The FBI’s own Inspector General has just concluded a comprehensive study of the massive “Terrorist Watch List” maintained by the Bureau, and the results should worry us greatly. The report issued at the conclusion of the IG’s study describes a process of developing and maintaining the Watch List that is so flawed as to actually pose a “risk to national security.”
Let’s start with the basics. First of all, maintaining a watch list containing names and identifying information on persons who are known terrorists, suspected terrorists, or associates of known terrorists, makes sense. Such a list containing fewer than two dozen people — as was the case prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001 — would be a joke. But maintaining a list with more than 1,100,000 entires with only some 68,000 of those entries constituting “known or suspected terroriost identies” — which is what the current watch list is comprised of — is ridiculous. The first list was far too under-inclusive; the current list is far too over-inclusive.
A major part of the problem with the current Watch List, as identified by the Inspector General, is that controls designed to limit and evaluate what names and information go into the system, are simply not followed. For example, the audit found that:
In fact, the audit revealed a process so disorganized that “the actual number of individuals the FBI nominated to the terrorist watchlist since its inception is unknown.”
It would be bad enough if all the inaccurate, irrelevant, outdated, and unnecessary information contained in the Terrorist Watch List related only to foreign persons. The problem is compounded greatly, however, because many of the more than one million entries contain names of and information about American citizens. The fact that a person’s name and/or identifying information appears on the Watch List means that that person’s freedom can be curtailed. In other words, a citizen whose name has been improperly placed on the Watch List, or which has not been removed when it should have been, can be denied the ability to travel on a commercial plane; denied credit when his or her name is run through a credit check; denied a job because they could not pass a background check; or harmed in other ways that require a background check of some sort. This poses a serious risk to the privacy and other civil liberties of American citizens.
On the other hand, because of defects in how the Watch List is handled, names of many persons associated in some tangible way with terrorism or terrorists do not appear on the list even though they should. This, as the IG correctly concluded, poses a serious risk to our national security.
The astonishingly sloppy manner in which the government continues to maintain what should be a focused, limited and carefully monitored Terrorist Watch List poses a serious risk to our country and to our citizens. The Obama Administration should immediately address and correct these abuses.