The Same Month CBP Missed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, It Was Ramping Up Searches for “Good” Guys

One of the most notable failures to prevent a terrorist attack in recent years involves Tamerlan Tsarnaev. After the Russians alerted us he was engaging with radical elements, he flew to Chechnya in January 2012. In spite of an alert set to identify him, Customers and Border Protection did not stop him either going out or coming back from Russia.

As the Inspector General report on the attack explains, though CBP had probably been properly alerted he was a concern, Tsarnaev was not interviewed on the way out of the country because there were higher priority passengers.


On Tsarnaev’s way back into the country, CBP would have gotten an alert from Aeroflot, but that alert did not come up on CBP’s display status.


A recent story from the Intercept reveals that one of the things that may have been a higher priority than interviewing Tsarnaev was interviewing “good” guys.

In years leading up to the attack on the Boston Marathon CBP started working with the FBI to identify potential informants through CBP interviews. Reports describe how this involved a shift in perspective, from an enforcement perspective focused on “looking for the ‘bad guys’,” to an intelligence perspective focused on “looking for the ‘good guys'” who might be willing to trade information about their community for immigration benefits.


It worked this way: CBP would provide a 3-day passenger list to the FBI, the FBI would find anyone of interest, and then CBP would screen them to determine whether they had access to sources and willingness to serve as an informant.


The documents the Intercept released pertain only to Boston’s Logan Airport, Buffalo, and Rochester; curiously, at least Buffalo seems to coordinate primarily with Boston. So they don’t describe how this program got rolled out at JFK, through which Tsarnaev flew. But in Boston, at least, there was a big spike in the number of CBP inspections conducted in January 2012, the very month Tsarnaev flew out.


Was CBP so busy looking for informants it missed someone the Russians had IDed (correctly) as a terrorist?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Nah, it’s just a coincidence!  Or, maybe they were focusing on the ten year old girls, like Trump?

  2. arbusto says:

    Reminds me of a program a few years back where Traffic Cops pulled over drivers and award them a Good Drivers Certificate. Personally I’d think most drivers would not appreciate being stopped for such a farce. Elevate by 1000% the feeling of being stopped and interviewed and intimidated by Customs/FBI. Who the fuck thinks up this shit, and why are they still employed? Of the thousands interviewed and the tens of thousands relatives, friends and acquaintances made aware of this shit has had enough the USofA bullshit and would work against the government and its interests.

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT(not really): A spark of reason


    A legal challenge against the British government’s secret surveillance activities has won in court, with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal judging the collection of bulk personal data—conducted by GCHQ and MI5 between 1998 and 2015—to have been illegal.

    Responding to a claim brought by Privacy International, the 70-page judgment handed down this morning [PDF*] found that the spooks’ surveillance activities had been taking place without adequate safeguards or supervision for over a decade; and as such were in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    * link to ruling – https://regmedia.co.uk/2016/10/17/ipt_bulk_data_judgment.pdf

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