Bill Ayers no longer has the distinction of being the only accused terrorist with whom Barack and Michelle Obama have palled around. Add to the list Abdul Rahman Ali Al-Harbi, the first person of interest identified by federal law enforcement officers following last week's Boston Marathon bombings before they cleared him after the First Lady paid him a visit in his Boston hospital room but after he was placed on a terrorist watch list and quiet arrangements were made for his removal from the country after the Saudi government's foreign minister paid an unscheduled visit to the White House to meet with President Obama. Oh, and did I mention several members of the Al-Harbi clan are being held at Gitmo as enemy combatants?
Russian officials alerted the Central Intelligence Agency about their concerns over the potential radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in late September 2011, and a US intelligence official says the agency nominated Tsarnaev for inclusion on a government terror watchlist.
“In late September 2011, the CIA received information from a foreign government on Tamerlan that was nearly identical to the information the FBI received in March 2011,” a US intelligence official said Wednesday in a written statement.
The information was transmitted to the CIA by Russia’s Federal Security Service.
“The CIA then nominated him for inclusion in the watchlisting system and, given his status as a U.S. person, shared the information with the appropriate Federal Departments and Agencies specifying that Tamerlan may be of interest to them,” the official said.
While Tsarnaev’s name was added to a database of 540,000 people that should be monitored as potential terrorist threats, the listing expired after a year.
News of the CIA’s involvement adds further evidence to the growing pile of information that was available to US authorities about a potentially dangerous and potentially radicalized individual residing in Cambridge. Member of Congress are raising questions about whether the FBI had sufficient information to keep Tsarnaev under greater scrutiny, and whether the Boston Marathon bombings could have been prevented if it had.
Members have said the United States continues to suffer from poor sharing of intelligence information about potential terrorists.
The US intelligence official appeared to seek to deflect any blame from the CIA, stating that the agency properly shared the information it received.
“The CIA shared all the information provided by the foreign government including two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible name variant as well. No information was incorrectly entered in the watchlisting system, all the information was shared precisely as the foreign government provided it,” the official said.
The official added that Russia warnings about Tsarnaev, which were nearly identical, included two possible dates of birth, his name in Cyrillic letters, and a possible variation of his name.
Tsarnaev, who died after a shootout with police on Thursday, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is in fair condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, are suspected of planting the bombs that killed three and injured more than 200 people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15.
The FBI provided more information Wednesday about its handling of the Russian information. The agency undertook an investigation of Tsarnaev in 2011 which did not uncover terrorist activity.
``The request [from Russia] stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups,” said Supervisory Agency Jason J. Pack.
“In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity.”