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July 07, 2008

One in Every Hundred Overseas War on Terror Detainees has a Criminal Arrest Record in the U.S.

Yesterday, the Washington Post described the collaborative FBI and DOD efforts to collect biometric data on foreign fighters, detainees, and other potential enemies in the War on Terror. These types of promising, nonconfidential programs do not get enough press and it's nice to see this one in the Sunday Washington Post, even if it is paired with bogus discussion of "watch lists." However, the revelation that one out of every hundred foreign detainees is already in the FBI arrest database should be cause for concern.

"Frankly I was surprised that we were getting those kind of hits at all," recalled Townsend, who left government in January. They identified "a potential vulnerability" to national security the government had not fully appreciated, she said.

The people being fingerprinted had come from the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan. They were mostly in their 20s, Shannon recalled. "One of the things we learned is we were dealing with relatively young guys who were very committed and what they would openly tell you is that when they got out they were going back to jihad," he said. "They'd already made this commitment."

One of the first men fingerprinted by the FBI team was a fighter who claimed he was in Afghanistan to learn the ancient art of falconry. But a fingerprint check showed that in August 2001 he had been turned away from Orlando International Airport by an immigration official who thought he might overstay his visa. Mohamed al Kahtani would later be named by the Sept. 11 Commission as someone who allegedly had sought to participate in hijackings. He currently is in custody at Guantanamo Bay.

This isn't about security at the southern or northern border, nor is it generally about immigration; these folks are entering and leaving our country legally with nonimmigrant visas. Student visas are especially prone to abuse, but the problem extends even to visitors from countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program. Our entry and exit visa system is a mess and it is shameful that I'm genuinely surprised that the system managed to identify and turn away a potential threat prior to 9/11. But it is nice to see that something is being done.

We can do more.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 11:32 AM

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