US Marshals Service loses two terrorists

The U.S. Marshals lost two known or suspected terrorists it had formerly placed into its witness protection program, according to the summary of a new report.

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The report by the Justice Department’s inspector general (IG) found that one of the former witness program participants was definitely living outside of the United States, while the other was “believed to be” living in another country as well.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) immediately announced plans to hold a hearing on the report’s findings, which he called a “gross mismanagement” that “jeopardizes American lives and cannot be tolerated.”

The IG report itself is filled with highly sensitive details about the government’s use of the witness protection program for known or suspected terrorists, and is classified as a result.

But in a 17-page summary of the report released on Thursday, the IG found that the program, which is run by the U.S. Marshals Service, had “significant issues,” “vulnerabilities,” and “deficiencies.”

The DOJ maintains that the program is “a critical prosecutorial tool to combat terrorism” by placing known or suspected terrorists into the program who have given the government key information used to dismantle terrorist groups.

In the DOJ’s response to the IG report, the department states that “the location of all identified former known or suspected terrorists has been resolved.”

The DOJ has manually reviewed every file created for the program since 1996, but is still in the process of reviewing files created before 1996.

Only once that is complete, the IG said that it would “be possible for the department to state definitively that it has identified, located, and minimized the threat of all known or suspected terrorists” admitted into the program.

Program officials give participants full psychological tests before they get a new government identity, according to the report’s summary.

But the DOJ had not been keeping officials with the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) up to date with the new names of the known or suspected terrorists in the program.

The lack of information sharing created a gap, in which the program’s known or suspected terrorists, despite formerly being on a no fly list, could travel on commercial planes and move freely around the country without triggering the radar of intelligence officials.

As a result of the IG’s findings, the DOJ said it has implemented new information sharing standards that require officials to inform the TSC and the FBI about the new identities of the witness protection program participants.

The DOJ also told the IG that after conducting threat assessments on all but one of the program’s participants, none of them have posed a threat to national security as of March 2013.

But Goodlatte pointed to a similar lack of information sharing that occurred in the two years before the Boston bombing.

“This lack of interagency information sharing appears to be systemic. We witnessed similar interagency sharing problems leading up to last month’s bombings in Boston,” he said.

“We cannot afford for history to repeat itself again. The administration needs to better facilitate interagency information sharing so that we can better thwart future terrorist attacks.”

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), also blasted the report’s findings, saying that they represented the DOJ’s “ineptness.” Grassley criticized the fact that the actual report remains classified and has not been given to members of Congress.

“It appears the administration is trying to limit distribution to avoid embarrassment about how bad some of the details are, rather than to legitimately protect identities,” said Grassley in a statement.

“If government officials had kept track of the people in the Witness Security Program like they are trying to keep track of the people reviewing this report, we wouldn’t have to read such bad news.”

The DOJ said it has used the witness protection program for known or suspected terrorists in order to wage successful cases in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the East Africa Embassy bombings, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the thwarted New York City subway and airport bomb plots.

The majority — 60 percent — of the program’s participants with ties to terrorism were admitted before Sept. 11, 2001, according to the DOJ, and only two known or suspected terrorists have been admitted into the program in the last six years, according to the DOJ.

While many of the details about the program’s participants are unknown, the IG report stated that it reviewed cases in which the witness protectees were known or suspected by the government to be involved in terrorism and trained in aviation, crafting explosives, plotting bomb attacks and conspiring to murder U.S. officials.

--This report was published at 1:56 p.m. and last updated at 2:22 p.m.