Database snafu allowed 105 on terror watch list to get visas

The U.S. Department of State granted visas to 105 foreign men whose names appear on terrorism watch lists because of a backlog in a name-checking system used by federal agencies, according to published reports this week.

The system, called Visas Condor, was developed in November 2001 to process visa applications and automatically check those filed from certain nationalities against possible terrorist names in FBI and CIA databases. However, an investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, found that by April 2002, the FBI had a backlog of approximately 8,000 unchecked names from the State Department.

Of the 38,000 Condor applications subsequently processed through Aug. 1, 2002, roughly 280 names turned up on the antiterrorism lists. GAO officials said that because of misspelled or duplicate names, visas were issued to about 105 of those individuals, according to The Associated Press.

In September, State Department officials touted the agency's effort to boost integration of its IT systems with the intelligence community as part of a larger plan to become what one official called "the largest influence in the secret [intelligence] space in the next two to three years”.

But as this case shows, that's easier said than done.

"Up to a year ago, many [foreign service officers] didn't even know they had the capability to share classified data" via the Secret Internet Protocol Routing Network, said Gerald Galucci, a career foreign service officer at the State Department, speaking in September at a homeland security conference in Philadelphia. "Right now, we're still using the telegram system to send messages to and from overseas."

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Dan Verton

IDG News Service
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