Who’s on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist?
The FBI’s list of known or suspected terrorists includes more than 400,000 people, about 2% of them U.S. citizens. The FBI says its Terrorist Watchlist is a useful tool for intelligence analysts, but others say it’s too big to be helpful and endangers the rights of people who may be included without just cause.
According to FBI figures, the list continues to grow. The Terrorist Screening Center ( TSC) evaluates up to 1200 new pieces of information each day, including additions, deletions, and modifications to existing en- tries submitted by law-enforcement agencies across the country.
What qualifies someone for the list? TSC officials won’t say but insist that people are included only if they meet a standard of “reasonable suspicion” after review by the TSC and several other government agencies. You’ll never know if you’re on the list—it’s classified. People who suspect they might be listed without cause can file a request through the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program website, which is then reviewed by officials. Chad Kolton, a TSC spokesman, says the vast majority of Americans who inquire about their status are not, in fact, on the watch list.
But Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, claims that the system allows too many people to come under scrutiny and diverts the attention of authorities from real threats. “ Every day, they are deciding that more and more people are terrorists,” he says. “At a minimum, these people will have a hard time flying, and the suspicion that they are terrorists will be shared with local law enforcement.”
Despite its size, Kolton insists that the watch list is working as intended: “It helps combat terrorism, period.”