U.S. ter­ror watch list se­cu­rity ‘en­coun­ters’ es­ca­late

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

The num­ber of “en­coun­ters” be­tween law en­force­ment or other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and peo­ple on the U.S. watch list of known and sus­pected ter­ror­ists has grown steadily and stands at an av­er­age of more than 50 a day.

“We are av­er­ag­ing 50-plus pos­i­tive en­coun­ters per day,” said Leonard Boyle, di­rec­tor of the FBI-led mul­ti­a­gency Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Cen­ter, which main­tains the watch list. Mr. Boyle was re­fer­ring to oc­ca­sions when a per­son com­ing into con­tact with of­fi­cials is pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied as a per­son on the watch list.

He said the ma­jor­ity of those con­tacts — which the cen­ter calls “en­coun­ters” — are ei­ther at U.S. bor­ders as peo­ple at­tempt to en­ter or out­side the coun­try al­to­gether, such as when they are board­ing planes headed for the United States. He de­clined to give more spe­cific fig­ures.

En­coun­ters in­side the coun­try vary but typ­i­cally are traf­fic stops or other rou­tine in­ter­ac­tions with lo­cal po­lice, or they come about when trav­el­ers find them­selves on the “no-fly” or “se­lectee” lists — sub­sets of the ter­ror­ist watch list ad­min­is­tered by the air­lines and the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In many in­stances, “noth­ing is go­ing to hap­pen to the per­son” as a re­sult of an en­counter in­side the coun­try, Mr. Boyle said. “In fact, the per­son may not even know that he is on the watch list or that any­one is pay­ing him spe­cial at­ten­tion as a re­sult of the en­counter.”

The con­sol­i­dated watch list of what the gov­ern­ment calls “known or ap­pro­pri­ately sus­pected ter­ror­ists” was es­tab­lished at the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Ter­ror­ist At­tacks Upon the United States, or the 9/11 Com­mis­sion. Sev­eral of the 19 hi­jack­ers who at­tacked the United States had been iden­ti­fied by the CIA as pos­si­ble al Qaeda op­er­a­tives, but there had been no co­or­di­nated ef­fort to keep them — or other sus­pected ter­ror­ists — out of the coun­try.

The mas­ter list main­tained by the cen­ter, known as the Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Data­base or TSDB, has bur­geoned to al­most 1 mil­lion names since it was es­tab­lished, but of­fi­cials say mul­ti­ple records are needed some­times be­cause sus­pected ter­ror­ists use false or al­ter­nate iden­ti­ties, and the mil­lion records in the sys­tem rep­re­sent about 400,000 in­di­vid­u­als. Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Cen­ter of­fi­cials re­cently said dur­ing a con­gres­sional hear­ing that just 3 per­cent, or 12,000, of those were U.S. cit­i­zens or le­gal res­i­dents.

In 2006, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures given then by Mr. Boyle´s pre­de­ces­sor, the cen­ter was log­ging an av­er­age of 35 pos­i­tive en­coun­ters a day, roughly seven of them in­side the coun­try, so the new fig­ures rep­re­sent a rise of about a third in the over­all num­bers.

“In my ten­ure [since March last year], that num­ber [of en­coun­ters] has crept up grad­u­ally,” Mr. Boyle said, adding, “Some of those are re­peat oc­cur­rences — there are peo­ple who are watch-listed who have been en­coun­tered a num­ber of times.”

Crit­ics of the watch list say the sys­tem has be­come bloated with “junk” in­for­ma­tion and that the grow­ing num­ber of names is de­priv­ing those listed of due process and in­con­ve­nienc­ing any­one with the same or sim­i­lar names.

“The more names that are put on the list, the more stops you are go­ing to have and the more peo­ple´s lives are go­ing to be dis­rupted without any ben­e­fit to se­cu­rity,” said Mike Ger­man, a for­mer FBI coun­tert­er­ror­ism agent who works with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

Mr. Ger­man said the num­ber of en­coun­ters shows the weak­ness of the watch-list sys­tem, and he ques­tioned why the au­thor­i­ties aren’t do­ing more to in­ves­ti­gate and then clear or in­dict peo­ple whose names are on the list.

“We know that there are not 50 ar­rests of ter­ror­ists ev­ery day,” he said. “Why are th­ese names on the list? [. . . ] If there aren’t ar­rests and pros­e­cu­tions, what´s the point? [. . . ] Is this just in­no­cent peo­ple be­ing de­prived of their right to due process and to travel?”

Mr. Boyle de­clined to say how many ar­rests or indictments came about as a re­sult of en­coun­ters but said that was not the best way to mea­sure the suc­cess of the sys­tem, which is in­tended to en­able agen­cies to share in­tel­li­gence and “con­nect the dots on ter­ror­ist as­so­cia- tions and ac­tiv­i­ties.”

As an ex­am­ple of that kind of suc­cess, he cited a traf­fic stop last year dur­ing which “a po­lice of­fi­cer in a ma­jor metropoli­tan area used the watch list to iden­tify three sub­jects of sep­a­rate FBI ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions in the same car. Their as­so­ci­a­tion had pre­vi­ously been un­known,” Mr. Boyle said.

Joanne Fer­reira, a spokes­woman for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, said any­one in­volved in ter­ror­ism would be in­ad­mis­si­ble to the United States un­der fed­eral law. She said the agency turned away an av­er­age of more than 840 peo­ple seek­ing ad­mis­sion to the coun­try ev­ery day but did not pro­vide a break­down of the rea­sons.

Mr. Ger­man said there was no ef­fec­tive way for any­one to chal­lenge his or her in­clu­sion on the list, adding that it “un­ques­tion­ably im­pacts in­no­cent peo­ple.”

“That’s stu­dents want­ing to come to the U.S. to study, pro­fes­sors com­ing here to teach, all sorts of peo­ple looking to come — as most of our an­ces­tors did — to a coun­try where they can bet­ter them­selves,” Mr. Ger­man said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.