Known Terrorists Under Witness Protection Roaming The Country Pretty Much Unattended
from the natsec-above-all-else,-except-when-it-comes-to-paperwork dept
The FBI loves its counterterrorism work. Loves it so much, it’s pretty much abandoned all pretense of being a law enforcement agency. It acts as though it’s somewhere between the NSA and the ATF: interested mostly in picking through surveillance dragnets and running sting operations that turn people who have trouble with basic skills like holding down jobs into national security threats.
But it can’t score anti-terrorism goals on unguarded nets without a crew of informants. It works with immigration authorities to coerce visiting foreigners into providing the agency with intel. It goes further than that, though. It also operates a witness protection program for informants/witnesses actually involved in actual terrorist activity.
Considering the danger inherent to letting these informants run on a long leash, you’d think the FBI would keep close tabs on some of its more dangerous helpers. But that isn’t the case. The DOJ’s Inspector General has released a heavily-redacted report [PDF] on the government’s use of known suspected terrorists (KSTs) as temporary allies in the greater War on Terrorism. These are handled by the US Marshals Service, with the FBI acting as an intermediary. More government agencies are involved as well — or at least should be. But one of the many problems the OIG found was a lack of communication.
We found several deficiencies in the process OEO [the DOJ’s Office of Enforcement Operations] followed in analyzing these case files and in sharing information with the FBI. Specifically, we believe, and the FBI agrees, that OEO should have shared the information with national security stakeholders for all [redacted] individuals identified by the USMS, rather than conducting its own secondary review. If OEO had passed along all of the case file information that the USMS identified from its case file review, the FBI’s counterterrorism experts – not just OEO – would have had the opportunity to evaluate whether any of the [redacted] individuals were KSTs. Under the process used, that did not happen for a majority of the individuals. We also found that neither OEO nor the FBI was able to provide evidence of a consistent application of the criteria each used for its reviews, and both lacked adequate support for their respective determinations.
In addition, OEO’s sharing of information with the FBI was often marked by delay and the FBI’s assessments of that information were inadequately documented. Of particular concern, we found that although the USMS began identifying to OEO individuals it believed had a potential nexus to terrorism in November 2013, OEO did not begin sending that information to the FBI for possible watchlisting until March 2014, and we found delays of weeks or months in OEO’s handling of many of the individuals the USMS identified in late 2013 and early 2014.
This lack of info sharing combined with the agencies’ inadequate documentation to create some horrifying problems. Known suspected terrorists were allowed to board planes on multiple occasions. Some continued to commit criminal acts. And in some cases, no one had any clue where their KST informants had vanished to.
As of November 2016, counting those KSTs identified during our May 2013 report, the FBI, OEO, and USMS have identified [redacted] KSTs who were previously admitted into the WITSEC Program. As of November 2016, the FBI had located [redacted] of these [redacted] KSTs, and were in the process of verifying the location of the remaining [redacted] individuals.
In one case, two KSTs were already watchlisted by the National Joint Terrorism Task Force. Nonetheless, they continued to engage in criminal activities for five months before they were arrested. They weren’t the only ones. Other KSTs engaged in criminal activity without being terminated from the WITSEC program.
[D]espite four termination requests in 9 months from the USMS, OEO delayed the termination of a WITSEC Program participant who had allegedly sexually assaulted five individuals in an 8 year period, including three minors.
Other WITSEC participants used the system’s lack of oversight and flawed interagency communications to their own advantage. One KST used both his real identity, along with the new one provided to him in the WITSEC program, to game the system. Once terminated from the program, the KST was asked to return the new-name documents. Apparently, he never did. And no one followed up until the OIG got involved
By retaining these documents, KST 70 was able to use both identities for years. For example, KST 70 was receiving [redacted] benefits in KST 70’s new name while receiving [redacted] retirement benefits in KST 70’s true name. […] We also found that KST 70 was able to use KST 70’s new name, including a [redacted] driver’s license. In fact, KST 70 checked into a hotel the night before the [redacted] with that [redacted] driver’s license. We find it very concerning that KST 70 was allowed to use both identities for so long.
The OIG has a long list of recommendations to fix the ongoing KST/WITSEC issues. Unfortunately, you won’t be reading them. They’re 100% redacted. But we can assume it means a lot of changes in a system of utmost importance — as is the case with anything national security-related — that’s treated like an afterthought by its many participants.