CIA Added Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a Terrorist Watchlist 18 Months Ago

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It's not like it's a suprise, but the U.S. intelligence committee is already contradicting itself as the investigation into the Boston bombing unfolds. Turns out the CIA knew about one of the Tsarnaev brothers after all. In fact, the sleuths in Langley added Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a watchlist a full 18 months before the attack on the Boston marathon. The Associated Press broke the news on Wednesday night and explained, "The new disclosure was significant because officials have said the U.S. intelligence community had no information leading up to the April 15 bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260 others."

This latest detail clarifies a report from The Washington Post published just a couple hours before the AP's take. The Post says the CIA "took the step after Russian authorities contacted officials there in the fall of 2011 and raised concerns that Tamerlan Tsarnaev." Adding that all this happened "more than a year before the attack," the two updates paint a pretty troubling portrait of yet another U.S. government agency that failed to stop a terrorist attack. We already knew that the FBI investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev about two years ago but decided that he was not a threat. Well, that was the wrong decision, especially since the Bureau was working with the same information from the Russian government as the CIA.

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It's easy to scold the CIA for dropping the ball. Okay, it's easy to scold the CIA for a lot of things but important to remember that the agency has a lot of balls in the air. The database in question, Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, is actually run by the National Counterterrorism Center, a separate government agency that operates under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. So if anybody's going to get scolded, it ought to be them. They're the same guys that recently won the power to spy and keep dossiers on American citizens. It's a controversial agency, one that civil rights activists think stomp all over the Fourth Amendment. And this detail about the watchlist, if confirmed, is bound to complicate that controversy. Because if intelligence agencies can't catch terrorists with the amount of power they currently have, somebody's surely going to suggest they get more power

In other words, our terrorist watchlist didn't work this time around, so maybe a bigger list with more data would work better. Or, this could've just been a fluke. Guessing Boston doesn't want to hear about flukes, right now, though.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.