Napolitano: Homeland Security knew about Boston suspect’s trip to Russia

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano acknowledged to a Senate panel Tuesday that her department was aware of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia in 2012.

Tsarnaev, who died after a shootout with police Friday, took the trip a few months after the FBI interviewed him because of a tip from the Russian government that he was linked to radical Islamist groups.

The FBI was not aware of Tsarnaev’s six-month trip to a volatile region of Russia plagued by Islamist violence because an airline misspelled his name on a flight manifesto shared with the U.S. government.

Napolitano conceded to Republicans Tuesday that her department was aware of Tsarnaev’s departure from the country, but said the FBI had closed its investigation of him when he returned.

“Yes, the system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned, all investigations — the matter had been closed,” Napolitano told lawmakers.

Napolitano’s response raises questions about the cooperation between the FBI and the Homeland Security Department in tracking legal residents suspected of links to terrorist groups.

Tsarnaev’s name was entered in the Treasury Enforcement Communications System when the FBI interviewed him based on intelligence from the Russian government.

After the Boston bombing, some conservative lawmakers have urged the Senate to delay efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that more time is needed to study national security implications.

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the authors of immigration reform legislation, said the bill would reduce the chances of law enforcement officials missing a trip by a person suspected of links to terrorist activities by phasing out manual inputs of travel data.

“Under our bill, everything would have to be passport or machine read so that type of mistake could not occur. So if our bill were law, it’s a pretty safe guess that the authorities would have known that Tsarnaev left to go to Russia and when he came back,” said Schumer.

Napolitano reiterated there was “a ping on the outbound” alerting her department of Tsarnaev’s departure.