WASHINGTON -- The watchdog for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has
found that efforts to create one of the most basic counter-terrorism tools
-- a single consolidated watch list of terrorism suspects -- have been
disastrous, saying the department "has not fulfilled its leadership
responsibility" in this crucial front in the fight against terror.
The department's inspector general, in a sometimes scathing report to
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and congressional leaders, states
that the task of merging more than a dozen government databases on
terrorists into a viable, unified list as mandated by Congress and ordered
by President George W. Bush, has been beset by a lack of leadership,
oversight and, in some cases, interagency cooperation.
"The manner through which the watch-list consolidation has unfolded has not
helped the nation break from its pattern of ad hoc approaches to
counterterrorism," according to the report, which will be publicly released
on Sunday but was reviewed Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
The findings raise questions over Bush administration assertions that it
has dramatically improved information sharing among law-enforcement
agencies and sharpened the government's ability to fight al Qaeda. They
also underscores the bureaucratic infighting and lethargy that have marked
government attempts to undertake change in the aftermath of the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. They also come as
Congress is wrestling with creating an intelligence czar to better
coordinate government counterterrorism efforts.
"The watch list is the poster child for information sharing for all our
intelligence and government agencies," says Daniel B. Prieto, the research
director for the Homeland Security Partnership Initiative at the Kennedy
School of Government at Harvard University. "It has been the one project
that is the most straightforward; the most defined, the most politically
accepted idea, supported by every investigative commission since 9/11. If
they can't get this one right, then shame on them."
The report also follows some high-profile watch-list failures, such as
including British singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, on one
terrorist list but not the Transport Security Administration's "No-Fly
List," which is supposed to be a subset of the single watch list. Similarly
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy and Alaska Republican
Representative Don Young have said that they have at times been mistaken
for terrorists at airline counters because of namesakes on the watch list