Russia warned the U.S. and what the U.S. did, and didn’t do, in response.

In March 2011, the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency that arose from the remnants of the KGB, sent a cable to the FBI with its concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the Tsarnaev family. By then, the Tsarnaevs, a Muslim family of mixed Chechen ancestry, had been living in Massachusetts for almost a decade. Tamerlan, born in 1986, had attended a local high school, married an American and become an amateur boxer.

The letter was a page and a quarter long and very detailed. It included contact information, with addresses and phone numbers, for many of the members of the Tsarnaev family, including Tamerlan and his mother. It warned that Tamerlan was known to have associated with violent radical Islamists, including a Canadian Muslim convert named William Plotnikov who was later killed while fighting for the mujahideen in Dagestan.

The FBI responded to the FSB cable by opening an investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in March 2011. The investigation was conducted by members of the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force, an interagency group that includes federal, state and local law enforcement representatives.

An FBI member of the JTTF interviewed Tsarnaev in person. The FBI did not conduct surveillance of Tsarnaev because the case did not rise to the standard that permits surveillance, according to federal officials.

A member of the task force then entered a memo about Tsarnaev into a Customs and Border Protection database called TECS. The database would automatically trigger an alert on a so-called “Hot List” any time Tsarnaev left or reentered the United States.

“Subject is of interest to the Boston JTTF,” said the TECS memo. “If subject is encountered, contact FBI Special Agent [Name and contact information redacted by Department of Homeland Security]. Conduct a full CTR Secondary” – interview and search the subject — “if encountered entering or exiting the U.S.”

In June 2011, the FBI investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev was closed. According to the report, “the assessment found no links to terrorism.”

On Sept. 11, 2011, three individuals were found with their throats cut and marijuana sprinkled over their body in Waltham, Mass. One of the victims, Brendan Mess, was a neighbor and long-time sparring partner of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and had been introduced by Tsarnaev to the owner of a martial arts gym as his “best friend.”

Authorities linked the deaths to drug dealing, and noted that they had nearly been decapitated. Investigators say all three victims were Jewish.

Nearly two years later, after the Boston Marathon bombings, authorities interviewed an associate of Tsarnaev’s named Ibragim Todashev about the Waltham murders. The FBI shot and killed Todashev during the interview when he allegedly attacked an agent. The FBI, which has been cleared of wrongdoing by state authorities and an internal review, says Todashev was about to sign a statement implicating both himself and Tsarnaev in the murders when he was killed.

In the immediate aftermath of the Waltham murders, however, authorities made no arrests. Tsarnaev was not questioned.

In late September, six months after it had sent its first cable to the FBI, the FSB sent a second cable to the CIA, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The Russians’ second cable restated the warnings of the first memo, and was very similar in language and content.

There is no indication that the FBI reopened their file or conducted further investigative efforts after the CIA received its version of the FSB cable.

On Oct. 19, 2011, the CIA shared information on Tsarnaev with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), DHS, the State Department and the FBI. The information shared included two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible alternate spelling of his name.

The CIA nominated Tsarnaev for inclusion in the terror watchlisting system. The NCTC then added Tsarnaev’s name to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database, a central U.S. government terror database that includes hundreds of thousands of names. TIDE is not itself a watchlist, but is used as a source for watchlists like TECS.

A second note about Tamerlan Tsarnaev was entered into the TECS system on October 20, 2011, according to sources familiar with the investigation conducted for the Congressional report. The second TECS entry, which NBC News has seen, spells Tsarnaev’s name as “Tsarnayev,” with an extra y, and warns that he might be armed and dangerous.

The note directs that if Tsarnaev is encountered leaving or reentering the U.S., his detention is “mandatory.” It says, “Escort to CBP [Customs] secondary and detain.”

“Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer at NTC (24X7),” says the note. “Call is mandatory whether or not the officer believes there is an exact match. Advise the person answering the phone that you have a code tip lookout intercept.”

On January 21, 2012 Tsarnaev traveled to JFK airport in New York to board an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

Though an alert was triggered, Tsarnaev was not pulled out for a secondary search or interview. According to sources familiar with the report, there were almost 100 other names on the “Hot List” of individuals traveling through Customs at JFK that day, and Tsarnaev was not considered high priority.

Tsarnaev flew to Moscow, and then to Dagestan, where he stayed for six months and received jihad training, according to U.S. authorities.

On July 17, 2012, Tsarnaev flew back to the United States, landing at JFK. TECS notes remain in effect for one year. The initial TECS note had expired. The second, more urgent TECS note filed in October 2011 that said he might be armed and dangerous had not.

But no alert was triggered when Tsarnaev passed through Customs at JFK, because of the misspelling of his name on the second TECS note. The difference of one letter – Tsarnayev instead of Tsarnaev – meant that he was not detained or questioned despite the warning in his file, according to sources familiar with the report.

