Terrorist Watch List
September 8, 2009 at 11:08 am #79842
From Bill Leonard's blog
Title: Two Terrorists for Every Marine
Author: Bill Leonard
Monday, September 7, 2009
Two Terrorists for Every Marine
According to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, the government's consolidated "watch list includes about 1.1 million names and aliases corresponding to 400,000 individuals.... A person is included in the list if he or she is 'known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.'" The mere size of this list means that the U.S. Government believes that there are more terrorists than their are service members in any of the branches of armed services except the U.S. Army. For example, according to our government, there are twice as many terrorists as there are members of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Common sense would dictate that sooner or later, a list of such magnitude would become almost worthless because of all the false positives it inevitably contains. Names are continually added -- few are ever removed.
One way, in fact the best way, to ensure an accurate and meaningful list would be to make the list public. There is no better way to scrub such a list of the inevitable false positives.
However, continuing its track record of shameful excessive official secrecy, the article reports that:
The Obama administration wants to maintain the secrecy of terrorist watch-list information it routinely shares with federal, state and local agencies, a move that rights groups say would make it difficult for people who have been improperly included on such lists to challenge the government. Intelligence officials in the administration are pressing for legislation that would exempt "terrorist identity information" from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
And what is the rationale for the government foregoing the best means possible to ensure as accurate a list as possible? According to the Post:
One intelligence official said the information's disclosure creates a host of difficulties. "Here's the problem," the official said, discussing the matter on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. "If you've got somebody, including a suspected terrorist, who can FOIA that information, you're making intelligence-gathering methods vulnerable. You're possibly making intelligence agents and law enforcement personnel vulnerable. Suspects could alter their behavior and circumvent the surveillance."
Sounds well and good, except for the simple fact that if a true "terrorist" (whatever or whoever that is) wanted to ascertain if his or her name was on the list, rather than submitting a FOIA for the information, all he or she would need to do is to have someone try to buy an airline ticket in his or her name. Furthermore, by doing so, the "terrorist" would not have to wait two years or more for the government to get around to replying to the FOIA. Instead, he or she would have an instantaneous answer by a much simpler means.
BTW -- only the really dumb "terrorists" operate and travel under their true identity.
Just one more example of how excessive secrecy actually harms national security.
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