Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) revealed on “Fox and Friends” Monday that deceased Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, seems to have been able to travel to Russia without it getting on the FBI’s radar because his name was supposedly misspelled on the airline ticket.
But, considering strict TSA regulations that have left children and the handicapped crying at checkpoints across the country, many are wondering how he was able to fly under a misspelled name in general?
TSA vs Customs and Border Patrol
The Transportation Security Administration, which everyone traveling within or out of the United States would have to go through, requires all ticket transactions to include a person’s name, birthdate and gender. Each of these elements must match a government issued photo I.D. presented to an agent.
Now, what if a name were misspelled. The Los Angeles Times a couple years ago reported TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez saying agents are trained to spot the difference between an accidental flip-flop or drop of a letter and a more purposeful misspelling.
“If there’s a misspelling in the name, it’s not something to be overly concerned about,” Melendez told the Times, adding that there are databases agents can use to confirm identity of people whose identification had recently been stolen or if names had changed due to a recent marriage, for example.
But that’s for domestic flights. Melendez said with international flights perfect matches are important and the agents involved with checking this are generally from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
In a situation where the ticket name is misspelled compared to identification, the Times recommended travelers call the airline immediately and alert them to the problem.
“Even if TSA is willing to wave you through, who knows what another country’s customs agents will make of the discrepancy?” the L.A. Times wrote. It noted that the name might be fixed on a new ticket or a note put into the traveler’s file.
A comment as to what would happen when a passenger’s name “Phillip” was spelled “Philip” on the ticket was posted on the travel advice and review site TripAdvisor. One of the commenters said he had similar typo for a multi-flight ticket as well — it included international travel from Europe to the United States — and it wasn’t a problem.
“On most flights nobody even recognized the error,” the TripAdvisor user identified as kerthi from Austria wrote in June 2012 in response to the question. “At [San Francisco] one TSA guy saw the error and said something like ‘Ah they misspelled your name…’.”
It seems, then, that a one-letter misspelling on such a complicated name as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, for example, going unnoticed or intentionally being dubbed a non-issue is plausible.
Would it have mattered?
Now what about about international travel after being interviewed by the FBI? It should first be noted that Tsarnaev had not been put on any no-fly list, according to officials.
An official speaking with the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity said Tsarnaev’s name was entered into the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) after the FBI’s interview as part of routine. TECS is the system used by U.S. officials at the nation’s borders to help screen people arriving in the U.S.
But because Tsarnaev’s name was misspelled, it was not matched with the 2011 entry in the TECS system, the official told the AP. However, the official said, even if his name had been spelled correctly and U.S. officials recognized that Tsarnaev, the subject of a 2011 FBI inquiry, was on the flight, he would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting Tsarnaev to terrorism.
But all this gets more interesting when we learned on Tuesday from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the FBI was aware of the trip, regardless of the misspelling. That raises the question: Is it a problem that he was able to travel internationally — either out of the country or back into it — with a name that didn’t exactly match his travel documents?
TheBlaze contacted the TSA and CBP regarding its protocols over a misspelled name when traveling internationally. TSA declined to comment referring us to CBP, which has not yet issued a response to our request.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.