Tamerlan Tsarnaev Placed in Database Perceived as Weak, Even by DHS

As the blame game starts on the Boston Marathon bombing, someone (maybe a blabby Senator?) made it public that the CIA asked to have Tamerlan Tsarnaev added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database last year.

The CIA asked the main U.S. counterterrorism agency to add the name of one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers to a watch list more than a year before the attack, according to U.S. officials.

The agency took the step after Russian authorities contacted officials there in the fall of 2011 and raised concerns that Tamerlan Tsarnaev — who was killed last week in a confrontation with police — was seen as an increasingly radical Islamist and could be planning to travel overseas. The CIA requested that his name be put on a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center.

That database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, is a data storehouse that feeds a series of government watch lists, including the FBI’s main Terrorist Screening Database and the Transportation Security Administration’s “no-fly” list.

Officials said Tsarnaev’s name was added to the database but it’s unclear which agency added it.

We got a look at the TIDE database last year when Tom Coburn reviewed whether fusion centers do useful work. Here’s what that report said about TIDE:

While reporting information on an individual who is listed in the TIDE database sounds significant, the Subcommittee found that DHS officials tended to be skeptical about the value of such reporting, because of concerns about the quality of data contained in TIDE.156

156 Although NCTC describes its TIDE database as holding information on the identities of known and suspected terrorists, DHS officials – who interacted with TIDE data on a daily basis, as they reviewed reporting not only from state and local law enforcement encounters but from encounters by DHS components – said they found otherwise. “Not everything in TIDE is KST,” DHS privacy official Ken Hunt told the Subcommittee, using a shorthand term for “known or suspected terrorist.”

Would you buy a Ford?” one DHS Senior Reports Officer asked the Subcommittee staff during an interview, when he was asked how serious it was for someone to be a match to a TIDE record. “Ford Motor Company has a TIDE record.”

[snip]

Ole Broughton headed Intelligence Oversight at I&A from September 2007 to January 2012. In an interview with the Subcommittee, Mr. Broughton expressed the concern DHS intelligence officials felt working with TIDE data. In one instance, Mr. Broughton recalled he “saw an individual’s two-year-old son [identified] in an [Homeland Intelligence Report]. He had a TIDE record.” Mr. Broughton believed part of the problem was that intelligence officials had routinely put information on “associates” of known or suspected terrorists into TIDE, without determining that that person would qualify as a known or suspected terrorist. “We had a lot of discussion regarding ‘associates’ in TIDE,” Mr. Broughton said.

[my emphasis]

This is not to say that Tamerlan shouldn’t be in TIDE.

Rather, it says there’s so much other crap in TIDE, that it isn’t perceived as very useful — at least not by the people at DHS the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations interviewed.

This is the problem with overcollection of data: it adds a bunch more hay to the haystack for the time you want to start looking for a needle.

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14 Responses to Tamerlan Tsarnaev Placed in Database Perceived as Weak, Even by DHS

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz I am not sure you geniuses on the east coast with long arm for asking, and short arm for answering, actually give a shit about Sep of Pwrs.
10mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I KNOW all you DC Press Peoples are all up on everything, but after weeks of telling you, now @lawfareblog says so, can you pay attention?
12mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Maybe the war drum bangers for Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia+all the other asinine places in world are right; history says no. cc: @lrozen
22mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@nicholsong Ooops, yeah, I fell for that BS back in the day, see: http://t.co/zj45YfdKlZ But turned out to be total bullshit. cc: @lrozen
25mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@nicholsong You have something that says the current, apparent, Obama Admin. rolling desecration of the WPR is fine and dandy? Really?
32mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So, sorry, hope I didn't insult any of high holy 30 somethings over petty little thing like Sep of Pwrs. Cause, you know #PoliticalBullshit
45mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Lawdy, I JUST CAN'T WAIT for some nubes at @TNR to tell me how freakin OK+normal it is for Obama to be desecrating WPR Separation of Powers.
50mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @timmathews Really, that is a great location, right in the heart of New Orleans. #BonusPointsForFalseCheer?
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @SuzanneTwoTon We can't go on like this together...
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bmaz They got the guns, but we got the numbers. Going to win, yeah we're taking over. Come on! #FamousPoet #Ferguson #MichaelBrown
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @SuzanneTwoTon Woo woo woo, I feel my temperature rising.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @OBEYshiba No no, the Carol is at the Welcome! But, Ingos, yeah.
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