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May 16th, 2013
06:39 PM ET

Former DHS official: There are big terrorists, and small-fish terrorists

Two individuals identified as "known or suspected terrorists" entered the Justice Department's Witness Protection Program and then the U.S. Marshals lost track of them, according to the public summary of an interim Justice Department inspector general’s report obtained by CNN.

The Marshals Service concluded that “one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside of the United States,” according to the summary.

A Justice Department official said in response to follow up questions about the matter by reporters that the pair had left the program years ago and had been accounted for.

It was not clear when or for how long the Marshals Service lost track of them.

The very fact that there are known terrorists in witness protection may be concerning to some Americans.

"There are big terrorists, and what you may call sort of small-fish terrorists," said Juliette Kayyem, a former Department of Homeland Security official and a CNN analyst.

The goal is to protect lower-end people, "give them a new identity, protect their family, and get information from them that will then get the bigger fish," said Kayyem.

A Justice Department official told CNN the two “lost” individuals had left the program years ago.

The pair had "completed their obligations to the U.S. government by cooperating against terrorists," were not fugitives and that "for obvious reasons, we cannot comment on the exact location of any current or former participant” in the program, said the official.

"It is not uncommon to get people out of a Witness Protection Program, that happens all the time," said Kayyem. "Because either the case is over ... or [if] they have left the country, so we don't own them anymore, we don't have an obligation to them anymore."

Different government law enforcement agencies not sharing information and intelligence with others has long plagued the U.S. government and national security apparatus, and was one of the major problems identified in the DOJ inspector general’s report.

The summary said that although the Marshals Service was giving known or suspected terrorists who participated in the Witness Protection Program and their dependents new names and identity documentation, the Justice Department “was not authorizing the disclosure to the Terrorist Screening Center,” which operates the terrorist watch list that helps provide information to the Transportation Security Administration’s
no-fly” and “selectee” lists.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it has coordinated with the Marshals Service, the FBI, and the National Joint Terrorism Task Force since the report "to develop formal procedures to manage former known or suspected terrorists admitted into the program."

"You're going to want their new names in the system because even though they may be small-fry terrorists, they are involved with criminal elements," said Kayyem. "These are not good guys."

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