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If the recent outbreak of right-wing gun violence wasn't alarming enough, this week brought news that people whose names appear on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list have somehow managed to purchase firearms at a frighteningly steady rate.
Just how steady? According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, folks on the list bought guns 865 times -- in 963 attempts -- over a five-year period. And not just guns -- at least one person purchased more than 50 pounds of explosives.
Scary, right? But don't seek out a Dick Cheney-style bunker just yet. Although some media outlets were quick to announce that "terrorists" can now buy guns more easily than they can board planes,
The ACLU says the audit "confirms that the nation’s watchlist system is massively broken."
The audit confirmed estimates that the terror watchlist contains 1.1 million names as of December 2008, and that many of them are out of date.
OIG auditors reviewed 68,669 of those identities and found 24,000 out of date. In a closer inspection of the out of date records, the auditors found a majority of this sample did not belong on a watchlist.
The OIG report documents a widespread failure to scrub the lists by removing names after cases have been closed. For example, one subject stayed on the watchlist for almost five years after the case was resolved; two people on the list were dead. The FBI attempted to place one individual on the watchlist by reclassifying that person as an international terrorist after already having been cleared of wrongdoing by an FBI investigation.
"This IG report reveals just what a comedy of errors the watchlist is," said Chris Calabrese, attorney with the ACLU Technology and Liberty Programme. "But we did not need this report to know there is a problem with the effectiveness of any terrorist watchlist that includes over a million names. It certainly explains why Congressman John Lewis and Senator Edward Kennedy have problems when they try to fly."
And Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said "Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape."
"Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Centre needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon," she said.
"So, for example, according to the DOJ, there are some 50,000 names on the TSC list that were just dumped there by the Department of Defense, but no identifying information about why they might be dangerous."
Indeed, the U.S. military's contribution to the terrorist watch list recalls its notoriously flawed process of sweeping up prisoners to send to Guantanamo after 9/11.