Sending Office: Honorable Ilhan Omar
As representatives of the United States government, we have a solemn duty to protect the rights and civil liberties of our citizens.
The Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB, or “terrorist watchlist”) is shared with over 60 foreign governments, with no accountability or oversight over the way those governments use the information. An FBI official has acknowledged in sworn testimony that
it has never stopped disseminating watchlist information to a foreign government as a result of that government’s human rights abuses.
The evidentiary standard for inclusion on the TSDB is very low and individuals who are added to the list are not informed of their placement. This is an egregious violation of civil liberties for American citizens, and is only compounded by their
data being shared with countries who will not respect their rights if they travel abroad. This is particularly concerning given that the watchlist is shared with countries like Saudi Arabia that have appalling human rights records and a history of punishing
dissent through dubious claims of “terrorism”.
In another shocking example of the lack of accountability over the TSDB, foreign governments are actually permitted to petition the U.S. to add individuals to the watchlist, with an obscure process in place to verify a foreign government’s claims. The most
egregious known example is that several Uyghurs have been added at the behest of China, a country that has a well-documented history of targeting and torturing the Uyghur community.
We need strong Congressional oversight of watchlist sharing agreements in order to ensure that our citizens are not subject to the whims of foreign dictatorships, either at home or abroad. Please join my letter to Secretary Pompeo requesting information
about the dissemination of the TSDB to foreign governments.
The full text is included below. To add your signature, please contact Ryan Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org) in my office by
COB Wednesday, June 19th.
Member of Congress
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C., 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write to request information about the dissemination of data from the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), also known as the terrorist watchlist, to foreign countries through information sharing agreements facilitated by the Department of State.
Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6 (HSPD-6), issued September 16, 2003, directs the executive branch’s many agencies to work in concert to disseminate watchlist information to foreign governments. In response, the federal government has not only
given dozens of foreign governments access to watchlist information but also has acknowledged that the United States places individuals on the watchlist at the request of foreign governments. It is significant to note that the evidentiary standard for being
placed on the TSDB is very low: the government need only have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is involved in terrorism, which is not enough to charge someone with a crime. It is also significant that individuals added to the TSDB are not informed of their
placement and have suffered preventable harms as a result.
It is our understanding that the TSDB is shared with over 60 foreign countries. In addition to the 38 Visa Waiver countries, the State Department has disclosed information sharing agreements with Slovenia and Albania; India has trumpeted having a similar
arrangement with the United States; and the State Department has issued reports suggesting Brazil, Mexico, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Israel also have some sort of information sharing arrangements.
In our oversight role as Members of Congress, we are entitled to information as to which countries receive this sensitive and classified information about American citizens, many of whom have never been charged, arrested, or convicted of a crime.
We are also extremely concerned that the federal government is sharing watchlist information with countries with dubious human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and China. An FBI official has acknowledged in sworn testimony that it has never stopped
disseminating watchlist information to a foreign government as a result of that government’s human rights abuses. Giving the same people who violently murdered Jamal Khashoggi access to the watchlist puts lives in danger. We have also received credible reports
that Uyghur activists have been added to the watchlist at the behest of the Chinese government. It is unacceptable for U.S. resources to contribute to the brutal repression of political dissidents abroad.
The FBI has also acknowledged in sworn testimony that it takes no responsibility for, nor does it oversee, how foreign governments actually use U.S. watchlist information. We are concerned that appropriate accountability and oversight measures for monitoring
how foreign partners use and share watchlist information do not exist.
Given these concerns, we request that you provide us with the following information no more than 90 days after receipt of this letter:
- A list of all countries that receive TDSB data, including any subset of data from the TSDB
- A list of all countries that have successfully petitioned to add individuals to the TSDB
- Copies of any agreements signed with foreign countries to grant access to the TSDB
- The individuals or entities who have primary responsibility for ensuring that foreign partners abide by any agreement governing the sharing of information
- Whether any standards exist for determining whether the United States should agree to share TSDB information to a foreign partner, and if so, what those standards are.
- To what extent, if any, the United States considers a country’s human rights record in determining whether to share TSDB information with that country.
- Whether any standards or procedures exist to remove TSDB access to a country that has been granted that access.
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0