A Justice Department audit report faults the federal government for gaps in tracking people with terrorism connections who were added to the Witness Protection Program.
Originally designed to protect people who testified against organized crime figures by giving them new names and addresses, the program was expanded to cover witnesses who testify in terrorism trials. Some were purely witnesses. Some, however, were in the federal terrorism database as suspected terrorists themselves.
As recently as a few years ago, the report says, people in the program who had terrorism connections, but were given a new identities, could have flown on a commercial flight because only their old names were on the government’s “no-fly” list. The report says it found "some" witness protection program participants who actually did fly. The Inspector General says while government officials knew about their plans to travel and approved, "these individuals, on their own accord, could have flown" without approval.
Justice Department officials say that problem has now been fixed by disclosing the new identities to government agencies that maintain terrorism databases and by banning all participants in the witnesses protection program who are on the no-fly list from traveling on commercial flights.
The report also says that in July 2012, the U.S. Marshals Service was unable to locate two former participants in the witness protection program who'd been identified as suspected terrorists. But government officials say two had left the program, and the United States, "years ago," after fulfilling their obligations to testify or serve prison time.
There are currently no participants in the witnesses protection program who are unaccounted for, the officials said.
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