How Does The Fbi Watch List Work And Could It Have Prevented Orlando
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Of all the details investigators have uncovered about Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen, perhaps the most infuriating is the fact that he spent 10 months on a government watch list, yet had no trouble buying an assault rifle and a handgun.
Authorities placed Mateen on a watch list in May 2013 after coworkers at the Florida courthouse where he was a security guard told authorities he boasted of connections to al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations. He remained on the list for 10 months, and FBI Director James Comey told reporters this week that during that time the agency placed Mateen under surveillance and had confidential sources meet with him.
But the feds removed Mateen from the list in March 2014, after concluding that he had no significant links to terrorism beyond attending the same mosque as an American suicide bomber who died in Syria. We dont keep people under investigation indefinitely, Comey said, adding that he doesnt see anything that his agents should have done differently.
Comey didnt identify the list Mateen was on, but an unnamed official told the Daily Beast that he was in two databases, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database and the Terrorist Screening Database, more commonly called the terrorist watch list.
Heres a look at what the lists are and how someone gets their name on one.
What Is The Us Watchlist And How Do People Get On It
The US Watchlist is the common name used to describe the US Terrorist Screening Database. The watchlist is a database that contains sensitive law enforcement and national security information on the identity of individuals and/or groups who are known to be engaged or reasonably suspected of aiding terrorist activities.
The Watchlist was introduced in 2003 by the US Government, as a response to the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, which led to the deaths and injuries of thousands of people and destruction of assets worth billions of dollars. It provides consolidated records and the timely dissemination of terrorist identity information to the US federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, US Department of State and Homeland Security. The database is coordinated by the Terrorists Screening Centre , an agency under the Federal Bureau of Investigations .
Records on this database are typically retrieved by an individuals name, date of birth, passport number, fingerprints and other identifying data, including unique identifying numbers assigned by the TSC or other government agencies.
You are likely to end up on the watchlist, if you are known to be engaged or reasonably suspected of aiding or sponsoring terrorist activities against the United States of America, its territories or anywhere else in the world.
Where You Go Might Get You Placed On The List And Then Stranded
Contained within the guidance is a potential reason why many US Muslims find themselves abruptly unable to return from trips abroad without explanation. An example given of “potential behavioral indicators” of terrorism is “travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of TERRORISM ACTIVITY”. Not defined: “lawful”, “legitimate” or “locus”. That could mean specific training camps, travel to which few would dispute the merits of watchlisting. Or it could mean entire countries where terrorists are known or suspected of operating and where millions of Americans travel every year.
The guidelines themselves, in that very section, warn that such behavioral indicators include “activity that may have innocent explanations wholly unrelated to terrorism”. It warns analysts not to judge any circumstance “in isolation”.
What happens on the no-fly list does not stay on the no-fly list. A federal judge, writing in June, noted that the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center shares information on banned passengers with 22 foreign governments as well as “ship captains”, resulting in potential “interference with an individual’s ability to travel by means other than commercial airlines”.
Judge Rules Terrorism Watchlist Violates Constitutional Rights
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WASHINGTON A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that a federal government database that compiles people deemed to be known or suspected terrorists violates the rights of American citizens who are on the watchlist, calling into question the constitutionality of a major tool the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security use for screening potential terrorism suspects.
Being on the watchlist can restrict people from traveling or entering the country, subject them to greater scrutiny at airports and by the police, and deny them government benefits and contracts. In a 32-page opinion, Judge Anthony J. Trenga of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said the standard for inclusion in the database was too vague.
The court concludes that the risk of erroneous deprivation of plaintiffs travel-related and reputational liberty interests is high, and the currently existing procedural safeguards are not sufficient to address that risk, Judge Trenga wrote.
As of 2017, about 1.2 million people were on the watchlist, which is maintained by the F.B.I.s Terrorist Screening Center. Although a vast majority of them were foreigners abroad, about 4,600 were American citizens who are protected by the Constitution.
What It Means To Be On The Us Watchlist
Being on the US watchlist could portend an ugly experience for any individual. First, it prohibits an individual who has been listed from entering the US by air, sea, or its land entry ports. It also subjects affected persons to invasive screening at airports across the world and detention and questioning by US or foreign authorities, as a terrorism suspect. Individuals on the watchlist can also be arrested by US law enforcement as soon as contact is made and identities are matched.
