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In 2010, an American security contractor attempting to board a plane to Texas from Bogotá, Colombia, was denied a boarding pass. That was when Raymond Earl Knaeble first learned that he had been placed on a U.S. government terrorist watch list.
Knaeble, who was heading home before starting a new job in Qatar, was delayed for weeks. He lost the job. He later sued the Justice Department with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming his due process rights were violated.
Omar Mateen was also on a government terrorist watch list on two occasions but had been taken off by the time he bought the guns he used to massacre 49 people at an Orlando nightclub.
Critics have long blasted the effectiveness and reliability of the terrorist watch list system, asserting that too many people, like Knaeble, are swept up by law enforcement agencies without proper vetting or due process and that too many other, certifiable threats, like Mateen, are left out.
Those concerns received heightened attention in the past few weeks, as the U.S. Senate considered, and ultimately rejected, proposals aimed at expanding a ban on gun sales to people on government terrorist watch lists. A sit-in by Democrats in the House of Representatives seeking to force a votes on the watch list and other gun restriction bills ended with lawmakers vowing to continue their campaign after the Independence Day holiday.
Here is a guide to understanding the debate as it moves forward.
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Over 700000 People On Us Watch List: Once You Get On Theres No Way Off
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.
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 governments radar are offered little chance to find out how they ended there, or even file an appeal.
According to some, thats just the start of whats wrong with these lists.
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Get Up To Date Information
Non-partisan think tanks and other research organizations have begun making recommendations for keeping watch lists’ use limited and fair. For interesting and clearly written information on what is being and can be done, check out:
- The Constitution Project’s March 2007 Report, Promoting Accuracy and Fairness in the Use of Government Watch Lists
- The Electronic Privacy Information Center resources on air travel privacy
Fact Sheet: Federal Watch Lists
Fact Sheet: Federal Watch Lists
FACT SHEETDepartment of Homeland Security Inspector General Agrees
The U.S. government has long developed and maintained various “watch lists”as part of national security and law enforcement efforts. However, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the scope and relevance of these lists has increased exponentially – and with it, serious implications for law-abiding citizens.
MULTIPLE LISTS, THOUSANDS OF NAMES BUT NO COORDINATION OR UNIFORMITY
The Washington Post reported on October 9, 2004 that the “federal government’s ‘no-fly’ list had 16 names on it on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, it has more than 20,000.” The numbers alone cause concern. But the way the lists are maintained and used presents grave challenges to civil liberties of all Americans.
According to a recently issued General Accounting Office report, the government maintains more than a dozen watch lists, including:
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Sex Offender Registry Websites
The National Sex Offender Public Websitecoordinated by the Department of Justiceenables every citizen to search the latest information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and numerous Indian tribes for the identity and location of known sex offenders.
To run a search: Enter the site, select the I agree button under Conditions of Use, fill out the Search form, and select Search.
You can also search registry websites maintained by individual jurisdictions by following the links below. Note: the information contained in the national registry and the state and tribal registries is identical the national registry simply enables a search across multiple jurisdictions.
Getting On A Government Watch List
Getting put on the watch list isn’t exactly like making prom queen, but it does require a nomination. An agent from the FBI, NSA or other federal agency nominates you. Then, that nomination moves on to the FBI’s Terrorist Review and Examination Unit. If you check out as a known or potential terrorist, it’s on to the Terrorist Screening Center and the watch list.
What exactly does it mean to be “appropriately suspected ” as a potential terrorist? The FBI and the federal government remain tightlipped about specific qualifications, continually referring back to the generic guidelines established in the Presidential Directive.
Besides having a criminal record for terrorist-related activities or known associations with terrorists or terrorist organizations, there are other ways people get pegged for the list. Active membership in some extremist groups could get you a spot. For instance, the eco-extreme group Earth Liberation Front has been the focus of FBI investigations for the property damage members have caused. The FBI calls this group’s activity “special interest terrorism” . But if you’re concerned that reading HowStuffWorks article How easy is it to steal a nuclear bomb will set off the fed’s alarm systems, don’t worry. Unless you actually attempt to steal a nuclear bomb yourself, you’re probably fine.