On April 15, 2013, bombs killed three people during the Boston Marathon. Tamerlan was killed during a shootout with police on April 19 in Watertown, Mass., and his brother Dzhokhar was discovered hiding in a boat nearby later the same day. Dzhokhar now faces federal terrorism charges in connection with the bombing that carry a possible death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty.

The House Homeland Security Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Michael McCaul (R.-Texas), is expected to make its report public as early as Thursday.

The report re-examines numerous facts that surfaced immediately after the bombing and in subsequent months. It compiles the material and puts it in perspective before making recommendations for changes to procedures. The report is not without controversy – several Democratic members of the committee did not sign on to the report.

A congressional staffer told NBC News that “the report is not blaming the FBI.” The staffer said the report is “looking at processes and filling holes.”

Fine. I’ll blame the FBI.

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  1. mortimer says

    See no Jihad. Hear no Jihad. Speak no Jihad.

    That is the policy of Obama & Co. They intentionally leave Americans vulnerable to Jihad. This is criminal negligence, Mr. President.

    Bring back the FBI and CIA trainers that teach the doctrine of warfare against the disbelievers….NORMATIVE ISLAM…rather than an aberration.

    • PAthena says

      Omitting all references to “jihad” and Muslim threats of terrorism is the policy of President Barack Obama, Muslim manqué. He ordered that the jihad massacre by Major Hassan, shouting “Allahu Akbar as he shot 13 American soldiers at Fort Hood, be labelled “workplace violence,” instead of Muslim jihad. Obama is an apologist for Muslim jihad everywhere and is even now objecting to the ouster of Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood ruler of Egypt. (Obama has a half-brother from Kenya who is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood connection to Obama is also shown by the fact that when Hillary Clinton was his Secretary of State, her close aide was Huma Abedin, from a family of the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Sisterhood.

  2. says

    If they had his name then they had his passport number. He was just ignored. In any event though a secondary inspection would have found nothing. He wasn’t carrying guns or bombs with him.

  3. Caruso says

    The FBI has for DECADES resorted to “spelling errors” to hide inconvenient evidence or to derail investigations.

    After receiving highly detailed information regarding Tsarnaev from Russia, the FBI would immediately have located his passport number, social security number, cell phone numbers, family connections, etc. This is law enforcement 101.

    Given the nature of the suspicions against Tsarnaev, all this information would have been communicated to USCIS and other agencies, UNLESS there was an instruction at the highest level to let Tsarnaev back into the U.S.

    Tsarnaev must have checked in to his flight in Russia using his U.S. passport or green card. This information would have been available to USCIS about 10 hours before his actual arrival. The system would automatically flag Tsarnaev’s imminent arrival and give USCIS officers plenty of time to respond accordingly.

    In any event, the “spelling error” in this case is actually just a question of transliteration style. The Russian letter E is sometimes transliterated as “ye”, sometimes merely “e”, often depending on personal preference or style. For example, “Yeltsin” and “Brezhnev” could just as validly be be transliterated as “Eltsin” and “Bryezhnyev”, respectively. Any FBI analyst worth her salt would immediately have checked

    CONCLUSION: Tsarnaev’s arrest and investigation in the U.S. was stopped – probably by telephoned order without written record – at the highest level, probably by Janet Napolitano personally.

    • Caruso says


      Any FBI analyst worth her salt would immediately have checked BOTH ALTERNATIVE transliterations (ye and e) for each occurrence of the Russian letter “E”.

      The Russian alphabet is quite similar to the Latin alphabet and can easily be learned in one or two days. Of course, every peasant in Russia can read the alphabet.

      It bears repeating that the FBI has no shortage of highly trained, intelligent and conscientious agents and staff. It is an INSULT to those people to claim that they were misled by a routine transliteration issue in a sensitive, high profile case.

      Most likely, a mid-level political female political operative within Homeland Security (likely a Georgetown girl) made it her mission to purge FBI files and investigations of any “Islamophobia”, with the active but unspoken connivance of Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder.

      • gravenimage says

        Why “female”? Men have proven to be just as susceptible to dhimmitude as women.

    • says

      Actually, I’m inclined to give the FBI the benefit of the doubt here. When dealing with languages not written in Roman letters–especially ones that do not have official currency– all kinds of issues can come crawling out of the woodwork, as well as mistakes.

      When working in the US Consulate in Gaungzhou, where all US immigrant visa processing for Mainland China went on, I got a communication from an honorable member of the Senate (may he rest in peace) about a constituent’s alien wife (“alien” here means a non-US citizen). The problem was that the lady was from Inner Mongolia–and the Mongol language is about as much like Chinese as it is to English; is written in a completely different alphabetic script ultimately derived from the Syriac rather than from Chinese logograms; and has naming conventions quite at variance with Chinese. Well, under the transliteration the honorable Senator sent me, nothing came up in the records.

