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TSA Missed Boston Bomber Because His Name Was Misspelled In a Database 275

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-blame-technology dept.
schwit1 sends this news from The Verge: "Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the primary conspirator in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people, slipped through airport security because his name was misspelled in a database, according to a new Congressional report. The Russian intelligence agency warned U.S. authorities twice that Tsarnaev was a radical Islamist and potentially dangerous. As a result, Tsarnaev was entered into two U.S. government databases: the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), an interagency border inspection database.

A special note was added to TECS in October of 2011 requiring a mandatory search and detention of Tsarnaev if he left the country. 'Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer,' the note reportedly said. 'Call is mandatory whether or not the officer believes there is an exact match.' 'Detain isolated and immediately call the lookout duty officer.' Unfortunately, Tsarnaev's name was not an exact match: it was misspelled by one letter. Whoever entered it in the database spelled it as 'Tsarnayev.' When Tsarnaev flew to Russia in January of 2012 on his way to terrorist training, the system was alerted but the mandatory detention was not triggered. Because officers did not realize Tsarnaev was a high-priority target, he was allowed to travel without questioning."
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TSA Missed Boston Bomber Because His Name Was Misspelled In a Database

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:37PM (#46588873)

    The TSA is operated by some of the most incompetent people the USA has to offer. They are the problem, not the hardware or software. I fail to see why they should get a "free pass" here on account of a bad database entry. Heads should be hung over this, especially considering the justifications thrown around for the continued existence of the TSA.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:41PM (#46588903)

    I've seen this story about Russia giving us warnings about the Boston bomber floating around elsewhere recently, why is this news now? We knew this back in 2013 [bostonglobe.com].

    Despite the misspelling, the FBI interviewed him and determined he was no threat (unlike his friend who they interviewed after the bombing, and shot to death during the interview).

    So what would it have mattered if airport security searched him after one of his trips to Russia? It's almost certain he wasn't carrying anything that would have got him arrested.

  • Significance? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwehle (2491950) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:44PM (#46588915) Homepage
    I think the tacit implication here is that if Tsarnaev had been questioned on exiting the country the Boston Marathon bombing might have been averted, but is there really any substance to this? Do we think he would have changed plans had he been questioned? Pressure cooker outlets would have been alerted to refuse to sell him cookware? What exactly would the outcome likely have been had he been questioned?
  • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:54PM (#46589009)
    Great, so now not only if we are a namesake with a wanted "enemy of the state", but also if our names are soundex or Levenshtein Distance 3 similar, we are going to get detained, cavity searched and otherwise.
  • by Sique (173459) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:20PM (#46589175) Homepage
    Never attribute to malice what sufficiently can be explained with stupidity.

    This is a clear case of "blinded by data".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:26PM (#46589195)

    Exactly. This is clearly all Bush's fault. Glorious Leader Obamessiah never does any wrong.

    Yes, actually you could argue it's Bush's fault, and the GOP's fault.
    You see, they were too busy crying about Clinton's jizz on a Blue Dress to pay attention to some guy named "Bin Laden" who was blowing up embassies. They got so pissed at Clinton for launching cruise missiles at training camps that after he left office, Bush completely halted all operations against his network. Then they proceeded to ignore multiple public warnings and threats, and after the first airplane hit the tower Bush felt it was more important to finish reading "My Pet Goat" to some kids than it was to immediately ground all commercial air traffic in the region.

    For the record, I'm a Conservative. But I'm not an idiot, either, and can do more than puke up "clever" insults I heard on Rush's nutjob radio show.

  • by Eddi3 (1046882) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:30PM (#46589231) Homepage Journal
    I'm not at all disputing the idea of what you're saying. In fact, I agree that incompetence let this guy through.

    However, your example of googling this guy's name is a particularly bad one. Google's autocorrection algorithms are based on the popularity of terms and their similarities. Since the bombing, surely this name would have been googled millions of times.

    Do you really suppose that Google would have made such an accurate correction before the Boston attacks that madetheir family name infamous?
  • by ShaunC (203807) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @09:31PM (#46589497)

    It's also an enormous jobs program, employing 50,000 nut-cuppers and breast-gropers alone, without even getting started on air marshals, behavioral analysts, and of course thousands more management positions. Don't expect TSA disappear anytime soon, no matter who's in the White House.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @10:59PM (#46589925)

    How is that not probable cause for a warrant?

    Police: Sir, open up, we're here to search your house.
    You: On what grounds?
    Police: On the grounds that your name, Bill McGonigle, bears a striking resemblance to the known terrorist, Bill McGonicle.

    Yeah, that is totally ok. /sarcasm

  • by Anonymuous Coward (1185377) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @11:05PM (#46589953)
    This is not a case of misspelling (think Notingham) or variant spelling (think Britney vs. Brittany). There's simply no standard way of transliterating Russian names. Cyrillic "e" may be pronounced "eh", "yeh", "yo", "o" or "ih" and some people will use some kind of phonetic approximation so they don't have their names too badly garbled.

    I would have expected them to include the original cyrillic name and all the /obvious/ transliterations in their database, but that's apparently way beyond their capabilities.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir Holo (531007) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @11:36PM (#46590083)

    They missed the Boston bombers because they are spying ON EVERYONE instead of focusing the spying, based on probable cause, on the correct folks.

    Well, yes. But, paradoxically, failure earns the spy agencies more funding.

    "If we had been provided with enough resources, we could have caught the bad guys!"

    The solution is to limit (yet again) exactly who they can spy on. These children need to be spanked, not rewarded with ice cream.

  • by Nemyst (1383049) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @12:04AM (#46590207) Homepage
    Good point highlighting how Slashdot still doesn't support Unicode in 2014 by the way...
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:12AM (#46590505) Journal

    Heck, my Father in law spent most of his childhood writing his name wrong when his parents forgot how they'd spelled it on the birth certificate! He found out about it when he got his driver's license as a teen...

    I mean, if a kid's parents can't be trusted to spell a guy's name right, how do you figure a secretary is going to get it right 100% of the time?

  • by kilfarsnar (561956) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @09:37AM (#46592149)

    But Obummer is keeping you safe!!!

    Most people here understand that the issue of the creeping security state is not left or right, Republican or Democrat. The parties have shown us that they are both interested in increasing surveillance and curtailing our rights. Why have you not grasped this yet?

If a listener nods his head when you're explaining your program, wake him up.

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