One Million on US Terror Watch List
By IOL Staff
The US watch list of terror suspects and “suspicious characters” has ballooned to 1 million records, a leading civil rights group has revealed, slamming the list for unfairly flagging innocent people.
“America’s new million record watch list is a perfect symbol for what’s wrong with this administration’s approach to security,” Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a statement on the group’s website.
“It’s unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought, and is a very real impediment in the lives of millions of travelers in this country.”
ACLU said it derived the one million figure from a Justice Department report on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which consolidates terrorist watch list information.
The Center “had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month,” ACLU said.
“By those numbers, the list now has over one million names on it.”
The US administration, denies that the terror list now contains one million names.
“Assumptions about the list are just plain wrong,” the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said.
The TSA estimated that there were less than 450,000 people on the watch list.
The government calls its watch list one of the most effective tools in its “war against terrorism.”
The list was initially limited to criminals and drug traffickers, but an executive order by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks expanded it to include terror suspects.
The record, compiled and overseen by the FBI, can be used by a wide range of government agencies in security screening.
The names are put on “no-fly” or “selectee” lists in US airports that subject them to travel bans, arrest or additional screening.
ACLU said the ever-growing list has mistakenly flagged many innocent people who were deemed “suspicious characters”.
“Many innocent individuals have already been caught up by our government’s bloated watch lists.
“Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other ‘suspicious characters’… have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape.”
Among the names of unlikely characters on the list is Senator Edward Kennedy.
“After repeated delays at airport security, the senator had trouble getting removed from the airline watch list despite calls to Homeland Security and eventually a personal conversation with the Secretary of DHS.”
Kennedy joined another unlikely suspect on the list, the Justice Department’s former criminal prosecutor Jim Robinson.
Robinson, who was one of the most senior officials in the Justice Department, is often delayed for hours in airports due to questioning and searching despite possessing a governmental security clearance.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African president Nelson Mandela was also on the list until an act of Congress – the only way to get off the record – removed his name.
Even deceased people, such as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who was hanged in 2005, are still on the list, ACLU said.
The rights group slammed the bloated list as “unfair”, calling for swift changes.
“Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon.”
The group said the terror watch list must be tightly focused on true terrorists who “pose a genuine threat.”
“Putting a million names on a watch list is a guarantee that the list will do more harm,” said Steinhardt, the ACLU official.
“I doubt this thing would even be effective at catching a real terrorist.”
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