Watchdog Sues DHS For Terrorist ‘Hands Off’ List

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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The Department of Homeland Security was slapped with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in February, D.C. watchdog organization Judicial Watch (JW) announced Tuesday, for refusing to comply with a July 2014 FOIA request for material relating to a “terrorist hands off” list.

According to a JW press release, the original FOIA request sought out a copy of a copy of the DHS Inspector General report regarding a “hands off list” reportedly maintained by DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and/or US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“The Obama administration’s unlawful secrecy on this ‘hands off’ list raises concerns about terrorists being allowed into the country,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Even when it comes to protecting our borders from known terrorists, the Obama administration places secrecy and politics above national security. Our nation has reached a dangerous pass.”

The list, JW says, was used to allow entry of particular individuals into the U.S. who has been previously denied entry or were made to undergo secondary screening by CBP based on suspicion of terrorism ties. The watchdog group also wants DHS to handover “any and all records of communication to or from DHS Inspector General Charles Edwards from May 21, 2014 regarding the aforementioned OIG report.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley released internal DHS e-mails in May of last year detailing an alleged “hands off” list that permitted individuals with potential terrorist ties into the U.S. The e-mails and a letter were sent to DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson asking about the “hand off” list.

In the letter, Grassley specifically asks for information about a nameless individual who allegedly is a member of the “Muslim Brotherhood and a ‘close associate’ of a supporter of Hamas, Hizbollah, and [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad,” and was allowed into the country by DHS as a consequence of the alleged DHS policy.

According to the Iowa Republican, a May 2012 e-mail chain between ICE and CBP is central to the question of whether to admit this particular individual who had scheduled an upcoming flight into the U.S. Grassley wrote that according to the same e-mail the individual was already in secondary inspection “several dozen times of the past several years,” but had not had a secondary inspection since 2010.

One of the e-mail responses within the ICE/CBP e-mail chain to the initial inquiry was that “The [CBP National Targeting Center (NTC)] Watch Commander advised that the subject has sued CBP twice in the past and that he’s one of the several hands off passengers nationwide… Apparently his records were removed in December 2010 and the DHS Secretary was involved in the matter.”

Grassley quotes an email from an ICE official to a CBP official writing, “I’m puzzled how someone could be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial, be an associate of [redacted], say that the US is staging car bombings in Iraq and that [it] is ok for men to beat their wives, question who was behind the 9/11 attacks, and be afforded the luxury of a visitor visa and de-watchlisted.”

Almost two weeks after Grassley released the terrorist “hands off” list e-mails, the issue was found to be already under investigation by then-newly appointed DHS Inspector General John Roth.

Roth’s predecessor, Charles Edwards, was forced out of his position after a series of allegations claimed he whitewashed IG reports to avoid embarrassing the Obama administration. 

An April 2014 report from an oversight panel of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee stated that Edwards “failed to uphold the independence of the OIG… and directed that reports be altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials.”