New Details of FBI Terrorism Watch List Revealed

September 28, 2011

According to documents obtained by The New York Times, the FBI’s terrorism “watch” list contains 420,000 names. About 8,000 of them are the names of Americans. Another 16,000 people, including 500 Americans, are also on the “no-fly” list.

The ACLU’s Chris Calabrese described the watch list to the Times as a “Star Chamber” — “a secret determination, that you have no input into, that you are a terrorist. Once that determination is made, it can ripple through your entire life and you have no way to challenge it.”

In fact, even if a subject is cleared from terrorism charges, their name may remain on the list if investigators have “reasonable suspicion” to believe the person still has ties to terrorism activities or poses a national security risk.

But Stewart Baker, who was assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, defended the policy, noting that while the standard is different from the courtroom standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the consequences are also different. Being subjected to extra questioning or being kept from a flight is not the same as being sent to prison, he told the Times.

As anyone who has followed our recent reporting on the domestic terrorism-industrial complex knows, the amount of information now being gathered and shared by law enforcement is unprecedented.

Earlier this year, FRONTLINE explored the issue of watch lists and information sharing at state and local fusion centers in Are We Safer? The clip above tells the story of several Maryland peace activists — including two Catholic nuns — who were wrongly labeled as terrorists.

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