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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Watchlist Is Better but Still Needs Work

(CN) - While the FBI has improved its terrorist watchlist since 2009, the inspector general said it can still take the bureau up to 17 business days to add suspected terrorists to the list, and about 44 days for alleged terrorist associates.

In a new audit released Tuesday, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General first praised the FBI for implementing improvements to its watchlist policies and procedures since the failed terrorist attack by the so-called "underwear bomber" on Dec. 25, 2009.

Though the perpetrator of that attack, Nigerian native Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was known to the U.S. government at the time, he was not on the consolidated terrorist watchlist.

The FBI has since tweaked the program to "ensure that the watchlist is more complete, accurate, and current," the inspector general's office said in its sixth audit related to the watchlist.

"Nevertheless, we found that the FBI's time requirements for submission of watchlist actions could be strengthened," the inspector general said.

It can take up to 17 business days for the FBI to place the subject of a terrorism investigation on the watchlist, according to the partially redacted audit. For individuals not under investigation but suspected of having terrorist ties, the FBI typically takes 44 business days to add them to the federal no-fly list and about 78 days to remove them from the watchlist once it's determined they no longer pose a threat.

The March report blames "redundant and inefficient processes" at FBI headquarters for the delays.

It also points out inconsistencies in the bureau's watchlist nomination policy, where FBI case agents weren't submitting certain names to the list based on "inconsistent directions that could cause terrorism information to not be available to the Watchlist Community."

However, the inspector general acknowledged that some areas were much improved since its 2009 audit. The earlier audit found that 15 percent of the subjects of terrorism investigations had not been nominated to the watchlist, while the audit released Tuesday identified no such cases.

The report concludes with 12 recommendations aimed at helping the FBI strengthen its watchlist operations and procedures.

"These recommendations include requiring the [Terrorist Screening Center] to better document its actions during national security events, clarifying FBI information sharing policies to ensure the FBI's internal policies are consistent with those of the Watchlist Community, and improving the efficiency of the FBI's watchlist nomination process for investigative and non-investigative subjects," the inspector general's office said.

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