Several known terrorists in the Department of Justice witness protection program were allowed on commercial flights even though they were on the “no-fly” list intended to help track and restrict their activity, a report by the DOJ Inspector General released Thursday.
The witness protection program offers a new identity to known and suspected terrorists cooperating with counterterror investigations. But because the DOJ didn’t provide the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center with their new identities, potentially dangerous individuals in WitSec weren’t placed on the no-fly list until the DOJ IG called attention to the breach.
“For example, we identified some WitSec Program participants who were on the TSA’s No Fly list yet were allowed to fly on commercial flights with WitSec program officials’ knowledge and approval. Moreover, these individuals, on their own accord, could have flown without WitSec program officials’ knowledge and approval,” the report said. The DOJ IG found other “significant deficiencies” in DOJ’s handling of terrorists in WitSec. One serious problem was the DOJ’s poor track record of monitoring terrorists under its watch. “In July 2012, the USMS (U.S. Marshals Service) stated that it was unable to locate two former WitSec participants identified as known or suspected terrorists, and that through its investigative efforts it has concluded that one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside of the United States,” the report said. “In addition, we found that the Department did not definitively know how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted into the WITSEC Program,” it said. Another concern was a failure to share information of national security importance with the FBI and other national security agencies. The two offices responsible for handling WitSec, the Marshals Service and the Office of Enforcement Operations, “did not involve national security stakeholders when admitting and monitoring known or suspected terrorists into the WitSec programs,” wrote Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Until the IG’s investigation, WitSec didn’t share case information of potential value to the FBI, and lacked a formal process to share terrorism information with the national security community, according to the report. The DOJ IG report released Thursday was the public version of an April 19 classified interim draft report on the DOJ’s efforts to address the serious issues the IG found during its ongoing audit of the WitSec program. As of March 2013, the DOJ told the IG it is correcting the issues raised in the report, including sharing information with the FBI, performing threat assessments of terrorists admitted into WitSec, and prohibiting all WitSec participants on the government’s watchlist from flying. Less than 1 percent of WitSec participants are linked to known or suspected terrorists.