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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 shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:45PM (#46588921) Journal

    It was not misspelled, it was just transliterated differently. The original name is Cyrillic, and "Tsarnayev" is actually closer to how it is supposed to be pronounced, but "Tsarnaev" is the more usual letter-for-letter transliteration that doesn't distinguish two modes of Russian "e" (it's pronounced as "e" in general, but as "ye" after vowels and at the beginning of words), and is the one that's usually used in passports. I wouldn't be surprised if "Tsarnayev" was how it was spelled in the documents that they've got from Russia, because the person on the other side translated it phonetically...

    Either way, this points at a glaring issue in all those databases. If they require a perfect match, they're going to be very flaky for all kinds of foreign names - ironically, Arabic ones especially, which I assume are the most commonly searched ones. Remember that whole Qaddafi vs Gaddafi vs Kaddafi in US press when Libya was on the front pages?

    Yet another evidence that all this stuff is little more but security theater. It doesn't matter whether it actually works, so long as people are convinced that it does. Unfortunately, they actually let a real terrorist through this time...

  • soudex? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by job0 (134689) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @07:47PM (#46588949)

    haven't they heard of soundex?

  • Get rid of the TSA! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by colin_faber (1083673) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:12PM (#46589129)

    Seriously, this entire organization encompasses everything wrong with the Federal government. Massive privacy overreach, complete incompetence, and a literal NIGHTMARE BUREAUCRACY! This is one of the worst aspects of the Bush legacy, and "The One" has not done anything to curtail its power: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:17PM (#46589153)

    The most advanced systems in the world will never outpace human mistakes.

    If you type "Tsarnayev" (the way his name was incorrectly spelled" into Google, the first match is:

    So I'll call bullshit on your claim, and also note that the database entry error was only the last in a long series of events. (try reading the article)

    The problem was not "human mistakes". The problem was a string of incompetent and corrupt police and FBI agents. Mistakes are accidents, the string of fuck-ups in this case were anything BUT mistakes.

  • Shoulda used Google (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:17PM (#46589159)

    Agent: Tamerlan Tsarnev

    Google: Did you mean: Tamerlan Tsarnaev

    That would have solved the problem.

  • Re:Jeez (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @08:46PM (#46589305)

    Hate to see the guy that was mistaken as the terrorist because of a wrong letter.
    >One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, which caused it to misprint a file, resulting in the incarceration and death during interrogation of Mr. Archibald Buttle instead of the suspected "terrorist", Archibald Tuttle.

    Good movie.

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @05:02AM (#46591031)

    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.

    Not neccessarily. The problem is the political setup of this whole thing.

    From top manager to front row goon: You're on the safe side as long as you never think and just follow orders. No mistakes will get you promoted at some point. But deviation from the rules will either let a terrorist slip through or earn you some re-training, if your manager sees it.

    And it's the same at the top tier: New security theater rules can always be explained as "inconvinient but neccessary". But lifting even the most stupid rule of all is only a personal risk, if at some point in time after lifting a rule an incident is indeed happening.

    So there is simply no incentive to be sensilbe.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo. - Andy Finkel, computer guy