A shocking interim report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s inspector general reveals that known or suspected terrorists participating in the federal witness protection program have gone missing, were allowed to board flights without pre-approval until last year and were not investigated by the FBI – in at least one instance – when an inspector reported suspicious activity.
Two known or suspected terrorists in the witness protection program – run by the U.S. Marshals Service – went missing in July 2012, the report said. The U.S. Marshals later determined that one of the individuals was living abroad and that the other one also “was believed to be” living abroad. No further information was provided about the two.
In June 2009, the report says, a U.S. Marshals inspector reported that he believed one of the known or suspected terrorists in the program “was trying to gather intelligence on sensitive policies and procedures” of the witness protection program “for militant Muslim groups.”
The tip wasn’t passed along to the FBI until February 2012, at the urging of the Justice Department inspector general’s office.
The report says witness protection personnel “surmised… that the statements about the witness gathering intelligence for a terrorist group were more based in opinion than fact and that the witness was concerned about the appropriate amount of funding the witness’ family was receiving.” The report recommends that all future tips of potential value be sent to the FBI.
Until July 2012, the report says, known or suspected terrorists in the witness protection program were able to board civilian airlines unencumbered. Although their old identities belonged on the Transportation Security Administration’s “No Fly” and “Selectee” lists, their government-provided identities did not.
“[T]he new, government-provided identities of known or suspected terrorists were not included on the government’s consolidated terrorist watchlist until we brought this matter to the Department’s attention,” the report says.
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