Individuals who are on the US watchlist are also denied access to obtain visas to the US, its territories and some of its partner countries. Such individuals are automatically added to the US No Fly List, which prohibits them from entering the US or its territories through any port of entry, as well as boarding an aircraft that may transverse US waters or airspace.
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Us Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process And Devastating Consequences
The U.S. government today maintains a massive watchlisting system that risks stigmatizing hundreds of thousands of people, including American citizens, as known or suspected terrorists based on secret standards and secret evidence, without a meaningful process to challenge error and clear their names. The watchlists in this system are shared widely within the federal government, with state and local law enforcement agencies, and even with foreign governments, heightening the negative consequences for listed individuals. Being placed on a U.S. government watchlist can mean an inability to travel by air or sea invasive screening at airports denial of a U.S. visa or permission to enter to the United States and detention and questioning by U.S. or foreign authoritiesto say nothing of shame, fear, uncertainty, and denigration as a terrorism suspect. Watchlisting can prevent disabled military veterans from obtaining needed benefits, separate family members for months or years, ruin employment prospects, and isolate an individual from friends and associates.
What The Terrorism Watchlist Is Used For
The watchlist is used by government agencies with a national security mission, for reasons like:
- Visa and passport screening
- International travel into the U.S.
- Air passenger screening
- Immigration screening
- Access to U.S. military bases
- FBI investigations
- Support for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement
Additionally, some information from the watchlist is exported to the FBIs National Crime Information Center.
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Can Enformion Help My Business With A Watchlist
A government watchlist can be a great way to make your business more effective and less prone to risk. If youre worried about risk in your business, especially if youre dealing with extremely valuable stakes in the way many financial services do. If youre interested in running your clients and vendors through government watchlists, Enformion can make the process much easier and more effective.
Empowering Informed Decisions
Why Are Government Watchlists Different From Other Watchlists
While government watchlists are one of the most common watchlists to use, there are also other private watchlists out there. Why might you want to use a government watchlist instead of a private watchlist? There are many reasons a business might choose to use a government watchlist instead of a private one.
- More information
- Extremely comprehensive
- Foreign and domestic
Of course, this isnt a complete list of reasons, and there are many reasons you might want to use either a government watchlist or a private watchlist. However, the fact that government watchlists are public and include both foreign and domestic concerns is a significant reason many businesses use them.
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How Does The Us Obtain Records Of People On The Watchlist
Information contained in the watchlist are obtained from public sources, agencies and private sector entities conducting terrorism screening, law enforcement, intelligence agency record systems, government databases, and biometric systems of foreign governments.
For foreign nationals, the Preventing and Combating Serious Crime initiative, grants the US government access to the biometric system of partner nations. Similarly, Nigeria and other partner nations are required to share criminal and terrorist biometrics with the US, as part of the US Visa Waiver Program.
Records are also obtained from foreign government through the Information Foreign Biometric Exchange Program. With this program, the US government collects high value biometrics from foreign law enforcement partners. The biometric records pertain to individuals of interest to partner countries, the US, or the international law enforcement community, and include individuals associated with or appropriately suspected of terrorist activity, egregious crimes or transnational criminal activity.
Another source is the fingerprint capture tool used by frontline field operatives to collect, store, and match fingerprint data. It can be done using an FBI-issued smartphone or tablet, allowing FBI agents to quickly determine positive identification of suspected persons, within and outside the US.
What Is A Government Watchlist
A government watchlist is just a watchlist thats put together by the government rather than by a private entity. There are actually many government watchliststhe U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury all have watchlists that may include different threats. Depending on what your business is about, you may need to use certain watchlists or all of them.One of the most comprehensive government watchlists is the FBIs Terrorist Screening Center watchlist, which allows you to look through individuals who may pose a domestic threat. This list is public and the U.S. Treasury updates it on a regular basis to include the most important individuals you might need to avoid.
