The FBI Has Built a Better Terrorist Watchlist

Justice IG Michael Horowitz released the report. Justice IG Michael Horowitz released the report. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

The FBI has made considerable progress in improving the accuracy and timeliness of the post-9/11 terrorist watchlist, the Justice Department inspector general reported on Tuesday.

But the bureau-administered Terrorist Screening Center could do more to document investigations during national security incidents as well as better facilitate the sharing of information on terrorist suspects among agencies, the report concluded.

“During our previous audits… we found that the FBI failed to nominate to the watchlist certain subjects of terrorism investigations and was not timely in processing nominations to the watchlist,” said the fifth such report from Justice IG Michael Horowitz. “In response to our reports, the FBI revised its watchlist policy, reorganized the operational unit responsible for processing watchlist nominations, implemented new automated processes and timeliness standards for the submission and processing of watchlist actions, and established a team to assess the FBI’s performance against the new criteria.  Generally, we found that these improvements have helped to ensure that the watchlist is more complete, accurate and current.” 

The IG’s review of watchlist progress covered the period from 2009 to 2012. It was triggered by an incident in December 2009 in which a Nigerian national who became known as “the underwear bomber” tried to bring down a passenger plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. Before that event, the IG report said, the FBI regularly failed to act in a timely manner to nominate certain terrorist subjects under investigation to appear on the list. Communications shortfalls in the bureau’s efforts to modify procedures left the Terrorist Screening Center “unable to readily identify individuals who met the threat‑based criteria, or to easily generate a listing of all of the watchlist records that were modified,” auditors found. “As a result, the TSC relied on largely manual processes to track the watchlist modifications and related in‑depth reviews.”

But recent reviews have shown that new “policies and procedures should help to ensure that future threat‑based watchlist modifications are handled more effectively and efficiently,” the IG concluded. The report noted, however, that the FBI’s guidelines on the time it should take to open a case and nominate an appropriate suspect to the watchlist could be accelerated from the current typical time frame of 17 business days.

The IG made a dozen recommendations, including requiring the screening center to “better document its actions during national security events, clarifying FBI information sharing policies to ensure they are consistent with those of the watchlist community, and improving the efficiency of the FBI’s watchlist nomination process for investigative and non-investigative subjects.” 

The FBI agreed with all the recommendations and reported that corrective action has begun.

The agencies contributing to the terrorist watchlist include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the departments of Justice, Defense, State, Treasury, Homeland Security and Energy.

Said Horowitz in a statement, “The timely handling of watchlist nominations is a matter of fundamental importance to our national security.” 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.