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Federal prison officials failed to monitor communications of 28 terror inmates, DOJ investigation finds

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)

Federal prison officials failed to monitor communications involving at least 28 prisoners linked to domestic and international terrorism, an internal Justice Department investigation concluded.

The federal Bureau of Prisons requires the communications of all high-risk inmates be tracked, but the Justice Department’s inspector general found that other federal agencies often provided “insufficient” information about the prisoners’ terror connections.

Investigators also concluded that prison officials lack the ability to confirm that communications are being fully monitored, which left “thousands of terrorist inmate communications” only partially covered.

In cases where terror suspects were preparing for trial, prison authorities could not prevent inmates from sharing sensitive information, including photographs, videos and other documents that could be used “to help radicalize other inmates,” the Justice inspector general found.

Since 2005, prison officials have been providing the FBI with lists of terror inmates preparing for release, but investigators found that prison officials “did not take appropriate steps to ensure that information about all formerly incarcerated terrorists was provided to the FBI.”

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“Further, between January 2015 and December 2017, we found that the BOP… did not review thousands of inmate emails, some of which contained potentially concerning language; and permitted terrorist inmates to communicate with unknown or un-vetted contacts,” the inspector general found.

Prison officials agreed with the inspector general’s findings, and pledged to create “a complete universe” of previously unidentified terrorists in its custody while boosting monitoring, from emails and other written correspondence to conversations on the cellblocks.

Between 2006 and 2018, the number of inmates with known links to international or domestic terrorism increased by about 250 percent, to more than 500.

But prison officials told investigators that they often relied on media reports and internet searches – rather that intelligence from other government agencies – to identify up 90 percent of arriving inmates.

In two recent cases, according to the inspector general report, prison officials identified the inmates’ ties to Hezbollah through media accounts.

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© 2020 USA Today