Napolitano: Yes, we knew that Tamerlan Tsarnaev left for Russia last year

An important follow-up to Lindsey Graham’s claim yesterday that Tsarnaev didn’t ping the federal watch list before his trip to Dagestan because of a spelling error. The Free Beacon asks a good question: Is Napolitano suggesting here that DHS knew when he left, but not when he came back?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that her agency knew of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia last year even though his name was misspelled on a travel document. A key lawmaker had said that the misspelling caused the FBI to miss the trip…

“They told me that they had no knowledge of him leaving or coming back so I would like to talk to you more about this case,” Graham told Napolitano as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on sweeping immigration legislation.

Napolitano said that even though Tsarnaev’s name was misspelled, redundancies in the system allowed his departure to be captured by U.S. authorities in January 2012. But she said that by the time he came back six months later, an FBI alert on him had expired and so his re-entry was not noted.

“The system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned all investigations had been closed,” Napolitano said.

Two law enforcement officials told the AP last night that even if they’d noticed him on that Aeroflot flight manifest, nothing would have happened because they never found a reason to suspect him when they first looked at him in 2011. I find that hard to believe — an American ID’d by Russia as an “extremist” suddenly takes off for Dagestan and the feds don’t care? — but here’s corroborating testimony from Eli Lake’s sources:

Those officials pointed to the FSB’s [i.e. Russian intelligence’s] habit of treating much behavior by Chechens as suspicious, and nearly all such behavior as terror-related. The Tsarnaev request, they speculated, was likely triggered by the FSB’s concern that he would participate in or provide support to Chechen insurrectionists in Russia, rather that by any sense of a threat to American interests.

“The FSB is mad at a lot of Chechens,” said Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, who noted that he did not know at this point whether there was enough intelligence to warrant a full-scale investigation into Tsarnaev in 2011. “Not all of them are terrorists, and even fewer of them are dangerous to the United States.”

“When stuff like this happens, we did what we did we called the long pause,” said Hayden. “You get with your staff, you say it’s these two Chechen idiots, you see what’s in the database. You collect so much stuff, then you go and explain it eventually to Congress.”

In other words, the Russians are always wetting themselves about potential terrorism by Chechens, and even whey they’re right, that’s more of a concern for their intelligence agencies than for ours. Two problems with that, though. First, Jake Tapper’s intelligence sources told him it’s “rare” for the Russians to reach out to the FBI and ask them to investigate someone. If that’s true, why didn’t the feds take more of an interest in Tamerlan? Second, notwithstanding America’s “frosty” relations with Russia, since when is U.S. intelligence kinda sorta disinterested in tracking jihadis just because they’re probably more likely to strike elsewhere than here? How many thousand news stories have we endured over the past 10 years about western intelligence worrying that native Muslims who’ve been radicalized will head off to fight in Iraq and Syria and then come back to share their new “expertise”? A visit to Dagestan, ground zero of Chechen jihadis, plus a newfound interest in jihadi propaganda last year is worth a second look, no?

Exit question: Any news yet from the FBI on whether the Russians did or didn’t tell them that Tsarnaev met with a Chechen “militant”? Kind of important to this inquiry.

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