Washington The Justice Department has ordered that the names of known or suspected terrorists should be provided to federal, state and local police nationwide. A senior law enforcement official on Friday said tens of thousands of names were on the list.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, in a prepared statement, said wide dissemination of the names would "greatly enhance the ability of federal, state and local officials to prevent terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States, to deny them entry into our borders, to detect and apprehend those already in the country, and to gather intelligence on the plans and activities of terrorist conspiracies."
Ashcroft's order, issued late Thursday, said Border Patrol, Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents and as many as 650,000 state and local police would be able to enter names into a computer and determine whether they were on the list.
The lists of names and descriptions are to be compiled from FBI, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense Department databases and from reports from foreign intelligence agencies obtained by federal intelligence agents abroad, said the senior law enforcement official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not to be identified.
By Ashcroft's order, the names will be entered in the State Department's TIPOFF database used to screen visa applicants, and the U.S. Customs Service's Interagency Border Inspection System, which Customs and Immigration authorities use at border crossings. Known terrorists will be denied visas.
In addition, names will be entered on the Justice Department's National Crime Information Center database, often used by state and local police to determine whether a detained person is wanted for any crime.
The system is open to dangerous abuse, critics said Friday.
"People are inevitably going to be picked up or harassed if they have a similar name to someone on the list or if they are put on the list by mistake," said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. "And there doesn't seem to be any procedure in the memo that provides a way to prove you don't belong on the list."
Many Arab-American leaders saw the new surveillance system as an erosion of civil liberties.
"The only known American supporter of al-Qaida and bin Laden is John Walker Lindh," said Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a civil rights group in Washington. "This fishing expedition will not help the war against terrorism. It will only hurt America's image abroad."