The Largest Group on the Government's Terrorist Watch List All Have One Thing in Common

The Largest Group on the Government's Terrorist Watch List All Have One Thing in Common

They're not terrorists at all.

There are 680,000 people in the U.S. government's terrorist screening database. But it turns out you don't exactly need to be an actual terrorist to make the cut.

A copy of the watch list leaked to the Intercept revealed that 280,000 people — more than 40% of the database — have "no recognized terrorist group affiliation."

Take a look:


Image Credit: The Intercept

David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent told the Intercept that the watch list system, is "revving out of control." "If everything is terrorism, then nothing is terrorism," he said.

Plane games: That concern isn't limited to the terror database. America's no-fly list has also ballooned, with President Obama surpassing George W. Bush in people barred from flying. That number, currently around 47,000, is enough to fill a stadium.


Image Credit: The Intercept

The government cut down the no-fly list after a CBS report in 2006 revealed that the president of Bolivia and the head of Lebanon's parliament were among the 44,000 names. After the "Underwear Bomber" targeted a flight in 2009, though, the floodgates opened again.

More than a list: The terrorist database, according to the Intercept, isn't merely a compilation of known terror suspects. It's a trove of data on those included, and not just measures like group affiliation and geographic location.


Image Credit: The Intercept

The government also had biometric data on 144,000 people in 2013, according to the Intercept. That's up from 95,000 the year before. Those figures include 570,000 facial photos, 223,000 fingerprints and 70,000 iris scans.


Image Credit: The Intercept

What this means for you: If you're in the database, even if you're one of the people with "no recognized terrorist group affiliation," your fingerprints and facial photos can be shared with agencies from the FBI all the way down to local police departments.

And how much safer is it making us? Not much, former FBI agent Michael German told the Intercept.

"These agencies see terrorism as a winning card for them. They get more resources," he said. "You might as well have a blue wand and just pretend there's magic in it, because that's what we're doing with this — pretending that it works."

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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