Tweaking the Terrorist Watch List

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sounded the alarm that the government's terrorist watch list has reached one million names:

The nation's terrorist watch list has hit one million names, according to a tally maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union based upon the government's own reported numbers for the size of the list.

"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," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon."

Painfully, I must agree with this organization. They are correct in pointing out that there are many flaws with this program that need to be fixed. However, I believe there are reasons to be skeptical about many of the claims and exaggerations from this purely partisan organization.

The ACLU makes many good points on this issue that we can not ignore. The sheer size of this list is something that should concern us. A list this large would be a bureaucratic nightmare to manage, and many mistaken identities are reported to happen with this program. I also agree with the ACLU that many innocent people are greatly inconvenienced by this well-intentioned but mistake-prone system. There is no doubt this program needs to be fixed.

On September 16, 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6 ordered that the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) combine all existing government terrorist watch lists to screen individuals trying to enter the U.S. This combined list became known as the consolidated watch list, and is the single list used to protect our airlines and port-of-entries.

Many people were shocked when artist Yusuf Islam, formerly known as pop singer Cat Stevens, was deported after appearing on the watch list. Others pointed out several logical reasons why the U.S. had him on the list, such as his donating thousands of dollars to the terrorist organization Hamas. Other high profile characters and ordinary citizens have found their names on the list, and many have been delayed or even denied their flights.

I have given the ACLU credit on this issue; now I will give reasons to be skeptical. The claim that there are one million individuals on the terror watch list is a myth created through the exaggerated "estimations" of the ACLU. The truth is there are less than 400,000 individuals on the consolidated terrorist watch list, and less than 50,000 on the no-fly and selectee lists.