WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn, and Ranking Member Susan Collins R-Me., Wednesday called on the federal government to continue to strengthen the nation’s terrorist watch list to prevent entry into the country of people who are known threats and to allow those wrongly stopped at the border a reasonable and timely system of redress.
A Government Accountability Office report, released in conjunction with the hearing, found that while there has been progress in developing the watch list over the past four years, a number of vulnerabilities remain. The report, for example, found instances in which people whose names were on the watch list were able to enter the country and people who’s names were on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list were able to board international flights to this country. The report noted that the federal government lacked a current strategy and implementation plan.
“We now have a single, consolidated terrorist watch list, which has improved our ability to encounter potential terrorists in our consulates, at our borders, and inside the United States,” Lieberman said. “But it still lets in people who are on the watch list, and keeps out people who shouldn’t be on the list. That must be fixed.”
“This latest report highlights a particularly troubling problem — the failure to detect individuals on the “No Fly” list before they board a U.S.-bound aircraft oversees,” Collins said. “It also underscores the need to make the watch lists more accurate, to improve screening procedures at airports and the ports of entry, and to provide individuals with the ability to seek redress if they believe they have been wrongfully targeted
Testimony at the hearing also highlighted the rapid growth of the watchlist and the need to do more to correct errors in the database, and provide effective redress for individuals who are incorrectly identified or included on the list.
Lieberman and Collins also expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that a Mexican citizen infected with a strain of tuberculosis highly resistant to medication was able to cross the southern border 21 times, even though the Centers for Disaster Control had already provided Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with his name and his birth date, and the CBP then issued a border look out on its computer screening system to prevent him from entering the country.
“We are not satisfied and we don’t want this to happen again,” Lieberman said. “I think the public interest would have been better served if you had stopped everybody with his two last names… The important thing is the Terrorist Screening Center has raised our guard much higher than it was before 9/11.”
“This incident makes it clear that the Centers for Disease Control and DHS must do more to be ready to take appropriate action when they learn about individuals who present public health threats,” Collins said. “Based on what I heard today, I have no confidence that these agencies have procedures in place to adequately address the next health threat, particularly one that would put the American public in even more danger.”
Witnesses included Eileen Larence, Director of Homeland Security and Justice issues at GAO, Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine, Director of the Terrorist Screening Center Leonard Boyle, and Department of Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Paul Rosenzweig,