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Justice Department report tells of flaws in terrorist watch list

  • Story Highlights
  • Twenty known or suspected terrorists were not correctly listed, report finds
  • Justice Department says police, border agents did not get correct records
  • Even so, report says, centralized watch list operation performing better than in '05
  • Screening center touts improved data, better staffing, proper complaint redress
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Twenty known or suspected terrorists were not correctly listed on the government's consolidated watch list, preventing their records from being available to the nation's front-line screening agents, according to a U.S. Justice Department report.

Agents at border crossings, officials reviewing visa applications and police making traffic stops were among those who did not get correct terrorist records, according to the report released Thursday.

The consolidated watch list combines more than a dozen federal agency terrorist watch lists.

The report did not say, and officials refused to comment on, whether any of the 20 incorrect listings had allowed a terrorist suspect to enter the United States, apply for entry or avoid arrest within the country.

But one Justice Department official stressed the vast majority of "stop and detain" encounters stemming from questions related to the watch list do not result in an arrest.

The report comes on the same day al Qaeda's media production company announced that Osama bin Laden is about to appear in a new video. Video Watch breaking news that bin Laden intends to 'give a message to the American people' »

The terrorist watch group IntelCenter said Thursday it expected the video to be released within 72 hours -- just days before the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Justice Department inspector general's report examined the performance of the Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the consolidated watch list database used by all government agencies. Despite improvements in the two years since the original review of the center, the new report cites serious shortcomings.

"It is critical that the TSC further improve the quality of its watch list data because of the consequences of inaccurate or missing information," said Inspector General Glenn Fine.

"Inaccurate, incomplete, and obsolete watch list information can increase the risk of not identifying known or suspected terrorists, and it can also increase the risk that innocent persons will be stopped or detained."

The Terrorist Screening Center was established in 2003 to bring order to the flurry of separate agency watch lists that quickly developed after 9/11. The FBI is the prime administrator of the center.

The report said the center was properly conducting reviews of complaints filed by people seeking redress from negative experiences they believed were the result of the watch list screening.

The report said the reviews identified records for people whose names should not have been on the watch list, and some watch list records were found to be inaccurate or incomplete.

As of April 2007, the terrorist watch list, which consolidated more than a dozen federal agency terror lists, contained 700,000 records, and the database continues to increase by an average of more than 20,000 records each month, the report states.

"Given this growth and the TSC's weak quality assurance process, we believe the TSC is underestimating the time required to sufficiently review all watch list records for accuracy," the report said.

That finding casts doubt on whether the Terrorist Screening Center will be able to keep its projected schedule to review all watch list records by the end of 2007.

The inspector general's investigators examined 105 watch list records subject to "routine" review, and found that 38 percent of the records contained errors or inconsistencies.

The report also found that the number of duplicate records in the database has "significantly increased since our last review."

Despite continuing problems, the inspector general made clear the centralized watch list operation is performing better than it was in 2005, when his investigative team conducted its first examination of the center.

In a brief written statement responding to the inspector general's 106-page report, the Terrorist Screening Center did not mention the criticisms. It chose to highlight the "significant improvements" cited -- including improved data, better staffing and proper complaint redress procedures.

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"The report issued today found that the TSC 'has enhanced its efforts to ensure the quality of watch list data, has increased staff assigned to data quality management, and has developed a process and a separate office to address complaints filed by persons seeking relief from adverse effects related to terrorist watch list screening,' " the statement read.

The center said it concurs with all 18 recommendations the inspector general made and "has already taken action or is taking actions to implement every one of them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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