May 6th, 2009
04:00 PM ET
13 years ago

Report critical of FBI's handling of names for terrorist watch list

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comes more than a year after a March 2008 report in which Fine was critical of the FBI for using incomplete and outdated information in constructing watch list entries, and for its management of the Terrorist Screening Center, which consolidates watch-list information provided by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."

Filed under: FBI • Terrorism
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Simpliticus

    Mr. Fine may as just as well said that the FBI failed to follow through with the George W. Bush administration's allowance for "enhanced interrogation" processes. Could it be that Mr. Fine is wrong on this matter since the FBI was right about the other matter?

    May 6, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  2. Chi Town

    Yet the same people just got in trouble for tapping in on thousands of Americans illegally...

    Yea... change you can believe in... (vomit)

    May 6, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. Marge

    OH so whose fault is that....the republicans have been in charge of that list for the last LONG EIGHT YEARS. But don't worry the party of No brains and no conscience will find a way to blame it on the democrats because they have not worked miracles in the 100 days obama and the democrats have been in office and cured the ills of the world, no wait cured the ills of the universe....

    May 6, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  4. Is it 2013?

    Is there ANYTHING this administration can do RIGHT?

    Time to get out the Obama apologists and media hacks to explain his latest screw-up as they do with everything else.

    While you were out on your Burger-photo op there Barry, Rahm who runs the show, had your dim-witted mouthpiece Gibbs tell everyone that you will not be releasing the Airfarce photo's from last week, but you have no problems releasing harsh interrogation photo's.

    Can they be anymore inept?

    Bush is GONE and this is the best we can do?

    May 6, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Mississippi Mike

    42 days to hit the watch list is unacceptable. We need a strong national defense abroad and at home. The FBI does a great job but still has room for improvement.

    May 6, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  6. Shadysider

    Well at least our intelligence agencies have been reorganized in a way to know who is and who isn't a danger to our country and stop any future attacks from....wait, what!!!!?????

    May 6, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  7. J.P.

    As a libertarian who believes in a flat tax or even a fair tax, I'm sure I'm on the watch list.

    Oh well so be it. I'm sure Jefferson, Knox, Madison and Teddy Roosevelt would be on the list if they were alive today, so I'm in good company.

    "...if we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy."
    – Thomas Jefferson, 29 Nov 1802

    May 6, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  8. obama/mama

    Thank God this new administration is taking care of business...

    May 6, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  9. sammieb51

    This I assume is associated with the famed "no fly list" that honest citizens can't get their names off of? Another "Bushing" of America here!

    May 6, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  10. Jackie in Dallas

    Is it 2013?

    No, it is not. And considering that President Obama has been in office only slightly longer than 100 days, I think it is a bit presumptous of you to assume that the problem in the FBI has anything to do with the current administration. The FBI has had this problem for years, it isn't anything new.

    Of course, it must have been demoralizing for them in 2001 to know that their reports on 'probably terrorist threats in September' given to the Bush Administration in July and again in August were ignored.

    May 6, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  11. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Hey! I know! Put everyone on the watch list! That way you know you'll always get the bad guy!

    And if the bad guy you got isn't the bad guy you wanted, that's okay–everyone's guilty of something, or, if not, they'll probably be guilty of something someday. Might as well stop them now, before they actually do it.

    Bah! Paranoiac thugs...

    May 6, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  12. Tulsa

    I just love the Republican party!!!!
    Keep on doin' what ya'll are doin' because you make the case for your own demise with every letter you type. (oh, and keep Rush talking too!)
    Thanks guys, you are really great comedy.

    May 6, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  13. Robin

    They don't want to hurt the terrorists' feelings.

    May 6, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. Dallas Independent - thank goodness

    Nobama would have just "declassified" the list anyhow! What good would it have been. Nobama wants to release Gitmo prisoners here since no other ally country will accept them, nor should they. Opened his big mouth, made big promises, can't keep this one.

    May 6, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |