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Congressman incorrectly claimed 72 people on terrorist watch list work for DHS

Dec 07, 20155 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

President Obama wants help from tech firms to fight ISIS and to ban people on the no-fly list from buying guns, but a congressman claimed DHS hired 72 people who were on the terrorist watch list.

Not only is President Barack Obama wanting assistance from tech firms to fight terrorism, as he plans to “urge hi-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice,” but in his address late Sunday he proposed several steps that Congress should take now to defeat ISIS.

That is likely to include a fresh wave of stale arguments against encryption and for NSA bulk collection power which were rehashed in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Yet presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul told CNN, “There will always be authoritarians like [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie who want you to give up your liberty for a false sense of security.”

Christie had said on CBS’ Face the Nation that “it was so wrong for Congress and the President to pull back on our surveillance capability with the NSA, so wrong to demoralize our intelligence community through the report they issued at the end of this last year.”

Paul told CNN, “The facts of the matter are this: the court just below the Supreme Court has ruled this program to be illegal. Two bipartisan commissions have said we haven’t stopped any terrorist attacks from it, and there’s a real fundamental question that is a constitutional question — can you allow the indiscriminate collection of everyone’s data, everyone’s private information, without a warrant?”

Another constitutional issue flared up since, when addressing the nation about fighting ISIL, President Obama stated:

To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.

That sentiment was repeated by The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board in piece about lessons learned from our response to Pearl Harbor.

“We should be making certain that those dangerous enough to be on government watch lists do not have access to guns, as many do now,” the editorial reads. “We should redouble our commitment to our allies standing united against terrorists across the world. We should be setting aside personal political agendas and trying to develop a sane approach to the ownership of weapons capable of killing and maiming people by the dozen.” Following the response to the attack on Pearl Harbor is what worked for a previous generation, “blunting the terror of their time and guaranteeing freedom for generations to come.”

Social media, however, is lit up debating the hot topics of gun control, a constitutional right to bear arms, watch lists and failed screening processes.

Yet here’s an idea…how about we don’t hire people on the terrorist watch list to work in the aviation industry as the TSA has been known to do?

Congressman Stephen Lynch, who has a “very low confidence” in the DHS, told Boston Public Radio:

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.

Lynch was close, but he confused a few facts. When the Office of Inspector General’s report (pdf) came out in June, Bloomberg reported there were 73, not 72, people “with ‘possible terrorism-related information’ in their backgrounds,” who were “employed by major airlines, airport vendors and others.” The vetting failure to identify those people before hiring them was placed on the “TSA not having access to all names on the federal government’s terrorist watch lists.”

Whether TSA vetters did not have a high enough security clearance to fully access the terror watch list, or hiring people on the terrorist watch list was yet another failure to “connect the dots,” calling on more surveillance – trying to outlaw encryption – is not the answer.

As the Wall Street Journal previously reported, Paris terrorist Brahim Abdeslam, who later blew himself up, made reservations for the house he used under his real name via the website His younger brother Salah used his real name to make reservations via Most of the terrorists involved with the attacks on France “had already been flagged as potential security threats.”

The Intercept added that ISIS terror networks had been “communicating in the clear, and that the data on their smartphones was not encrypted.” Despite the untruthful hype that all bad guys – especially terrorists – hide behind encryption to communicate, those aren’t the only known times when terrorists communicated without encryption; RTL Info, a Belgian news site, published an entire article full of what terrorists were saying before authorities foiled an assassination plot.

Some folks on social media are less worried about the war on encryption and more concerned with President Obama’s proposal to nix citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms – especially since the plan is based on a no-fly watch list which has no due process.

While Obama told the world on Sunday night that “Freedom is more powerful than fear,” the pretty platitude rings empty when fear tactics brush aside even more of our freedom, civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Sheriff calls on armed Americans to fight terrorists

Elsewhere, Brevard County (Florida) Sheriff Wayne Ivey took to Facebook to share a video during which he called on citizens “with gun permits to be ready mentally and physically” to take on terrorists. Sheriff Ivey stated: “Let there be no mistake in what I’m about to say. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If you are a person who is legally licensed to carry a firearm, now is a time more than ever to realize that you and you alone very well might be the first line of defense for you [and] your family.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.