Monday, July 14, 2008

Terrorist watch list continues to grow

Following 9/11, the U.S. government compiled a list of 20 known terrorists (19 of them died in the attacks); however, that list quickly grew by 20,000 names a month. It recently hit the one million mark according to the ACLU.
"Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "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."
Even Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson, the Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor, turned up on the list. Just how does the government conclude a name belongs on the list? Are they guessing? It certainly seems that way. From Mother Jones:
The argument for maintaining such an unwieldy and quickly growing list is perhaps best voiced by cliché: better safe than sorry. But that philosophy has spawned a list that a recent GAO study found much too large to be effective, and much too inaccurate to protect the civil liberties of innocent people. The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center manages the list, but to date the administration has failed to establish a clear, consistent methodology for government agencies to use when determining who goes on the list and who doesn't. The criteria vary widely, when they're known at all. The Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, flatly refuses to disclose its criteria for submitting a name to the list. The FBI, on the other hand, generally nominates any and all subjects of ongoing counterterrorism investigations.
No clear criteria or methodology, and the data is inaccurate. Do you feel safer?

Mother Jones said it remains unknown how many names on the list are part of government-designated terrorist groups (Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and affiliates of the IRA and the Tamil Tigers) since that's classified information, but using public information available in November 2007, they figured these groups total about 200,000 people.

Their conclusion? "Assuming every one of those members is on the list — an absurd assumption — it would reflect an accuracy of only 23 percent." That means nearly 77% of the names of that list don't belong there.

Sorry, Charlie...or Gary Smith or Robert Johnson.


abi said...

They just recently took Nelson Mandela's name off the list. Until then, he had to get permission from the State Dept. to enter the US.

Pretty soon it'll be easier for them to keep a list of who can enter the US.

Kathy said...

You raise a good point about Mandela, Abi. If they're including the names of people like him, just how do they define a terrorist?

We actually could use more Mandela's in the world in my humble opinion.