September 28th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

FBI watch list draws scrutiny

By CNN Senior Producer Carol Cratty

Newly released FBI documents say a person's name could be on the U.S. government's terror watch list even if terror charges have been dismissed or if the person has been acquitted in a trial.

A December 2010 FBI memo distributed to the bureau's field offices leaves the door open for a person to remain on the list following acquittal or dismissal of charges, although it says such a person "must still meet the reasonable suspicion standard in order to remain on, or be subsequently nominated to, the terrorist watch list."

The document says in most cases a person's name would be removed from the roster.

The memo says a person cannot be watch-listed based solely on "hunches" and that there must be "particularized derogatory information" that a person could be a national security threat. In addition, the memo says there must be at least "one source of corroboration" connecting someone to terrorist activities.

The memo was among 91 pages of documents the FBI released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Many details about how the watch list works have not been known to the public. Inclusion on the roster could mean someone would not be able to fly on an airplane or cross a border to enter the United States. At a minimum, a person could face additional screening or questioning.

Among the information revealed in the documents is the guidance given to law enforcement officers about what action they should take if they come into contact with someone on the watch list. It details a three-tiered system of "handling codes" in which a person would be arrested if there is a outstanding arrest warrant; questioned while checks are made with the Department of Homeland Security and other officials about whether someone should be detained; or allowed to move on without interference.

The December FBI memo repeatedly states law enforcement agents should not tell a person that his or her name may be on the terror watch list.

Timothy Healy, director of the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, said the newly released documents show the watch list process is "very detailed and exhaustive, and provides a mechanism for modifying and removing individuals from the watch list based on the latest intelligence."

In a written statement Healy called the watch list “one of the most effective tools we have in the ongoing fight against terrorism.” He also said most of the people who have filed redress complaints are mistaken in believing they have been listed. Healy said less than one percent of those who filed complaints were in fact on the terror watch list.

Ginger McCall, a counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, expressed concern about the information in the FBI documents. "In the U.S., you are supposed to be presumed innocent, but not on the watch list," McCall told CNN. "If you are acquitted you can still be on the list."
She also criticized the instructions about not telling people whether they are on the roster of possible terrorists. "It's frightening to think you could be on such a list and have no ability to find out," McCall said.

Approximately 420,000 people are included on the government's terrorist watch list, according to information released just before the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. Around 16,000 people are on the no-fly list and fewer than 500 of those are U.S. citizens.

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Filed under: 9/11 • FBI • Homeland Security • Living With Terror • Terrorism
soundoff (One Response)
  1. InfidelHere

    Upset at all of this hassle and BILLIONS spent protecting us from this madness?? Remember...it was MUSLIMS who perfected the ‘science’ of how to hijack planes...with that,

    It was MUSLIMS that first used bombs in their stored luggage (i.e., Loxerbie, Scottland)…
    It was MUSLIMS who then first used planes as suicide weapons of mass destruction...
    It was MUSLIMS who then first tried to use their shoes as bombs...
    It was MUSLIMS who first tried to use liquids as bombs (hence our new 3-1-1 rule for bottles and all liquids)…
    It was MUSLIMS who first tried to use their underwear as a bomb…
    It was MUSLIMS who first tried to send bombs via freight to explode over our skys...

    And that is just the hassle freakin’ MUSLIMS are causing for air travel alone!! Go ahead and couple that with the 17,000 documented DEADLY attacks for their allah since 9/11/2001 alone… isn't any news organization interested in examining the true CAUSE and MOTIVE behind all of this mess and the $$BILLION$$ spent??? Anybody??

    So...if you want to be mad at somebody, take it out on the religion of ISLAM which is the true cause for all of this hassle and $$$$$ we now have to spend to be RIGHT all of the time…while your Muslim jihadist only has to be right ONE time!!

    September 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply

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