So what about all those average Joes who have been stopped and searched by government officials? Are they terrorists in sheep’s clothing?
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The Terrorist Screening Center And Redress
The Department of Homeland Securitys Traveler Redress Inquiry Program provides the public with a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experience during travel screening at transportation hubs, such as being incorrectly delayed, denied boarding, identified for additional screening, or any other difficulties while traveling or seeking entry into the country. Since there are many reasons why a traveler may seek redress, DHS TRIP works with the TSC, as appropriate, when an inquiry appears to be related to the watchlist.
The TSC does not accept redress inquiries directly from the public. Instead, members of the public should contact the relevant screening agency with their questions or concerns about screening. The screening agency is in the best position to identify and resolve issues related to that agencys screening process. Information on how to contact screening agencies is listed below:
- For more information, or to file a redress request related to travel, please see the DHS TRIP website.
- The State Departments Bureau of Consular Affairs website provides information on how to seek redress for the denial of a visa. Individuals who are overseas should contact the U.S. embassy or consular office abroad regarding visa issues.
You can learn more about the Terrorist Screening Center by reviewing answers to our frequently asked questions.
Protecting Privacy And Safeguarding Civil Liberties
The TSC is dedicated to ensuring watchlisting and screening activities are conducted in a manner consistent with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Individuals are included in the watchlist when there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist. Individuals are not watchlisted based solely on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, or any First Amendment-protected activities such as free speech, the exercise of religion, freedom of press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.
And the TSC regularly conducts comprehensive and case-specific quality assurance reviews of data in the Terrorist Screening Database to ensure the U.S. Governments substantive criteria for watchlisting is met and to ensure the records maintained in the watchlist are current, accurate, and thorough.
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About The Terrorist Screening Center
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the President and Congress mandated that federal executive departments and agencies share terrorism information with those in the counterterrorism community responsible for protecting the homeland. In 2003, the Terrorist Screening Center was created to fulfill that mandate.
The Terrorist Screening Center, a multi-agency center administered by the FBI, is the U.S. Governments consolidated counterterrorism watchlisting component and is responsible for the management and operation of the Terrorist Screening Database, commonly known as the watchlist.
The watchlist is a single database that contains sensitive national security and law enforcement information concerning the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. The TSC uses the watchlist to support front-line screening agencies in positively identifying known or suspected terrorists who are attempting to obtain visas, enter the country, board an aircraft, or engage in other activities.
The TSC is a vital part of the U.S. Governments counterterrorism early warning and interdiction network.
You can learn more about the Terrorist Screening Center by reviewing answers to our frequently asked questions.
Sanctions List Search Tool
OFAC’s Sanctions List Search tool employs fuzzy logic on its name search field to look for potential matches on the Specially Designated Nationals List and on its Non-SDN Consolidated Sanctions List. This consolidated list includes the Foreign Sanctions Evaders List, the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List, the List of Foreign Financial Institutions Subject to Correspondent Account or Payable-Through Account Sanctions, the Non-SDN Palestinian Legislative Council List, the Non-SDN Menu-Based Sanctions List, and the Non-SDN Communist Chinese Military Companies List.
Search OFAC Sanctions Lists
More information on how Sanctions List Search works, how the scoring is calculated, who may use the tool, and other topics can be found in the frequently asked questions available here.
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Background On The National Sex Offenders Registry
Our Crimes Against Children Unit at FBI Headquarters coordinated the development of the National Sex Offenders Registry , which is currently managed by the FBIs Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
The Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 required the Attorney General to establish a national database at the FBI to track the whereabouts and movements of certain convicted sex offenders under Title 42 of the United States Code Section 14072. The National Crime Information Center run by the FBI enables the NSOR to retain the offenders current registered address and dates of registration, conviction, and residence.
