The FBI has been slow to update the national terror suspect watch list - and the lapses pose real risks to U.S. security, a Justice Department audit has found.
A report by the Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, found that 12 terror suspects who were either not watch-listed or were slow to be added to the list may have traveled into or out of the United States during the period when they were not placed on the list.
Auditors also found significant delays in taking people off the list once they were no longer considered suspects.
The watch list, which is used to screen people entering the United States and by local law enforcement, contains more than 1.1 million names.
In 15 percent of the cases auditors reviewed, subjects were not nominated to the watch list, contrary to FBI policy.
"The failure to place appropriate individuals on the watch list, or the failure to place them on the watch list in a timely manner, increases the risk that these individuals are able to enter and move freely about the country," the report concluded.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the issues have been addressed and her agency is publicly committed to working with the Justice Department "as a shared mission of protecting this country is paramount," said Sara Kuban, a spokeswoman for Napolitano.
In 2 of every 3 cases the auditors examined, the FBI failed to update information in the watch list as required.
FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the bureau has already taken steps to improve the system.
"The FBI has implemented measures to address all 16 recommendations identified by the (inspector general), which are all now resolved," Miller said in a statement.
As slow as names were added to the watch list, they were also slow to be removed.
In 8 percent of cases, the FBI failed to remove subjects from the list as required, according to the report.
And in almost 3 out of 4 cases reviewed, the FBI failed to remove a name from the watch list in a timely fashion, the auditors found.
That rankles privacy advocates who long have complained that the system is slow to clear innocent people, who face delays when traveling and other difficulties.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said one person had remained on the list five years after the person's case had been closed.
"Given the very real and negative consequences to which people on the watch list are subjected, this is unacceptable," Leahy said in a statement.
Why are there so many names on the U.S. government's terrorist list?
In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 - and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.1 (See also this new March 2008 report.2 )
By those numbers, the list now has over one million names on it. Terrorist watch lists must be tightly focused on true terrorists who pose a genuine threat. Bloated lists are bad because
they ensnare many innocent travelers as suspected terrorists, and
because they waste screeners' time and divert their energies from looking for true terrorists.
Small, focused watch lists are better for civil liberties and for security.
The uncontroversial contention that Osama Bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a "terrorist watch list."
This is not just a problem of numbers. The numbers are merely a symptom. What's needed is fairness. If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected. (See ACLU Backgrounder on Watch Lists for more)
If you believe you have been harmed due to a U.S. government watch list, while flying or anywhere else, use this form to share your story.
James Robinson had security clearance as a US Attorney but he consistently receives additional screening at the airport when traveling.
Erich Sherfen, Commercial airline pilot and Gulf War veteran, has been threatened with termination from his job as a pilot because his name appears on a government watch list, which prevents him from entering the cockpit. He has been unable to get his name removed. Sherfen is a client of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Robert Johnson - 60 Minutes interviewed 12 men named Robert Johnson, all of whom reported being pulled aside and interrogated, sometimes for hours, nearly every time they go to the airport.
Alexandra Hay, a college student with a double major in French and English at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2004, when she joined an ACLU lawsuit due to problems she was having with the airline watch list.
Sarosh Syed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan working for the ACLU of Washington in Seattle also had problems flying. (Syed was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004.)
9/11 Hijackers. While certainly these were individuals we all wish had been watched out for, they are, in fact, dead. Yet, the names of 14 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were on a copy of the list obtained by 60 Minutes. More evidence that the list is poorly maintained and full of junk names that will only serve to ensnare the innocent.
Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. Name found on list obtained by 60 Minutes.
Saddam Hussein. Although he was imprisoned in Baghdad and in U.S. custody at the time, his name was also found in the database obtained by 60 Minutes. Again, this accomplishes nothing except ensnaring the innocent, diluting the list, and wasting the time of security workers.
Gary Smith. Another name that is extremely common in the United States, found on the no-fly list by 60 Minutes.
John Williams. Yet another common name found on the airline watch list by 60 Minutes.
U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.) After repeated delays at airport security, the senator had trouble getting removed from the airline watch list despite calls to Homeland Security and eventually a personal conversation with the Secretary of DHS.
Representative John Lewis (D, Georgia). Being a hero of the Civil Rights Movement isn't enough to keep off the aviation watch lists, apparently.
Akif Rahman, founder of a computer consulting company from suburban Chicago, was detained and questioned for more than two hours by U.S. customs officials on four separate occasions when crossing the Canadian border. On one occasion he was held for 5 ½ hours, shackled to a chair, and physically searched. He was also separated from his wife and children (who were forced to wait in a small dirty public area without food or telephones). A U.S. citizen born in Springfield Illinois, Rahman is being represented by the ACLU of Illinois in a lawsuit over this treatment.
Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown was blocked from flying while on his way home from an 8-month deployment in Iraq. He was listed as a suspected terrorist due to a previous incident in which gunpowder was detected on his boots, most likely a residue of a previous tour in Iraq.
Asif Iqbal, a Rochester, NY, management consultant and University of Texas graduate who flies weekly to Syracuse for business, has been weekly detained and interrogated by local law enforcement because his name is shared by a former Guantánamo detainee (who was himself released from the extrajudicial detainment, presumably because of lack of evidence of terror involvement).
James Moore, author of a book critical of the Bush Administration, Bush's Brain ; problems flying.
Catherine ("Cat") Stevens, wife of Senator Ted Stevens (R, Alaska). Problems flying.
Yusuf Islam, a singer and pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens. Author of song "Peace Train." His flight from London was diverted and forced to land in Maine once the government realized he was aboard, and he was barred from entering United States.
Major General Vernon Lewis (Ret.); a recipient of the Army's highest medal for service, the Distinguished Service Medal who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, Lewis had problems flying.
Captain Robert Campbell, US Navy-retired, Comercial Airline pilot of 22 years; problems flying.
David Nelson. Attorney David C. Nelson (right) is one of many men named David Nelson around the U.S. who have been caught up on the list, including a former star of the television show "Ozzie and Harriet." (Nelson was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004).
Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' secretary for education. Sister McPhee sought redress and removal from the watch list for nine months in 2004 and 2005 and it wasn't until she was able to elicit help from White House connections (Karl Rove) that DHS addressed her problem.
Contemptible police tactics - Cops raid the home of a licensed medical marijuana provider in Washington, handcuff the fourteen year old son and put a gun to his head, and search the nineteen year old daughter and take the contents of her mickey-mouse wallet.
How To Survive Traffic Stops in America, Submit, Instantly! - What the cops want is immediate obedience and submission. Many cops are ex-military and view the civilian motorists of America about like they viewed the hapless peasants of Iraq and Afghanistan, that is, with contempt, not as fellow citizens deserving of civility and respect. It is a possibly lethal mistake to do anything other than submit, instantly and obey! Or be ready to shoot first. But aim high.