FBI Inspector General Reports 35 Percent Error Rate On Terror Watchlist

May 6, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A report released today by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General found that the FBI’s terrorist watchlist may contain a 35 percent error rate. The audit revealed that large portions of the list are governed by no formal processes for updating or removing records. The audit confirms that the nation’s watchlist system is massively broken.

“This report strongly suggests that hundreds of thousands of people are being wrongly identified as terrorists,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This is yet more confirmation of what we’ve been saying for years – that the watchlist is not only unfair for travelers, but it is also a waste of scarce resources. It is time for Congress to haul the watchlist policymakers up to Capitol Hill to answer some tough questions.”

The audit also confirms the ACLU’s estimates that the terror watchlist consists of an unmanageable and non-credible 1.1 million names as of December 2008. In “The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Practices” inspector general auditors reviewed 68,669 of those identities and found 24,000 were out of date. In a closer inspection of the out of date records, the auditors found a majority of this sample did not even belong on a watchlist.

Last year, the ACLU noted the addition of the one millionth record on the terror watchlist. At the time, federal officials called the count “overblown.”

In addition to confirming the ACLU’s 2008 count, today’s report also documents a widespread failure to scrub the lists by removing names after cases have been closed. For example, one subject stayed on the watchlist for almost five years after the case was resolved; two people on the list were dead. The FBI attempted to place one individual on the watchlist by reclassifying that person as an international terrorist after already having been cleared of wrongdoing by an FBI investigation.

The report also identified more than 50,000 records with no explanation of why they were on the list, making it impossible to remove them. It described the controls for placing many names on the list as “weak or nonexistent.”

“This IG report reveals just what a comedy of errors the watchlist is,” said Chris Calabrese, attorney with the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. “But we did not need this report to know there is a problem with the effectiveness of any terrorist watchlist that includes over a million names. It certainly explains why Congressman John Lewis and Senator Edward Kennedy have problems when they try to fly.”

For ACLU news release on the one millionth name on the watchlist, go to /privacy/35968prs20080714.html

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