      About two weeks later, a young lady waltzes into the Consulate with a letter informing her to get her records and certificates in order and a date for an immigrant visa interview. Guess what? The petitioner was the honorable Senator’s constituent, and the beneficiary, a Mongol girl, if the name was shifted slightly, came out as the Senator’s mistaken transliteration. Apparently, the case was in the pipeline all along, with all the correspondence sent as stipulated, the interview date had come due, etc. But with the wrong transliteration, the case couldn’t be found–although keying in the right transliteration, everything fell into place. It was a pretty routine case, I approved, then wrote a suitably apologetic letter to the honorable Senator explaining what had gone wrong.

      Add to the issue, there were enough American officers with expertise in Mandarin and Cantonese, but we also had some people from the Chinese foreign minister (from whom anything at all sensitive was carefully kept) with skills in odder southern Chinese dialects (believe it or not, the Communist educational system did not make a knowledge of Mandarin universal in a lot of rural southern China) such as Si Yap and Fuzhou. However, we had nobody who knew Mongol (thank goodness the girl in the case above spoke Mandarin!).

      Another issue involved Viet Nam-born persons (folks expelled from VN in 1978) who had relatives who washed up in the USA. Well, this was somewhat simpler, for the Viets used Chinese naming conventions; but Sino-Viet names didn’t come out in Romanization like the Chinese forms: 阮Ruan=Nguyen; 陈Chen=Tran; 长Chang = Truong, and the like. So, there was a little bit of toggling and special requesting when we had to deal with ex-Viet Overseas Chinese whose relatives in the States referred to them by Vietnamese forms (worse yet, addresses and place names in China were spelled in Vietnamese, and needed some sorting out as well–think how in English we call Koeln Cologne and Muenchen Munich.

      And then there were the old-timers who immigrated to the States in the days before we adopted Pinyin Romanization who finally got citizenship and petitioned for their sibs left back in China: Mr. Chang, who immigrated from Taiwan in 1970, petitions for sibs whose documents say “Zhang”–but they’re all written with the Hanzi 张; or the people whose Chinese documents identify them as “Wu” are the sibs of a naturalized American who uses the Cantonese or Hakka form “Ng”–but in all cases the Hanzi is 吴. This issue is unavoidable, for under Chinese law, all names in Sinitic dialects must be transliterated in Mandarin (Putonghua) and in Pinyin spelling, regardless of native dialect form.

      Given that most old country correspondence and discussion about the Tsarnaev family would be in either Russian or Chechen (which, I understand, have nothing in common save the post-1917 Cyrillic alphabet), I can guess that the FBI may have run into times of confusion dealing with it. While I’m not altogether gung-ho about the FBI and other Federal security agencies, I will at least recognize that the FBI often tries to be careful that it’s chasing a real criminal, and not just someone who may have a similar name, but may be unrelated to the illegal activity.

      Hence, while I’m not a big fan of big government agencies, I have some sympathetic understanding of what the FBI people may have gone through in shifting through the records on the Tsarnaevs.

      • Caruso says

        Unfortunately, this case is precisely analogous to the well-established spelling alternatives mentioned above (e.g. Vietnamese Ruan = Chinese Nguyen, Huang = Huynh, etc.)

        The Russian spelling discrepancy would immediately have been spotted by anyone with a basic knowledge of the Russian alphabet.

        The Russian (and Saudi) warnings to the U.S. government said in effect “We know Tsarnaev is in the U.S., and he is up to no good.”

        Even where the spelling cannot be ascertained, other details (date of birth, residential address, credit card number, known travel to Dagestan/Russia, etc.) could easily have been searched by the FBI and USCIS.

        Given what the FBI and USCIS easily CAN do with many capable agents, the only reasonable explanation of what happened is that they were INSTRUCTED to stand down. In the circumstances, such an instruction could only have been issued at the HIGHEST LEVEL.

      • Linus Adenoids says

        Thank you, Kepha, for this obviously authoritative review of the complexities of transcribing the World’s myriad ethnic, tribal, and national [in it’s broadest application] printed character/script variations of family names into a single common written format understandable to all, especially by us Americans. No easy feat. I’d say that that was literally [pun alert!] impossible. I mean that.

        Moreover, then expect to have some computer “programmer” [I hate that pretentious term] reduce that horrendous complexity into “0’s”and “1’s” . Caramba! Holey Moley! Sacre Bleu!…at least those exclamations are all Romanized.

        I certainly wouldn’t want to be the “programmer” assigned to do that transcribing. Nor the hapless Federal employee tasked in turn with making those “calls”.

        However I reject the somewhat snarky auto-rejection “of big government agencies”. Does that apply in the same manner to our State Department?

        Isn’t that stereotyping?

