WASHINGTON (CNN) - The FBI has failed to place the names of dozens of suspected terrorists on the government's watch list, an omission that could have "significant consequences to public safety," the Justice Department's watchdog says.
In a report released Wednesday, Inspector General Glenn Fine sharply criticizes the FBI for failing to add 35 terrorism subjects to the consolidated watch list, and for being slow to add many others.
He says he found at least 12 people - ones either not put on the list or added after an excessive delay - who may have been moving about the United States during the time they were not listed.
The report also says the FBI failed to remove several people from the list after they had been cleared.
The consolidated list is used to screen individuals seeking to enter the United States and those who are stopped by local police agencies. It was created in 2003 to bring order to the flurry of separate agency watch lists that quickly developed following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Federal law enforcement officials say only a small percentage of inquiries or stops of possible terrorists based on the list provide "positive hits" and few ever pan out.
But Fine was adamant that the potential for disaster is real. "The FBI needs to ensure that it makes timely nominations to the terrorist watch list. Failure to do so can have significant consequences to
public safety," he says in the report. "In addition, the FBI needs to do a better job of more timely removing individuals who no longer need to be on the watch list."
This most recent analysis comes more than a year after a March 2008 report in which Fine was critical of the FBI for using incomplete and outdated information in constructing watch list entries, and for its management of the Terrorist Screening Center, which consolidates watch-list information provided by several federal agencies.
The current unified watch list contains about 1.1 million names of people identified as known or suspected terrorists.
Officials say the FBI has provided about 68,000 identities to the list, but 35 percent were developed from old or non-terrorism FBI classifications.
Fine's latest report says that in about 15 percent of the sampling of 216 terrorism investigations that were reviewed, FBI counterterrorism officials had not nominated potentially dangerous individuals to the watch list.
In addition, more than three of every four terrorism suspects who were added to the list were not added promptly. The inspector general found the FBI took an average of 42 days to process names for the list, even though its standard calls for the action to be taken within 20 days.
On the question of removing cleared names from the list, the report says the sampling encountered nine such people, six of whom were unnecessarily delayed in their travels.
The FBI released a statement saying it has agreed to all 16 recommendations made by the report.
"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 watchlisting processes," FBI Assistant Director John Miller said in the statement.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, was critical of the FBI following release of the report Wednesday.
"That the FBI continues to fail to place subjects of terrorism investigations on the watch list is unacceptable," Leahy said. "With such a significant number of individuals in question, it is important that the FBI gets this right."