Officials at the Department of Justice didn't share crucial information on some terrorist suspects in the federal witness protection program with the agency that maintains the "no fly" list, allowing an unknown number of them to board commercial flights, a new report says.
"We found that the department was not authorizing the disclosure to the Terrorist Screening Center of the new identities provided to known or suspected terrorists" in the federal Witness Security Program, known officially as WitSec, the report by the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, says.
Until the problem was corrected, "it was possible for known or suspected terrorists to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States and evade one of the government's primary means of identifying and tracking terrorists' movements and actions," the report says.
It was not known how many people were allowed to travel by air because the Justice Department failed to provide their new identities to the Terrorist Screening Center.
According to The Associated Press, the Justice Department has responded by "developed a highly restrictive travel policy that prohibits program participants with no-fly status from traveling on commercial flights."
The U.S. Marshals Service also lost track of two former participants in the program who were known or suspected terrorists, according to the report.
"U.S. authorities have placed suspects in the [WitSec] 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."