The federal Witness Security Program (WITSEC Program) was established to provide for the security, health, and safety of government witnesses whose lives are at risk as a result of their testimony against organized crime members, drug traffickers, terrorists, and other major criminals. 1 Since the WITSEC Program’s inception in 1971, more than 8,700 witnesses and over 9,900 family members and other associates of witnesses have been admitted into the WITSEC Program.
Within this population, there are known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) who have agreed to cooperate in major terrorism investigations and prosecutions, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building attack in Oklahoma City, the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings, a 2007 plot to bomb John F. Kennedy Airport, and a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway system.
In May 2013, the Department of Justice (Department) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued an interim report on the Department’s handling of KSTs admitted into the USMS WITSEC Program. The report included 16 recommendations to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General to improve information sharing among entities responsible for the WITSEC Program and reduce the risk to the public when admitting KSTs into the WITSEC Program. As we described in that report, we found that the Department had not identified all KSTs admitted into the WITSEC Program; lacked adequate and appropriate oversight of
these individuals; did not ensure that the identities of KSTs admitted into the WITSEC Program were placed on the government’s consolidated terrorist watchlist,
as appropriate; and did not appropriately share information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other national security stakeholders, thus preventing these stakeholders from taking necessary precautions with respect to, and properly monitoring, these individuals.
In this report, we follow up on findings in our May 2013 report to determine whether the corrective actions taken by the FBI, USMS, and OEO sufficiently addressed the risks we identified. Specifically, our objectives for this audit were to evaluate the Department’s: (1) handling of KSTs admitted to the WITSEC Program; (2) practices for watchlisting and the processing of encounters with this group of WITSEC Program participants; and (3) procedures for mitigating
risks to the public through restrictions placed on this high-risk group of WITSEC Program participants. We determined that since November 2015, OEO and the FBI admitted two new KSTs into the WITSEC Program, and in doing so followed their protocols and appropriately coordinated with each other and the USMS. However, we also concluded that while the FBI, USMS, and OEO have developed new policies and procedures to address the issues we identified in our May 2013 review, they have not sufficiently and appropriately implemented all of them. Additionally, we remain concerned that the Department has not ensured that KST information has been appropriately shared with relevant national security stakeholders, and that those responsible for monitoring these individuals have the information they need to do so effectively.