One Terrorist Watch List

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has admonished the DHS for not compiling a single watch list for screening terrorists. In a report, Clark Kent Ervin concludes that efforts to compile a single terrorist watch list from about a dozen separate lists have been too ad hoc.

Both Congress and the president ordered such a list following 9/11. Yet three years later, agencies still haven't come up with one list, and are using lists that contain outdated information and even contradict one another, according to the 54-page report.

That mirrors the conclusion of the government's overall watchdog, the General Accountability Office. In April 2003 (the original deadline for a single terrorist watch list), the GAO found nine different agencies using more than a dozen lists to screen for possible terrorists.

Lack of a single list means lack of consistent data among the agencies trying to identify possible terrorists.

To be fair, the various databases that need combining are different in more ways than one. Some can handle longer names than others. Some use simple software; some more complicated. And it's been difficult to hire individuals with the security clearance needed to work on compiling the list.

One might think the task of fixing this mess falls to the DHS. But even the department can't decide who's on first. Ervin says it is DHS's job to combine the lists. A DHS spokesman says the Justice Department and FBI have primary responsibility.

This Abbott and Costello routine is unacceptable. The government must free itself from bureaucratic infighting, and get the watch list compiled quickly, and correctly.

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