DOJ Audit Reveals Errors in the Monitoring of Known Terrorists in U.S.

Posted: Sep 21, 2017 5:00 PM

Sometimes the not-so-nice guys help the United States government catch terrorists and stop their plots. When they do so, they need to be given a new identity. At the same time, these people who have given the government vital information to save lives may have a "nexus to terrorism." They still need to be monitored by the FBI, National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), amongst other organizations.

The people who provide this vital information to the government have cooperated in "major terrorism investigations and prosecutions" over the years. The Department of Justice (DOJ) places them in the Witness Security Program (WITSEC Program) where they receive the label of "known or suspected terrorist (KST)." The DOJ's job is to closely monitor these individuals to make sure they do not carry out terrorist attacks or commit other crimes. Committing a crime is grounds for removal from the WITSEC program.

In May 2013, the DOJ gave an "Interim Report on the Department of Justice's Handling of Known Suspected Terrorists Admitted Into the Federal Witness Security Program." In the report, the DOJ found some unsettling information that needed addressing. A new audit by the DOJ released on Thursday reiterated the problems identified more than four years ago and addressed whether or not the necessary corrections were made. 

The audit states:

As we describe in that [2013] report, we found that the Department had not identified all KSTs admitted into the WITSEC Program; lacked adequate and appropriate oversight of these individuals; did not ensure that the identities of KSTs admitted into the WITSEC Program were placed on the government's consolidated terrorist watchlist, as appropriate; and did not appropriately share information with the FBI and other national security stakeholders, thus preventing these stakeholders from taking necessary precautions with respect to, and properly monitoring, these individuals.

The DOJ has made vast improvements in these areas. Especially, in regards to sharing information with other organizations to determine whether potential KSTs are real threats. However, according to the audit, there are still areas for improvement, and it is vital that, when it comes to the nation's national security, these issues be taken care of:

- During the audit, the DOJ found files of KSTs in the WITSEC program that had not been reviewed because the files were "archived and either (redacted) could not locate (redacted) case file or (redacted) case file did not contain enough information to make a potential nexus to terrorism determination." However, after the OEO reviewed the records, as they were supposed to do, an individual with a possible link to terrorism was identified.

- Between March 2013 and January 2016, after reviewing several cases, the USMS and OEO determined that "KST 68" and "KST 69" had a potential nexus to terrorism and should go on the "consolidated watchlist." That information was sent to the NJTTF for review. Five months later "KST 68" and "KST 69" were arrested, but it was not "until after their arrest and approximately 6 months after OEO initially referred the two individuals to the NJTTF" that the two people were placed on the watchlist.

- Upon review, it was shown that the NJTTF has had problems keeping documentation that allows the government to understand how and why the NJTTF determines an individual should not be on the watchlist and that the person is not involved in any terrorist activity. This is not to say these people are guilty before proven innocent, it simply comes down to whether the NJTTF is 100 percent certain this person is not an immediate threat.

- The USMS did "not have a sufficient system to keep track of the identity documentation provided to or collected from WITSEC Program participants." A particular example is "KST 70." "KST 70" was able to use both his new identity and his true name for years even though the government removed him from the program. "KST 70" was receiving benefits, like retirement, under both names, even though his "new name was never a legal name."

-  Another major issue found in the audit was the tracking of KSTs. In May 2013 the interim report recommended that the USMS and FBI ensure they "know the location of all the KSTs previously admitted into the program." All of the KSTs in that report were located, but new KSTs have been added and the FBI is still trying to find them.

- "KST 12" is another individual to enter the program. During the report in May 2013, officials were told that "KST 12" had been "charged with inappropriate communications with a minor." It was not until this audit was conducted that officials realized "KST 12" was "charged with or accused of sexual assault-related crimes six times since entering the WITSEC Program." The USMS was made aware of this abhorrent activity by a local police department, but the USMS did not notify the OEO and did not have further contact with local police. After a certain number of made allegations, the USMS advised "KST 12" be removed from the program.

The audit explains:

After the (redacted) allegation, the USMS proposed termination from the WITSEC Program for KST 12 on four separate occasions within a 9 month period timeframe before receiving approval from OEO to terminate.

During the prosecution... four of the six women... agreed to testify against KST 12, and KST 12 ultimately pled guilty (redacted)."

The DOJ's audit concludes by saying:

Since our May 2013 review, the FBI, USMS, and OEO have created policies and procedures to address known risks posed by KSTs admitted into the WITSEC Program. We found that some of these policies have been effective.

However, not all of these policies and procedures have proven sufficient to address the risks sought to be mitigated, nor has the implementation been as effective as originally anticipated. We identified weaknesses in the implementation of the policies and procedures created to improve information sharing among national security stakeholders.

The recommendations that were made to fix the issues were redacted as they are classified.

The full audit can be read here.

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