Just One Tip Can Land Someone on Terror Watch List in Reaction to Underwear Bomber

Thursday, 30 Dec 2010 12:49 PM

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One tip is all it will take to land a person’s name on a terrorist watch list under a new federal policy in reaction to the failed underwear bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009. Under the old rules, a single-source tip was insufficient to get a person’s put on the watch list, but now, one credible tip is enough, The Washington Post reported.

FBI, terror watch list, underwear bomberThe watch list, which includes about a half-million names, is used to screen airline passengers, those crossing a U.S. border, or those seeking to obtain a visa to enter the United States.

The new rule, which went into effect during the summer, has drawn the ire of civil liberties groups who complain it will lead to even more privacy violations and targeting of innocent people. The watch lists are secret "with no way for people to petition to get off or even to know if they're on," American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Chris Calabrese told the Post.

In the Christmas 2009 incident, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria was able to board the international flight despite warnings his father gave to U.S. officials.

FBI Terrorist Screening Center Director Timothy Healy said the new rule protects the civil liberties of Americans while keeping them safe from terror threats. However, a senior counterterrorism official told the Post that officials have "effectively in a broad stroke lowered the bar for inclusion," while the standard that a person must be “reasonably suspected” of terrorism activity to get on the list remains.

There are 50 to 75 incidents every day in which a person trying to board a plane, cross a border, or otherwise interact with a government official is stopped as a result of being on the watch list, the Post reported.

The National Counterterrorism Center maintains the watch list. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment serves as the government’s “central repository of information on international terrorist identities as established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004,” according to a fact sheet.

The TIDE data base includes “all information the U.S. government possesses related to the identities of individuals known or appropriately suspected to be or have been involved in activities constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Conduct necessary to get on the list includes committing or preparing terrorist activity and gathering information or fund raising for terrorist activity.

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