Thousands of Americans have found themselves on the list, which was declared unconstitutional in a 2019 court ruling
The US government’s list of known or suspected terrorists has nearly doubled in size in the past six years, with American citizens comprising a growing portion of the names, CBS reported on Thursday, citing former and current intelligence officials, court records, and other government documents.
The Terrorist Screening Dataset included about 2 million people as of the end of 2023 — up from 1,160,000 in 2017, the last time Washington publicly confirmed the numbers. The watchlist has grown by leaps and bounds since its creation in 2003 with just 120,000 people.
While official policy requires “reasonable suspicion” for inclusion on the list, the government is not required to share those suspicions with the public or those targeted, and agencies will “neither confirm nor deny” an individual’s presence on the list.
“Those 2 million people who are on the list are on there for a reason,” Monte Hawkins, the National Security Council official who oversees watchlisting for the Biden administration, told CBS, noting that “the vast majority” of the listed individuals are neither US citizens nor legal permanent residents.
However, former intelligence official Russell Travers, who helped establish the watchlist in the aftermath of 9/11, acknowledged that it needed auditing but lacked the staff to do it. “I’m sure that there are a lot of people that are in the database that are dead, that we don’t even know it,” he told CBS.
Additionally, just because a person is on the list “doesn’t mean they’re a terrorist. It means there’s something that has led a department or agency to say, ‘This person needs a closer look’,” Travers explained.
The Department of Homeland Security has admitted that 98% of the tens of thousands of Americans who have complained to their government about being wrongfully treated like terrorists were actually the victims of “false positives,” with names similar to actual terror suspects. The Transportation Security Administration admitted in 2006 that 30,000 airline passengers had been wrongly flagged in the past year alone. Federal lawsuits have accused the FBI of adding innocent people to the database to pressure them into becoming informants.
While the list is officially operated by the Terrorist Screening Center within the FBI, officials from six other government departments are involved in maintaining it. The information is shared with hundreds of private sector entities and upwards of 60 foreign governments.
The Terrorist Screening Database was declared unconstitutional in 2019 in a landmark ruling in the Eastern District Court of Virginia, with Judge Anthony Trenga arguing that a lack of “ascertainable standard for inclusion and exclusion” meant that it was too vague to risk depriving Americans of their “travel-related and reputational liberty interests” and constituted a violation of due process.
December 16, 2023 at 01:28AM