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How Does A Government Watchlist Help Businesses
So what does a government watchlist actually do for your business? There are a lot of benefits your company might experience when you start using a government watchlist. There are a variety of benefits that you could experience with a government watchlist, which means the watchlist will help you do a variety of things more easily.
- Do your due diligence.
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U S Marshals Services 15 Most Wanted List
The U. S. Marshals Service provides a multitude of services to federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations, including fugitive task force support for law enforcement agencies conducting internal investigations investigating alleged sex offenders pursuing unregistered and non-compliant sex offenders removing violent gang members, weapons, and drugs, from . . . communities and providing technologically advanced electronic surveillance and investigative intelligence to the USMS and other federal agencies throughout Mexico and the United States.
The USMS also maintains a list, similar to those of the FBIs Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and the Secret Services Most Wanted Fugitives. The USMSs own 2021 15 Most Wanted list includes the names of Derrell Brown, for whom a $25,000 reward is offered Michigan authorities want him on charges of receiving and concealing a firearm and on two counts of homicide. Other fugitives are wanted in several states on a variety of charges, including child rape, murder, double murder, unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and child molestation. All should be considered armed and dangerous.
You DONT want to be on this list, either!
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How Do You Get On The Government Watch List
There are multiple ways that your name could be screened against the TSDB.
- Arriving in the US at a port of entry
- Getting pulled over by local or state police
- Visa applications reviewed by the Department of State
These checks are constantly happening with more than 1 billion likely being made every year.
If a screening yields a match this is known as an encounter. A screener would receive notification of the match and then contact TSC, who are of course available 24/7. The TSC has access to more information than the screeners do so they are able to dig a little bit deeper when verifying the match.
If there is a match or if the TSC cannot arrive at a conclusion, the FBIs Terrorist Screening Operations Unit coordinates how the government will respond.
For example, they could send agents to a given location to apprehend somebody right on the spot. In other cases, they may just come to interview the individual and add that intel to the records in the TSDB.
If a name is on a no-fly list I imagine the response could be denying them the ability to book a ticket or board a plane but it would probably depend on how high of a priority the person is to authorities. In some cases, they may plan to bring the subject into custody.
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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What Is A Government Watch List Search
A government watch list search identifies people who are known or suspected to be terrorists, or have engaged in related activities such as cybercrimes, drug or human trafficking, and more.
Many government agencies have watch lists that include the names and identifying information of people who pose various types of threats.
Based on your business and the positions for which you are hiring, you might need to check specific watch lists or search them all.
The following watch lists might be included in a government watch list check:
- Criminal enterprise
What The Terrorism Watchlist Is Not Used For
Some people who are denied certain services, like a loan or credit decision, may be told they are on a watchlist.If you are told this, this does not mean you are on the U.S. governments terrorist watchlist. The terrorism watchlist is never used to make decisions on financial matters, such as:
- Loan/credit decisions
Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List Human Readable Lists
As part of its enforcement efforts, OFAC publishes a list of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific. Collectively, such individuals and companies are called Specially Designated Nationals or SDNs. Their assets are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them. View more information on Treasurys Sanctions Programs.
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Us Government Now Publishing Terrorist Watch List Encounters At American Land Borders
AUSTIN, Texas Having covered the politically taboo threat of Islamic terrorist border crossings and even written a book about it, I have long had to contend with ungenerous government agencies that jealously guard all information about it from public disclosure.
So few other people could have been more surprised to find a brand new section on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Enforcement Statistics page titled, Terrorist Screening Database Encounters. In other words, theres now a public page where any American citizen can, for the first time, go to see the number of times federal agents have encountered an immigrant at both northern and southern land borders who was on the FBIs terrorist watch list.
One way to measure the significance of CBP providing such raw information to the general public is that, in the recent past, major American newspapers and television networks have staked their reputations on insisting that no terrorist suspects ever cross the border and that anyone who says otherwise, like former President Donald Trump did in 2018, is a big, fat, fear-mongering, racist liar. Otherwise, they refuse to report government evidence when it does make it to the public.
The controversy over whether terrorist suspects cross the land border has left many Americans confused over the years as to what is and isnt a phony political narrative about this one of many border threats.
The two categories differ significantly in meaning and implication.
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