This is not the good news Attorney General Eric Holder was likely hoping for. A public memorandum issued on Thursday by the Department of Justice's Inspector General indicates that in July 2012 the U.S. Marshal Service, the federal law enforcement agency of the DoJ of Tommy Lee Jones notoriety, was unable to locate two "known or suspected terrorists" participating in the Witness Security Program, the well-known protection program (of Goodfellas fame) administered by the Marshal Service. "Through its investigative efforts," the Inspector General writes, the agency "concluded that one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside the United States."
The mishap was apparently one of many incidents where the agency inadvertently allowed protected witnesses, who were also identified as "known or suspected terrorists," to travel freely out of and within the United States. Indeed, the agency is only beginning to track how many witnesses have been tagged as such. From the inspector's report:
We found that the Department did not definitively know how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted into the [Witness Security Program]. The Department has idenitifed a small but significant number of USMS WITSEC Program participants as known or suspected terrorists. As of March 2013, the Deparment is continuing to review its more than 18,000 WITSEC case files to determine whether additional known or suspected terrorists have been admitted into the program.
The 18-page report goes on to list a number of problems (described as "significant issues concerning national security") with the way the U.S. Marshal Service deals with suspected terrorists, such as neglecting to share valuable case information with other agencies like the F.B.I.
The report arrives three days after the Associated Press revealed that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed hundreds of telephone records of AP editors and reporters in hopes of plugging a year-old leak about a bombing plot in Yemen — which led to near-universal condemnation, a testy hearing before the House Judiciary committee, and another huge headache for the White House, whose arms were already very full with outrage over Benghazi talking points and questions about improper IRS audits of conservative groups.