U.S. Loses Track of Terror Suspects in Protection Program

The U.S. Marshals Service was unable to find two former participants in the federal witness protection program who were known or suspected terrorists, according to an inspector general’s report.

The Justice Department’s inspector general identified “significant issues concerning national security” in a review of the handling of terrorists admitted into the program, according to the report released today.

“We found significant deficiencies in the handling of known or suspected terrorists,” according to the report by Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general.

Included in the reported deficiencies were lax monitoring of individuals in the program -- something that included the inability to find two former participants in the program.

U.S. authorities have placed suspects in the program in lieu of prosecution as a way to gather intelligence and information about possible terrorists or plots.

A majority of known or suspected terrorists in the program were admitted prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a Justice Department official said. Federal investigators have since accounted for the two individuals, both of whom left the program and the country, said the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss details which haven’t been made public.

‘Necessarily Included’

Armando O. Bonilla, senior counsel to the deputy attorney general, said in a written response to the report that a “small number” of known or suspected terrorists were “necessarily included” in the witness protection program as the government increased its focus on domestic and international terrorism cases.

Bonilla, in a memo to Horowitz dated May 6, said the department’s leadership has implemented 15 of the 16 recommendations made in the report, including an increase in information sharing, consultations with the department’s national security division and more stringent monitoring protocols for known or suspected terrorist in the program.

“The former known or suspected terrorists admitted into the program have provided invaluable assistance to the United States and foreign governments in identifying and dismantling terrorist organizations,” Bonilla said.

Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said losing track of the potentially dangerous witnesses echoed a failure to track one of the brothers who carried out the bombing of the Boston Marathon last month. Lawmakers are investigating whether law enforcement agencies properly handled a tip from the Russians that one of the brothers was becoming radicalized.

“This is gross mismanagement –- pure and simple –- that jeopardizes American lives and cannot be tolerated,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

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