Napolitano Says System ‘Pinged’ When Tsarnaev Went to Russia, Contradicting Earlier Reports on Spelling Error

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2013, before the House Homeland Security Committee. (Photo: AP)

(TheBlaze/AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday during the third Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform that her agency knew of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia last year, even though his name was misspelled on a travel document.

This came as news to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told the secretary that it contradicted what he’d been told by the FBI.  He even stated yesterday on “Fox and Friends”: “The reason we didn’t know he went over to Russia is because his name was misspelled.”

“They told me that they had no knowledge of him leaving or coming back so I would like to talk to you more about this case,” Graham told Napolitano today as she testified on sweeping immigration legislation.

Napolitano said that even though Tsarnaev’s name was misspelled, redundancies in the system allowed his departure to be captured by U.S. authorities in January 2012. But she said that by the time he came back six months later, an FBI alert on him had expired and so his re-entry was not noted.

“The system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned all investigations had been closed,” Napolitano said.

Watch the exchange via the Associated Press, below:

The Russia trip is now seen as a potentially important event in determining how and when Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older Boston bomber who died in a firefight with police, became radicalized, and whether he had ties to others.

Tsarnaev was investigated by the FBI at Russia’s request and his name was included in a federal government travel-screening database after that, law enforcement officials have told The Associated Press. One official told the AP that by the time of the flight Tsarnaev would have faced no additional scrutiny because the FBI had by that time found no information connecting him to terrorism.

Napolitano and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is one of the authors of immigration reform legislation, both argued that the immigration bill would make such errors and miscommunications within the system less likely to occur.

“Under our bill, everything would have to be passport or machine read so that type of mistake [spelling error] 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,” he remarked.