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House panel details failures in run-up to Marathon attack

The report highlights ways agencies failed to detain Tamerlan Tsarnaev before he allegedly planned the attack.AP/File

WASHINGTON — A new congressional report provides one of the most detailed chronologies yet available of the agonizing failures to connect all the dots in the months before the Boston Marathon bombings, but it stops short of laying blame for the missed opportunities to scrutinize Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities.

The report, conducted by the House Committee on Homeland Security, does not outright blame the FBI or CIA for potential security lapses and it does not conclude that the bombings would have been prevented, according to two officials familiar with its contents.

It highlights the ways intelligence agencies missed an opportunity to detain Tsarnaev less than a year before he allegedly planned the attack, when he returned from a trip to Dagestan in July 2012.


It also says that Tsarnaev “was likely inspired by the global jihadist ideology,” according to the two people familiar with its contents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The House committee report — which was in the process of being declassified earlier this week — is based on information gathered from congressional trips to Russia and Boston, several public and private hearings, and other interviews. It is expected to be released later this week, followed by a public hearing in early April.

The report provides background on the terrorist networks in the Caucasus, where Tsarnaev visited a year before the bombings, and it provides a general history of the Tsarnaev family, according to one of the officials. It delves into some of the information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s travel, including allegations of his ties to extremists in the region.

It also includes an overview of the events on the day of the Marathon bombings, and the subsequent manhunt.

“The report examines Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s history, and what federal agencies knew about him and any threat he might have posed,” said Charlotte Sellmyer, a committee spokeswoman. “It largely focuses on questions surrounding his travel, and the sharing of information between federal and state agencies.”


The report also provides seven recommendations to mitigate future threats.

The April 15 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shoot-out with police 3½ days after the bombings.

His younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured in Watertown and is awaiting trial on 30 charges in federal court.

NBC News first reported some of the details included in the report on Tuesday night.

The House committee’s report is one of several investigations that was launched in the aftermath of the bombings. The reviews, intended to determine what steps may be necessary to help prevent a similar attack, have been bogged down, leaving unanswered questions and frustrating members of Congress.

“It’s been too long,” Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat and member of the committee, said in a recent interview. “The urgency is quite obvious: There’s the threat of future attacks.”

The head of the Department of Homeland Security said earlier this month that his agency would provide a long-promised report on lessons learned “in a few weeks.” A third major review is being conducted at the request of James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence.

That report is expected in the “early spring” but some close observers expect the unclassified summary of the findings to be fairly limited.

The House committee produced a timeline of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trips to Russia, and some of the early warning signs that may have been overlooked. Much of the information in the timeline appears to have already been publicly known, but it offers some additional details.


The first warnings came from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, in March 2011. The warning, just over a page long, included contact information for many members of the Tsarnaev family, and it warned that Tamerlan was known to have associated with radical Islamists, according to both sources familiar with the report.

The FBI opened an investigation and interviewed Tsarnaev in person. Based off of its investigation, Tsarnaev’s name was entered into a database called TECS that would trigger alerts if he left or reentered the United States.

In June 2011, the FBI closed its investigation and concluded “the assessment found no links to terrorism,” according to the two officials.

A few months later, in September, the FSB sent a second warning to the CIA, which was similar to the one it sent to the FBI. The CIA shared information on Tsarnaev with several other intelligence agencies on Oct. 19, 2011, which included his name and a possible alternative spelling, according to one of the officials.

The next day, Tsarnaev was entered a second time into the TECS system, with some dire warnings. But this time, the name was misspelled, with an extra y: “Tsarnayev,” a detail that was made public not long after the bombings.

The note said that his detention was “mandatory” if he were found leaving or reentering the US, according to NBC.


“Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer at NTC (24X7),” says the note, according to NBC News, which reported it had seen a copy. “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.”

Several months later, Tsarnaev boarded a flight to Moscow at New York’s JFK airport. An alert was triggered, but Tsarnaev was not pulled out for any searches or interviews.

There was a high volume of other potential suspects traveling through customs that day who were considered a higher priority, officials said.

Tsarnaev left for Dagestan, where US authorities have said he sought training from Islamic radicals.

He returned to the United States on July 17, 2012. By that time, the first TECS note, which lasts for a year, had expired. The second note was still in effect, but his name was misspelled so he was not pulled aside for additional questioning.

Less than nine months later, bombs would go off in Boston.

Matt Viser can be reached at