Terror watchlist can include dead, acquitted suspects

Federal rules for adding someone to the government’s terrorist watchlist are broad enough to include people who are dead or have been acquitted in court of terrorism charges, according to a government document that emerged on Wednesday.

A 166-page guidance for the government database that includes the “no-fly list” and other lists declared that agents do not require “concrete facts” or “irrefutable evidence” that someone is a terrorist.

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Instead, the system requires officials have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone could be connected to terrorist activity, which can include “violent acts” that could harm people or property and “intimidation or coercion” that affects the government or public.

The 2013 National Counterterrorism Center document was revealed Wednesday by the Intercept. Though the information is technically unclassified, the leaked document is stamped “For Official Use Only” and administration officials have resisted making details about the watchlist public, out of fear that terrorists could use it to stay hidden.

The guidance was developed by officials at the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and other agencies, and includes legal definitions broad enough to outrage civil liberties defenders.

For instance, the names of suspected terrorists known to be dead don’t need to removed from the database, as long as there is a “reasonable suspicion” that someone else is using their identity.

Neither do people acquitted of terrorism crimes, who “may nevertheless meet the REASONABLE SUSPICION standard and appropriately remain on, or be nominated to, the Terrorist Watchlist,” the guidance said.

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, Hina Shamsi, accused the government of “secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists” with the watchlist, she said in a statement after the Intercept’s report.

The list has ballooned since Sept. 11, 2001, when it contained just 16 names. Now, there are tens of thousands “known or suspected terrorists” on the list.

Officials from the National Counterterrorism Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. In a statement to the Intercept, however, a spokesman called the list “an important part of our layered defense” against terrorists.  

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