Judicial Watch: Homeland Security Records Reveal Officials Ordered Terrorist Watch List Scrubbed
FOIA Lawsuit for Terrorist “Hands Off” List Shows Almost 1,000 Individuals Removed from Terror Watch List
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it obtained 183 pages of documents from the Department of Homeland Security revealing that the Obama administration scrubbed the law enforcement agency’s “Terrorist Screening Database” in order to protect what it considered the civil rights of suspected Islamic terrorist groups. The documents appear to confirm charges that Obama administration changes created a massive “hands off” list. Removed data from the terrorist watch list could have helped prevent the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
The new documents were produced in response to Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed on February 13, 2015, (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:15-cv-00222)) for:
- A copy of the [Department of Homeland Security] Office of Inspector General report regarding, concerning, or related to a “hands off list” purportedly maintained by [Department of Homeland Security], US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and/or US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) used to allow certain individuals to enter the United States, who had previously been denied entry to the United States or been made to undergo secondary screening by CBP based on suspicion of terrorism ties.
- Any and all records of communication to or from [Department of Homeland Security] Inspector General Charles Edwards from May 31, 2014 regarding the aforementioned OIG report.
On May 6, 2014, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) released internal Department of Homeland Security emails revealing an alleged terrorist “hands off” list allowing individuals with potential terrorist ties into the United States. Allegations by former Customs and Border Patrol Officer Philip Haney spurred Senator Grassley’s and other congressional investigations.
The new Homeland Security documents confirm the modification of nearly 1,000 terrorist suspect reports. The September 25, 2013, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General memorandum regarding Haney’s terror watch list entries, discloses that the Department of Homeland Security Privacy Office and Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties “determined that individuals could only be “‘watchlisted’ based on an association with a known or suspected terrorist already ‘watchlisted’… not based on their affiliation with [REDACTED] (or any other [REDACTED] organization.” The redactions are under Exemption 7 (E), which the government asserts in this instance:
Protects all law enforcement information that “would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigation or prosecution, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecution if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(E). DHS-OIG is withholding from disclosure specific information pertaining to a terrorist watch list which could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”
The Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, released only as a result of the Judicial Watch lawsuit, shows that a Homeland Security official reported that Haney was forced to “modify” nearly a thousand terror suspect entries:
“In order to be in compliance with CBP [Customs and Border Protection] policy, [Redacted] was ordered by [Redacted] supervisors to modify all 820 records and remove all references to terrorism.”
The documents include a June 8, 2012, letter of commendation to Haney by a senior official with Homeland Security’s National Targeting Center who describes Haney as “invaluable” and commends him for assisting “in the identification of over 300 persons with possible connections to terrorism.”
Senator Grassley previously released emails including a 2012 email chain between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection asking whether to admit an unnamed individual with ties to various terrorist groups. The person was believed to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a close associate and supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to the email exchange obtained by Grassley’s office.
In his February 3, 2014, letter to Johnson, Grassley quotes an email from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official to a Customs and Border Protection official saying, “I’m puzzled how someone could be a
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