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Project Lookout: After Sept. 11, Over 1,000 People Were Placed On An FBI Watch List. But the List Has Been Out of Date for Over a Year and the Government No Longer Knows Who Has the Old Lists Which We

StoryNovember 21, 2002
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On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page titled "Post-Sept. 11 Watch List Acquires Life of Its Own" by staff reporter Ann Davis. It began,

“When a patron at the New York-New York casino plugged his frequent-player card into a slot machine one day this summer, something strange happened: An alert warned the casino’s surveillance officials that an associate of a suspected terrorist might be on the grounds.

“How did a casino’s computer make such a connection? Shortly after Sept. 11, the FBI had entrusted a quickly developed watch list to scores of corporations around the country.

“Departing from its usual practice of closely guarding such lists, the FBI circulated the names of hundreds of people it wanted to question. Counterterrorism officials gave the list to car-rental companies. Then FBI field agents and other officials circulated it to big banks, travel-reservations systems, firms that collect consumer data, as well as casino operators such as MGM Mirage, the owner of New York-New York. Additional recipients included businesses thought vulnerable to terrorist intrusion, including truckers, chemical companies and power-plant operators. It was the largest intelligence-sharing experiment the bureau has ever undertaken with the private sector.

"A year later, the list has taken on a life of its own, with multiplying — and error-filled — versions being passed around like bootleg music. Some companies fed a version of the list into their own databases and now use it to screen job applicants and customers . . . the watch list shared with companies — one part of the FBI’s massive counterterrorism database — quickly became obsolete as the bureau worked its way through the names. The FBI’s counterterrorism division quietly stopped updating the list more than a year ago. But it never informed most of the companies that had received a copy. FBI headquarters doesn’t know who is still using the list because officials never kept track of who got it."Guest:

  • Ann Davis, Wall Street Journal reporter. Her piece "Post-Sept. 11 Watch List Acquires Life of Its Own" appeared in Tuesday’s paper.

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