Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Citizenship Application Blocked By DHS
We had learned on Friday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case, had become an American citizen last year after many years of being in the United States under refugee status. Now it appears that his brother Tamerlan had also applied for citizenship but that his application was blocked by the Department of Homeland Security due to his previous contacts with the FBI:
Department of Homeland Security officials decided in recent months not to grant an application for American citizenship by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, after a routine background check revealed that he had been interviewed in 2011 by the F.B.I., federal officials said on Saturday.
Mr. Tsarnaev died early Friday after a shootout with the police, and officials said that at the time of his death, his application for citizenship was still under review and was being investigated by federal law enforcement officials.
It had been previously reported that Mr. Tsarnaev’s application might have been held up because of a domestic abuse episode. But the officials said that it was the record of the F.B.I. interview that threw up red flags and halted, at least temporarily, Mr. Tsarnaev’s citizenship application. Federal law enforcement officials reported on Friday that the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Tsarnaev in January 2011 at the request of the Russian government, which suspected that he had ties to Chechen terrorists.
The officials pointed to the decision to hold up that application as evidence that his encounter with the F.B.I. did not fall through the cracks in the vast criminal and national security databases that the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. review as a standard requirement for citizenship. The application, which Mr. Tsarnaev presented on Sept. 5, also prompted “additional investigation” of him this year by federal law enforcement agencies, according to the officials. They declined to say how far that examination had progressed or what it covered.
The handling of Mr. Tsarnaev’s application could be crucial for the Obama administration in the Senate debate that began this week over a bipartisan bill, which the president supports, for a sweeping immigration overhaul. Some Republicans skeptical of the bill have said they will watch the Boston bombings investigation to see if it reveals security lapses in the immigration system that should be closed before Congress proceeds to other parts of the bill, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The record of the F.B.I. interview was enough to cause Homeland Security to hold up Mr. Tsarnaev’s application. He presented those papers several weeks after he returned from a six-month trip overseas, primarily to Russia, and only six days after his brother, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, had his own citizenship application approved. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody and is in serious condition in a hospital.
Late last year, Homeland Security officials contacted the F.B.I. to learn more about its interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, federal law enforcement officials said. The F.B.I. reported its conclusion that he did not present a threat.
At that point, Homeland Security officials did not move to approve the application nor did they deny it, but they left it open for “additional review.”
The question of what, exactly, was involved in the FBI’s investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev is likely to become a focus of inquiry over the next several weeks and months, especially if evidence of foreign contacts and support is uncovered with respect to these attacks. This information is yet another piece in that puzzle, but it reinforces the idea that the 2011 FBI investigation didn’t really uncover anything noteworthy about the elder Tsarnaev, at least nothing indicating he was tied into a terrorist cell. There’s a very legitimate question, though, of how and why Tsarnaev was able to slip through the cracks that deserves to be investigated here because of the implications it holds for national security. My fear is that GOP is going to turn this into another partisan rant like they did with Benghazi, in that case, we’ll likely learn nothing of value.