  4. says

    When will Americans understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually running this country? When will they understand that Obama and his gang are traitors? And most importantly, when will they react and actually DO SOMETHING about it?
    After only one year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, the proud Egyptian people crushed them out of power, labelled them “terrorist thugs”, threw their leaders in prison, and are now prosecuting them for high treason.
    When will Americans do the same?

    N.B. Egyptians are UNARMED, Americans are!

  5. veggiedog says

    Accountability for this must be on the CIC of the US…. Let American agents do their freaking jobs.

  6. duh_swami says

    Oh, a sprelling arror, that splains everthing dun it.

    You would think they could do better than that. That cover up is wafer thin.

  7. veggiedog says

    Kind of makes one think of the Bengazi BS. It is not just this administration, they are all corrupt, this one just that much more than others.

  8. Michael Copeland says

    A small fact correction: police were called to the triple homicide on the 12th Sept.. The killings had happened the previous evening, the 11th, but Boston police failed to notice the anniversary significance of 9/11/01.
    The police misleadingly described the victims as “stabbed in the neck”. This is a reprehensibly inadequate description for the very violent throat-slashing that left their heads almost severed, as reported since. The warning from Russia had not been passed on to Boston by the FBI.
    Tamerlan Tsarnaev did not attend the funeral of his “best friend”, one of the victims.

  9. says

    I blame the FBI. Our country is filled with evil, lies, traitors, denial, and forces starting at the very top in government, trying to tear down America along with help from dishonest media. When I called the FBI to complain about the rewriting of their manuals, with no mention of our enemy, jihad and Sharia law, the phone clicked off four times. It was a sound I’d never heard on my phone before. I was so angry I called Michele Bachman’s office and told them the story. They also thought it was odd. We are being lied to daily by our government and institutions, while our freedoms are stolen.

  10. Jay Boo says

    Ref to:
    It wasn’t just a spelling error.
    [ the FBI was at that time busy deleting all references to Islam and jihad from counter-terror training materials ]

    NPR was trying to sell the spelling error excuse today.
    I suspect that NPR does a few test market broadcasts and then reports the sniff test results back to the Al Jazeera / Obama central command.
    At least the FBI is not blaming the “innocence of Muslims film. (Yet)

    • Carolyne (With an "E") says

      I can’t help wondering just how many “Tips” about terrorists the FBI receives from the Russians. If it were thousands, I can sort of understand their losing track of these two But if it were only hundreds, and I have read there were only 100 names on the “Watch list.” there is no excuse for this.

      But I think we know that our intelligence agencies are not allowed to pursue investigations of Muslims so they use their time and technical equipment to check on innocent Americans.
      IMO the most serious threat we face today is not “Climate change” as Kerry recently declared, but the unfettered entry of Islamist terrorists into our country. I believe that every Muslim who attempts to enter should either be turned away or strip searched before they even board a plane to come here. I do not believe Muslims should be allowed to fly a plane at all. It seems to me that even if a pilot didn’t purposely crash a plane to kill himself and hundreds of others, Muslims must not be allowed to learn to fly a plane, at least in this country. I started to say “Over which we have control,” but of course we don’t have control. Our Muslim president and his pals at the Muslim Brotherhood have seen to that.

      • gravenimage says

        Carolyne, good post.

        Just one point. You wrote:

        IMO the most serious threat we face today is not “Climate change” as Kerry recently declared, but the unfettered entry of Islamist terrorists into our country. I believe that every Muslim who attempts to enter should either be turned away or strip searched before they even board a plane to come here.

        The problem with this is that the deadliest thing that Muslims are bringing into the US (or *any* Infidel nation) is not weapons or explosives, but *Islam*.

        Plenty of Muslims would pass that strip-search test just fine, but then wage violent Jihad *after* they arrived here.

        In fact, the Tsarnaevs themselves are just one example…

  11. gravenimage says

    Russia warned U.S. about Tsarnaev, but spelling error let him escape

    I realize that honest human error is *always* a possibility.

    But no—this *wasn’t* just a spelling error—the Tsarnaevs were identified, then dismissed.

    And if the Russians give us a specific head’s up, then there is no excuse for not following it up much more thoroughly.

    I wonder what the result to the next “spelling error” will be?

    • dumbledoresarmy says

      You observed – “And if the Russians give us a specific head’s up, then there is no excuse for not following it up much more thoroughly.”


      Russia has no particular love for the USA; so if the Russians – the *Russians*, the FSB, for pity’s sake! – get the wind up enough, about one particular mohammedan, that they try – not once, but TWICE – to warn the U.S about him, then that warning should have been taken with the *utmost* seriousness.

      It almost warrants a few Islamosavvy American citizens taking the trouble to write to the Russian ambassador in the USA and say – Thanks for the warnings, at least you tried.