400,000 on ‘terrorist’ list

The Washington Post reported last week that 1,600 names are being added to the list of 400,000 people who are suspected of being “terrorists.” Even though it is reported that all are under “reasonable suspicion” of being terrorists, only 9 percent of those on the list are even on the “no fly” list, which prohibits them from boarding an airplane in the United States.

The list, which began under the Bush administration, is still being compiled.

This information was originally published on Oct. 30 on a Federation of American Scientists blog. FAS is an organization founded in 1945 by scientists working on the atomic bomb. According to the organization’s website, “These scientists recognized that science had become central to many key public policy questions. They believed that scientists had a unique responsibility to both warn the public and policy leaders of potential dangers from scientific and technical advances and to show how good policy could increase the benefits of new scientific knowledge.”

The blog, “Secrecy News,” recently published a Sept. 15 document from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The document reveals part of the testimony of FBI director Robert S. Mueller delivered before the committee this March.

During the session, which was closed to the public and the press, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold noted that the rules for deciding who would be included on the list include use of the individual’s race. Mueller admitted that in deciding whether one should be included on the terrorist list or not there was no evidence required that the individual had committed a crime, although he claimed that racial profiling was not a basis for being listed.

Mueller said that the names on the list came from “the intelligence community,” referring to American spy agencies.

At the same time that 1,600 new names were being included on the list, said Mueller, the FBI removed 600 names from the list and made changes to 4,800 others.

The 400,000 names are included in one million different entries.

Before the enactment of the Patriot Act in 2001, the FBI required some evidence of a crime before beginning an investigation. But now the law allows indefinite detention of immigrants, warrantless searches of homes and businesses without the permission or knowledge of the owner, and even investigation of books borrowed from libraries in order to see what one is reading. In this last case, librarians are threatened with jail sentences if they reveal investigations.

Civil liberties advocates have criticized the way that names are being added to the list as overbroad. The American Civil Liberties Union, while agreeing that terrorists must be identified, has criticized the use of lists compiled on unproven or flimsy suspicions without enough evidence to merit prosecution.

Among those who have been found on the list or have encountered problems with booking airline flights are the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, California Congressional Representative Loretta Sanchez, Alaska Republican Representative Don Young, Education Secretary for the Conference of Catholic Bishops Sister Glenn Ann McPhee, former South African President Nelson Mandela and President of Bolivia Evo Morales.

This year, Representatives John Conyers, of Michigan, Jerrold Nadler, of New York, and Bobby Scott, of Virginia, all Democrats, have introduced a bill, H.R. 3845, seeking to address certain abuses of the Patriot Act.

Proposed amendments under the bill would limit government power to intercept communications and collect financial information to subjects who are actually under investigation, rather than to any person investigators believe to be “relevant,” would prohibit “John Doe” wiretap warrants, would prohibit secret searches (although there would be a an exception for so-called “emergencies”), and would allow one to speak about and publicly criticize these actions. At present, anyone who knows of this type of secret search or investigation is automatically under a legal gag order.  

The ACLU says that although these amendments would serve to better protect people’s constitutional rights, more must be done. Two things that should be included to strengthen H.R. 3845, activists say, are protecting members of groups that provide humanitarian aid in zones of conflict and only indict those who purposefully provide aid to terrorist groups, and strictly limiting data searches to those who are actually under investigation for acts related to terrorism, rather than, as present, searching for information on innocent people.

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