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Thursday, May 07, 2009

FBI Finds Many Flaws in FBI Terror Watch List

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/06-9>>


Justice Dept. Finds Many Flaws in FBI Terror Watch

Listby Eric> LichtblauWASHINGTON -

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has improperly> kept nearly 24,000 people on a terrorist watch list based on outdated or> sometimes irrelevant information, while it missed others with legitimate> terror ties who should have been on the list, according to a Justice> Department report released Wednesday. The report said the mistakes posed a> risk to national security, because of the failure to flag actual suspected> terrorists, as well as an unnecessary nuisance for non-suspects who may be> questioned at a traffic stops or stopped from boarding an airplane. By the> beginning of 2009, the report said, the government's terrorist watch lists> included about 400,000 people, listed as 1.1 million names and aliases, an> exponential growth from the days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when> it included fewer than two dozen people. Intelligence officials say the> watch lists have allowed different agencies to work together in an effort> to prevent the type of breakdown that allowed two of the Sept. 11 hijackers> to enter the United States even though they were known to the Central> Intelligence Agencies for their terrorist ties. The new Justice Department> report provided the most authoritative statistical account to date of the> problems connected with the watch lists and confirmed some assertions made> by critics of the process. An earlier report by the inspector general,> released in March 2008, looked mainly at flaws in the system. The list has> long been a target of public criticism, particularly after well-publicized> incidents in which politicians including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of> Massachusetts and Representative John Lewis of Georgia accidentally showed> up on the lists. People with names similar to actual terrorists have> complained that it can take months to remove their names from the list, and> civil rights advocates charge that anti-war protesters, Muslim activists> and others have been put on the lists and stopped at airports for political> reasons. The report, by the Justice Department inspector general's office,> looked mainly at the F.B.I., which took the lead in 2004 for maintaining a> consolidated terrorist watch list for all agencies throughout the federal> government. One of the biggest problems identified in the report was the> use of outdated information, or material unconnected to terrorism, to keep> people on the F.B.I.'s own terror watch list. The report examined nearly> 69,000 watch lists referrals brought or processed by the F.B.I. and found> that 35 percent of the people, both Americans and foreigners, remained on> the list despite inadequate justification. "Many of these watch-listed> records were associated with outdated terrorism case classifications or> case classifications unrelated to terrorism," the report said. In some> cases, the people on the watch lists were the subjects of F.B.I.> investigations that had been closed years earlier without action, yet their> names had either never been removed, or not in a timely fashion.> Potentially even more problematic were the cases of people who were not on> the watch lists despite evidence of terrorist ties. The inspector general> looked at a sampling of 216 F.B.I. terrorism investigations, and found that> in 15 percent of those cases, a total of 35 subjects were not referred to> the terror watch list even though they should have been. In one case, for> instance, a United States Army Special Forces soldier was investigated and> ultimately convicted for stealing some 16,500 round of ammunition, C-4> explosives and other material from Afghanistan and shipping them to the> United States in what investigators suspected might be the makings of a> domestic terror plot. Yet the suspect was not placed on the watch list for> nearly five months after the investigation was opened against him. "We> believe that the FBI's failure to consistently nominate subjects of> international and domestic terrorism investigations to the terrorist watch> list could pose a risk to national security," the inspector general said.> The director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties> Union, Caroline Fredrickson, said her group's monitoring of the watch lists> indicates that the problems identified at the F.B.I. are endemic to entire> system. "What this report really shows is that on both ends, the lists are> really over-inclusive and under-inclusive," she said in an interview. "With> 1.1 million names, there's all sorts of problems that have larded it up,> and the whole thing just really needs to be torn down and start a new> system." The F.B.I. adopted all 16 of the inspector general's> recommendations for improving watch list operations, including better> training and faster processing of referrals. The agency said in a statement> that "we remain committed to improving our watch list policy and practices> to ensure the proper balance between national security protection and the> need for accurate, efficient and streamlined watch-listing processes."