Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) prepared the following opening statement for today’s hearing on “The Department of Justice's Handling of Known or Suspected Terrorists Admitted into the Federal Witness Security Program”:

Last month, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report that should have sent chills through anyone who read it.  The report was titled “the Department of Justice’s Handling of Known or Suspected Terrorists Admitted into the Federal Witness Security Program,” but it just as easily could have been called “the Department of Justice’s MIS-handling” of this program.

The Witness Security Program, often called WITSEC, is a critical prosecutorial tool that has been in existence since 1971.  The program protects witnesses who agree to testify in a variety of different types of criminal cases, including drug trafficking, organized crime and, in recent years, terrorism cases.  For example, witnesses involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the “Blind Sheik” prosecutions have been included in the WITSEC Program.  In order to protect them from harm stemming from their testimony, participants are relocated to a new community by the Justice Department, afforded financial assistance, and provided a new name and identification documents.  
  
While conducting its periodic oversight into the WITSEC Program, the IG discovered that the Department – specifically, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations (“OEO”) –had little to no safeguards in place to make sure that the American people were protected from these potentially dangerous individuals.  While most of the details of what the IG discovered are contained in a much longer non-public report, the six-page public summary alone paints an extremely troubling picture.  

For example, the IG discovered that the Department did not actually know how many terrorists had been admitted to WITSEC.  It had lost track of at least two terrorists in the Program.  It was not sharing critical information about potential terrorist activities by WITSEC participants with our national security stakeholders, including the FBI.  And, the Department was not providing the witnesses’ new identities to the Terrorist Screening Center, which meant that these new names were also not included in the Transportation Security Administration’s No Fly List.  Accordingly, known terrorists who were trained in aviation and explosives, and who were banned from flying, were free to fly commercially at their whim.  I would say that this sounds like the plot of a Naked Gun movie if it weren’t so terrifying – and true.

One of the most important lessons after September 11th was the critical need for better information sharing among our national security and law enforcement entities.  The IG’s report makes it clear that there is still much work to be done in this regard.  Today, I expect to hear from the Justice Department how this mismanagement was allowed to happen, how the Department intends to mitigate the potential harm to our national security that has already been done, and what it is doing to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.