The Lychner Act imposed two major obligations on the FBI that became effective October 3, 1997:
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexual Violent Offender Registration Program, enacted in 1994, provides a financial incentive for states to establish registration programs for persons who have been convicted of certain sex crimes.
How To Land On The Government Watch List
Just like Santa Claus, the U.S. government has its own version of “the naughty list.” But this one doesn’t record boys and girls who fibbed or acted mean to schoolmates on the playground. Instead, the U.S. Government ‘s Consolidated Terrorist Watch List keeps track of people who are known or suspected terrorists. These are the people the U.S. government doesn’t want to board planes, enter the country or obtain a visa without a lot of hassle.
While the government makes no secret of the list’s existence, its official contents are off-limits to the public. That’s because the federal government believes if terrorists are aware of being on a watch list, they will become more vigilant and tricky in committing heinous crimes.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, more than a dozen watch lists were floating around different federal agencies . Now, those records have been consolidated into one master list maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center .
The development of TSC and the master list grew out of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 signed by President Bush in 2003. The directive outlined the federal government’s plan to combine all former watch lists into one master list of people “known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism .”
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Hireright Prohibited Parties Check Benefits
Industries especially concerned with export licensure, such as Defense/Aerospace, or industries that employ persons who have access to sensitive proprietary technologies, like Financial Services, are excellent candidates to perform this search. Benefits of the HireRight Prohibited Parties Check include:
- A safer workplace and compliance with the USA PATRIOT Act.
- An extra layer of security to customers concerned with terrorism or U.S. sanctions.
- Compliance with regulations that restrict conducting business with prohibited parties.
- Identification of persons or entities deemed a threat to the United States.
- Search lists included: Office of Foreign Assets Control , Debarred Parties, Denied Persons, Entity List, Unverified Parties, Palestinian Legislative Council.
- Verification by HireRight that the prohibited party is the applicant
- Name of list the individual appears on
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Contact An Attorney If You Are Placed On A No Fly List In Error
The DHS TRIP process is designed to help those who have been delayed or detained in error because their names are like those who are on the list. In a few cases, however, people who are not terrorists have discovered themselvesas themselveson lists, without the opportunity to figure out why . If you are in this rare situation, contact your attorney for further steps.
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How Do I Know If Im On The Watch List
You probably wont ever know for sure if youre on the master watch list. The FBI doesnt disclose its contents. But its a good bet that if the bureau visits you about a terrorism-related investigation, youre probably on there.
As a result of the ACLUs lawsuit with Knaeble, the government in 2015 began telling Americans they were on the no-fly list and offering some reasons. Travelers still dont get advance notice, however, so the only way to find out if you cant fly is to try to board a plane and see whether you get accosted by security. People on the list can file for redress. But Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLUs National Security Project, says the government provides scant information and there is still no process for contesting your inclusion in front of a neutral third-party.
Knaeble, the U.S. Army veteran stranded in Bogotá, was eventually able to return to the United States in August 2010 but not without trouble. He traveled for 12 days, passing through Panama City before arriving in Mexicali, California. Along the way, American and foreign authorities detained, interrogated, and searched him numerous times.
Even though the government has changed its policies about alerting travelers on the no-fly list, theACLU contends that the process is still far short of constitutional and is fighting in court to get it changed. The debate continues.
Search Us Databases And Watch Lists To Reveal Prohibited Parties
The global reach of terrorism in todays world makes it essential that every applicant is screened against the list of known entities not allowed to work or do business with the United States.
The HireRight Prohibited Parties Check searches the applicants name against several U.S. Government watch lists to identify any known prohibited individuals or entities. These lists include specially designated nationals , specially designated terrorists , known narcotics traffickers and other parties subject to various sanction programs.
Can People In The Fbis Terrorist Screening Database Buy Guns
Yes. Prospective gun buyers can only be denied if they fall into one of nine categories of purchasers prohibited under federal law felons and drug users, for example. Being a suspected terrorist isnt one of them. The Government Accountability Office reported that between 2004 and 2015, known or suspected terrorists tried to buy guns 2,477 times and 91 percent of their background checks were approved.