WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has incorrectly kept nearly 24,000 people on a terrorist watch list on the basis of outdated or sometimes irrelevant information, while missing people with genuine ties to terrorism who should have been on thelist, according to a Justice Department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 terrorism suspects, and an unnecessary nuisance for nonsuspects who may be questioned at traffic stops or kept from boarding airplanes.
By the beginning of 2009, the report said, this consolidated government watch list comprised about 400,000 people, recorded as 1.1 million names and aliases, an exponential growth from the days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Among the list’s uses is the screening of people entering the country, and intelligence officials say it has allowed agencies to work together to prevent the type of breakdown that allowed two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to get into the United States even though they were known to the Central Intelligence Agency for their terrorist ties.
But the new report, by the office of the Justice Department’s inspector general, provides the most authoritative statistical account to date of the problems connected with the list. An earlier report by the inspector general, released in March 2008, looked mainly at flaws in the system, without an emphasis on the number of people caught up in it.
The list has long been a target of public criticism, particularly after well-publicized errors in which politicians including Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative John Lewis showed up on it. People with names similar to actual terrorists have complained that it can take months to be removed from the list, and civil liberties advocates charge that antiwar protesters, Muslim activists and others have been listed for political reasons.
The new report from the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, looked mainly at the F.B.I., which took the lead in 2004 for maintaining the newly consolidated list for all agencies throughout the 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One of the biggest problems identified in the report was the use of outdated information, or material unconnected to terrorism, to keep people on the bureau’s own terror watch list, which is incorporated in the consolidated list. The report, examining nearly 69,000 referrals to the F.B.I. list that were either brought or processed by the bureau, found that 35 percent of those 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, it said, subjects of F.B.I. investigations that had been closed years earlier without action either were never removed from watch lists or were not removed in a timely fashion.
Potentially even more problematic were the cases of people who were not listed 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 them, a total of 35 subjects were not referred to the list even though they should have been.
In one case, for instance, a Special Forces soldier was investigated and ultimately convicted of stealing some 16,500 rounds of ammunition, C-4 explosives and other matériel from Afghanistan and shipping them to the United States in what investigators suspected might be the makings of a domestic terrorist plot. Yet the suspect was not placed on the watch list until nearly five months after the investigation opened.
“We believe that the F.B.I.’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.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said her group’s monitoring of watch lists indicated that the problems identified at the F.B.I. were endemic to the entire system.
“What this report really shows is that on both ends, the lists are really overinclusive and underinclusive,” Ms. Fredrickson 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. said Wednesday that it had already adopted all 16 of the inspector general’s recommendations for improving watch list operations, including better training and faster processing of referrals.
The bureau 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.” "
And this, folks, is precisely
one of the reasons "No Fly- No Buy" should not be allowed to pass!