72 DHS Employees on a Terrorist Watch List-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
It’s been reported that 72 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees are on a terrorist watch list.
Claims that 72 DHS employees are on a terrorist watch list are false.
An inspector general report found that 73 airport employees across the country — not DHS employees — had not been properly vetted for possible links to terrorism.
These rumors can be traced back to a Boston Public Radio interview with U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, on December 1, 2015. When asked why Lynch was one of 47 Democrats who backed a GOP bill to ramp up screenings for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, he answered:
…Back in August, we did an investigation—the inspector General did—of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security. The director had to resign because of that. Then we went further and did and eight-airport investigation. We had staffers go into eight different airports to test the department of homeland security screening process at major airports. They had a 95 percent failure rate. We had folks—this was a testing exercise, so we had folks going in there with guns on their ankles, and other weapons on their persons, and there was a 95 percent failure rate.
Stephen Lynch’s comment that 72 DHS employees are on a terrorist watch list were immediately picked up by blog sites, and by right-wing blog sites in particular. Lynch’s statement stirred panic because he seemed to assert that people suspected of terrorism could actually be working within the DHS.
We tracked down the inspector general report that Stephen Lynch referenced, and he was flat wrong. The report did not say there were 72 DHS employees on a terrorist watch list.
The report, called “TSA Can Improve Aviation Worker Vetting,” looked at how the Transportation Security Administration (which is under the DHS) vets aviation workers for potential links to terrorism. The report found that the “multi-layered process” for vetting aviation employees was “generally effective.” However, the portion of the report that Stephen Lynch referenced found that:
…In addition to initially vetting every application for new credential, TSA recurrently vetted aviation workers with access to secured areas of commercial airports every time the Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist was updated. However, our testing showed that TSA did not identify 73 individuals with terrorism-related category codes because TSA is not authorized to receive all terrorism-related information under current interagency watch listing policy.
So, it’s true that the report found that TSA vetting missed 73 airport employees that had been assigned “terrorism-related category codes.” DHS Inspector General John Roth testified before a congressional committee in June 2015 to explain the report’s findings:
Despite rigorous processes, TSA did not identify 73 individuals with links to terrorism because TSA is not cleared to receive all terrorism categories under current inter-agency watchlisting guidance.4 At our request, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) performed a data match of over 900,000 airport workers with access to secure areas against the NCTC’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). As a result of this match, we identified 73 individuals with terrorism-related category codes who also had active credentials. According to TSA officials, current interagency policy prevents the agency from receiving all terrorism-related codes during vetting.
TSA officials recognize that not receiving these codes represents a weakness in its program, and informed us that TSA cannot guarantee that it can consistently identify all questionable individuals without receiving these categories. In 2014, the TSA Administrator authorized his staff to request some missing category codes for vetting. However, according to an official at the DHS Office of Policy, TSA must work with DHS to formalize a request to the Watchlisting Interagency Policy Committee in order to receive additional categories of terrorism-related records.
So, Lynch’s claim that 72 DHS employees were on a terrorist watch list is false. The report he cited found 73 airport employees — not DHS employees — had possible links to terrorism and had not been properly vetted by the TSA. And that does not mean that those 73 employees were in fact terrorists, only that they had not been properly vetted. Lynch, with his claim that 72 DHS employees were on a terrorist watch list, played into a popular conspiracy theory that radical Islamic terrorists have infiltrated the White House and other governmental posts and are prepared to toppled the U.S. government.
Also, Lynch’s claim that “the director had to resign” over the report’s findings is false. DHS Director Jeh Johnson held the post when the report was released, and he still held the post at the time of Lynch’s interview. However, the acting head of the TSA was reassigned after the report came out, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Is it true that 72 DHS employees are on a terrorist watch list?