Over 700,000 people on US watch list: Once you get on, there’s no way off

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The names of nearly three-quarters of a million individuals have been secretly added to watch lists administered by the United States government, but federal officials are adamant about keeping information about these rosters under wraps.

A report by the New York Times’ Susan Stellin published over the weekend attempted to shine much-deserved light on an otherwise largely unexposed program of federal watch lists, but details about these directories — including the names of individuals on them and what they did to get there — remain as elusive as ever.

Over 700,000 people on US watch list Once you get on, there’s no way off

More than 12 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, federal agencies continue to keep lists on hand containing names of individuals of interest: people who often end up un-cleared to enter or exit the US due to an array of activity that could be considered suspicious or terrorist-related to government officials.

In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that an Inspector General of the Department of Justice report found at least 700,000 individual names on the database maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sub-office tasked with overseeing the “single database of identifying information about those known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity.” Five years later, that number of suspicious persons is reportedly close to what it was at the time. Half-a-decade down the road, however, Americans and foreign nationals who end up on the government’s radar are offered little chance to find out how they ended there, or even file an appeal.

According to some, that’s just the start of what’s wrong with these lists.

“If you’ve done the paperwork correctly, then you can effectively enter someone onto the watch list,” SUNY Buffalo Law School associate professor Anya Bernstein told Stellin for this weekend’s report. What’s more, though, according to Bernstein, is that “There’s no indication that agencies undertake any kind of regular retrospective review to assess how good they are at predicting the conduct they’re targeting,” suggesting that anyone can be targeted and added to such a list with little oversight to protect them.

When you have a huge list of people who are likely to commit terrorist acts, it’s easy to think that terrorism is a really big problem and we should be devoting a lot of resources to fighting it,” Bernstein added. With almost no transparency and outrages aplenty, though, she argues that the government’s watch lists are largely flawed and can erroneously ruin an innocent person’s life.

Such is the case with Rahinah Ibrahim, 48-year-old a former Standard University doctoral student who was expected to be in federal court in San Francisco, California Monday morning for the latest hearing in a case that stems from an incident in 2005 that ended with her learning she had been added to a terrorist watch list. Ibrahim was attempting to board a Hawaii-bound plane from San Francisco International Airport in traditional Muslim garb when she was taken into custody and told she had landed herself on a terrorist watch list. Nearly a decade later Ibrahim continues to disavow any connections with terrorism, but the issues surrounding the watch list program has made it seemingly impossible to find out what she did, let alone have her name removed from the list.

We’ve tried to get discovery into whether our client has been surveilled and have been shut down on that,” Elizabeth Pipkin, a lawyer representing Ms. Ibrahim, added to the Times. “They won’t answer that question for us.”

She doesn’t want this to happen to other people — to be wrongfully included on these lists that haunt them for years and years,” Pipkin said recently to Northern California’s Mercury News.

No one knows how the targets get on the lists,” she said. “The government has never contested this case on the merits. We don’t think they have a defense.”

But with Monday’s hearing coming nearly a decade after Ibrahim first found herself in trouble, the likelihood of any reform coming soon to the watch list system seems slim-to-none. ACLU lawyer Hina Shamsi even told the Times that the system keeping the watch lists in tact seems to be more flawed than the one guarding over terrorist suspects held at America’s military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

People who are accused of being enemy combatants at Guantánamo have the ability to challenge their detention, however imperfect that now is,” Shamsi told Stellin. “It makes no sense that people who have not actually been accused of any wrongdoing can’t challenge.”

A Terrorist Screening Center official reached for comment by the Times claimed that fewer than one percent of those listed on such rosters are US citizens or legal permanent residents, but as Stellin points out, “there is no way to confirm that number.”

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3 Responses

  1. 5 War Veteran says:

    Hmmm, In a country of 315 million, 700,000 is not an insignificant number. What one might wonder is why if a government is honest and forthcoming, why would it ever need to place so many Law Abiding Citizens, on a watch list at all. After all what has an honest government to hide?
    Of course thinking that The People will accept crimes against humanity for the benefit of the Elite is just stupid. Expecting Americans to just turn over and accept a ramming up the other cheek is also stupid.
    Expecting taxpayers to pay for the criminal benefit of the Elite is just asinine.
    Expecting us to swallow more and more lies while you whittle away basic constitutional rights is simply put “bullshit”.
    So I am on the watch list, so what. Keep watching and you will witness a real American who already gave 22 years of his life in the military doing as he was ordered and realizing how he was used for the benefit of the Elite as a pawn used in foreign policy.

    Keep watching and you will witness a real American who will in his elder years keep his OATH to protect America from threats both foreign and DOMESTIC. You will witness an American who understands the meaning of the US Constitution as written by the founding fathers. Not as reinterpreted by criminal political Elite.

  2. First of all I never trust ANYTHING written by a jew, especially when it sites another jew source for information. But I don’t doubt there is some kind of list out there targeting people. It is a commie jew staple to make and keep such lists for rounding up persons that oppose the partyline. And at least once a year some jew at some big jew fishwrap reminds us all about it.

    Yet there’s no access to it by anyone other than a few government officials who won’t release its contents. If it exists at all it isn’t about terrorists, at least not the kind we are supposed to worry about. Why not make it public so we can help keep an eye on these people like good Americans should? But no, they keep it secret. That tells me that the list is full of people like myself, who put their names and faces out there to challenge their bullshit. I’ll bet you an autographed picture of Kenny Rogers that I’m on that list. If I’m not then I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy trying to wake people up to the jews and their plans.

    I wonder if Edward Snowden has the list.

    • 5 War Veteran says:

      What I find amazing is how ball-less the US Government is by keeping this list “Secret”. I mean WTF it should be easy access common knowledge. Of course a simple look will expose racial profiling as well.

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