The CIA request led the National Counterterrorism Center to add Tsarnaev’s name to a database known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, that is used to feed information to other lists, including the FBI’s main terrorist screening database.
The CIA’s request came months after the FBI had closed a preliminary inquiry into Tsarnaev after getting a similar warning from Russian state security, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The disclosure of the CIA’s involvement suggests that the U.S. government may have had more reason than it has previously acknowledged to scrutinize Tsarnaev in the months leading up to the bombing in Boston. It also raises questions why U.S. authorities didn’t flag his return to the United States and investigate him further after a seven-month trip he took to Russia last year.
The CIA declined to comment on its role in the case. A U.S. intelligence official said the agency had “nominated [Tsarnaev] for inclusion in the watchlisting system” and had shared all of the information it had been given by Russia, including “two possible dates of birth, his name and a possible variant.”
The official said the information that Russia provided to the CIA was “nearly identical” to what it had shared with the FBI. U.S. officials said the warning to the CIA came from Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB, and that it was based on fears that Tsarnaev was an Islamist militant who might seek to carry out a terrorist attack in Russia.
Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, immigrated to the United States about a decade ago, but their family had ties to Chechnya, a region where Muslim separatists have been engaged in a bloody conflict with the Moscow government for decades. The younger Tsarnaev, who is recovering from gunshot injuries in a Boston hospital, was apprehended days after the marathon bombing and faces multiple terrorism-related charges.
The FSB appears to have turned over information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, including possible birth dates and the spelling of his name in Cyrillic letters, to CIA officials in Moscow in late September 2011.
The information was passed to CIA headquarters on Oct. 4 and relayed roughly two weeks later to the National Counterterrorism Center, an agency that serves as a clearinghouse for threat data and manages the TIDE database.
The Reuters news agency first disclosed that Tsarnaev’s name was listed in the TIDE database. But the revelation of the CIA’s role is likely to intensify questions about whether the FBI and other domestic law enforcement agencies missed chances to detect or disrupt the bomb plot.