FBI terror watch list filled with errors

The FBI gave outdated, incomplete and inaccurate information about terror suspects to be added to the government’s watchlist for nearly three years despite steps taken to prevent errors, a Justice Department audit concludes.

Responding, an FBI spokesman said gaps identified in the system should be fixed within six months.

Overall, the audit released Monday by Justice Department Insp. General Glenn Fine gave the FBI a mixed review for its process of submitting an estimated 8,000 names and other data to the terror watchlist that is compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies. It found that the FBI has proper training and other internal controls in place to help make sure names of suspected terrorists were accurately added to the list.

However, Fine’s report rapped the FBI for failing to consistently pass along newly discovered information about people on the watchlist, or to remove those who were no longer deemed a threat.

“We found that the FBI was not always providing updated nominations when new information became known about a nominated individual,” the audit concluded. “We also found that the FBI was not always removing records from the watchlist when it was appropriate to do so.

“Moreover, FBI headquarters officials reported that watchlist nomination submissions from field offices were often incomplete or contained inaccuracies, which caused delays in the processing of nominations,” the audit concluded.

Between January 2005 and November 2007, the FBI processed the names of 8,240 suspects who were nominated to be added to the terror watchlist, the audit found. At times, FBI agents in field offices nominated terror suspects to be included on the list without first checking with FBI headquarters in Washington, preventing a thorough review.

In a statement, FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the FBI has begun changing the way it submits names of international and domestic terror suspects to make the nomination process easier and more efficient for agents. He said many of the problems identified in Fine’s review should be fixed within six months.

“We will always strive for continued improvement in the conduct of FBI task force coordination and watchlisting process,” Miller said. “We remain committed to working with the Department of Justice to increase co-ordination and to find best practices aimed at providing service and safety for our nation.”

The FBI is the only Justice Department agency that can directly choose names to be included on the watchlist. Other agencies that have that authority include the departments of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Defense and the CIA.

However, Fine’s office found that other Justice agencies that can refer watchlist data to the FBI generally do so on an informal basis, resulting in omissions.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for example, “did not categorize criminal activity as being terrorism-related in a manner similar to the FBI, most notably in cases of domestic terrorism,” the audit found. “As a result, the potential exists for terrorism information to not be shared with the FBI and for terrorists to not be watchlisted.”

Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the audit “more confirmation that the watch lists are growing out of control and without controls.”

On the Net:

The inspector general’s report can be found at: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/reports/plus/a0816/final.pdf