Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress Tuesday that the Customs Bureau picked up Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia but not his reentry into the United States.
Napolitano’s testimony appeared to contradict an FBI account related by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) who said Monday that the bureau had been unaware of Tsarnaev’s exit and reentry due to a clerical error.
“There was a ping on the outbound on Customs,” Napolitano said.
The secretary’s disclosure came amid criticism of the FBI for its handling of the Tsarnaev case. The Russian government requested the FBI investigate Tsarnaev years before he and his younger brother Dzhokhar planted bombs at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured, in some cases severely, more than 200. The brothers subsequently killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and critically wounded a Boston transit officer.
Tamerlan died Thursday of wounds sustained in a gunfight with police. The federal government charged Dzhokhar Monday with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and wanton destruction of property resulting in death.
The FBI met with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 but found no cause for further investigation. This was the fifth time an individual committed an act of terrorism after being brought to the attention of the bureau, critics say.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) said he would seek clarification from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as to the details of Tsarnaev’s overseas travel.
Napolitano said she would provide more information to the Senate in a classified briefing scheduled for Thursday.
Last week’s attack in Boston continued to affect the Senate Judiciary Committee debate on a bipartisan immigration proposal that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Supporters of the bill, including Napolitano, say it would increase U.S. security by providing more resources along the Southern border, updating the visa monitoring system, and providing the government more information on who exactly has been living in the country.
“Will it make America safer and more secure?” Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), one of the architects of the legislation, asked Napolitano.
“Absolutely,” she replied.
Critics of the legislation, however, say its law enforcement provisions are weak and will be ignored in favor of quickly legalizing illegal immigrants.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) pressed the secretary on what would stop her from declaring the border is secure and moving on to the legalization process.
Napolitano said she would not certify border security if conditions there returned to what they were in 2005 and 2006. No one disputed that conditions have improved since then.
“We have every interest in implementing this as quickly as possible,” Napolitano told Congress.