Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley Inquires About Terrorist “Hands Off” list; CBP Promises to Brief

May 06, 2014

            WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley today released internal Department of Homeland Security emails discussing an alleged terrorist “hands off” list allowing individuals with potential terrorist ties into the United States.  The emails were attached to a letter he sent to the Department of Homeland Security inquiring about the “hands off” list and an individual who DHS may have admitted into the United States as a result.  Senator Grassley also released the response from Customs and Border Protection, in which it committed to provide a detailed briefing on the particular case.

            Grassley made his initial inquiry on February 3, 2014 after receiving the internal Department of Homeland Security emails regarding the admittance of individuals into the United States with potential terrorist ties.   One of the emails says that an individual “has sued CBP twice in the past and that he’s one of the several hands off passengers nationwide.”  According to the emails, the individual was allegedly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a “close associate” of a supporter of “Hamas, Hizbollah, and (Palestinian) Islamic Jihad.”

            Grassley recently received the response from Customs and Border Protection.  Grassley said he looks forward to his staff receiving the detailed briefing promised in its letter.   

            Here’s the text of Grassley’s February 3, 2014 letter.  A signed copy can be found here.  The response from Customs and Border Protection can be found here.

February 3, 2014

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

My office recently received copies of disturbing internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) e-mails regarding the admittance of individuals into the United States with potential ties to terrorism.

The May 2012 e-mail chain between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) surrounds the question of whether to admit someone who had scheduled an upcoming flight into the U.S.  Allegedly, the individual was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a “close associate” of a supporter of “Hamas, Hizbollah, and (Palestinian) Islamic Jihad.”  According to the same e-mail, the individual had been in secondary inspection “several dozen times of the past several years,” but had not had a secondary inspection since 2010.1

One of the responses to the initial e-mail states: “The [CBP National Targeting Center (NTC)] Watch Commander advised that the subject has sued CBP twice in the past and that he’s one of the several hands off passengers nationwide. . . .  Apparently his records were removed in December 2010 and the DHS Secretary was involved in the matter.”2   The e-mail continues:

"I’m puzzled how someone could be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial, be an associate of [redacted], say that the US is staging car bombings in Iraq and that [it] is ok     for men to beat their wives, question who was behind the 9/11 attacks, and be afforded the luxury of a visitor visa and de-watchlisted.  It doesn’t appear that we’ll be successful with denying him entry tomorrow but maybe we could re-evaluate the matter in the future since the decision to de[-]watchlist him was made 17 months ago."3

In order to understand the events described in these e-mails, please provide the Committee with answers to the following questions:

1)    Why was this individual removed from the watchlist in December 2010?

2)    Please describe the nature, extent, and reasons for the involvement of the DHS Secretary or her staff in the removal of the individual from the watchlist.

3)    What is the current watchlist status of this individual?

4)    How many people are on the “hands off” list mentioned in the email?

5)    What qualifies someone to receive the “hands off” designation?

6)    Does filing a lawsuit result in being designated “hands off” and thus avoiding secondary security screenings?

7)    Who makes the determination that an individual should be considered “hands off”?

I would appreciate receiving answers to these questions by March 3, 2014.  Should you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact Tristan Leavitt of my staff at (202) 224-5225.  I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member

cc: The Honorable Thomas Carper, Chairman
U.S. Senate, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

The Honorable Tom A. Coburn, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Carlton I. Mann, Acting Inspector General
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

1  Attachment at 2.
2  Id. at 1.
3  Id.