U.S. Citizens Question Terror Watch Lists

Zakariya Muhammad Reed
Zakariya Muhammad Reed, Weekend News 12/8/07
CBS
From CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers and Producer Phil Hirschkorn.

Toledo, Ohio native Zak Reed is tired of being stopped and detained at the Canadian border every time he tries to drive home.

"I don't feel very welcome in my home at all," Reed tells CBS News. "In fact, I feel like I am not wanted in my country any more."

Last month, for the ninth time in the past year, Reed was held in custody during a routine border crossing across Detroit's Ambassador Bridge, en route to Toledo, about an hour from there. The procedure has become a familiar drill for Reed.

"They swipe the passport, they double take at the screen," Reed says. "They make a phone call. They open up the window, the car is surrounded, and off I go."

Held in a small building to the side of the bridge's toll booths, Reed is fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Guards from U.S. Customs and Border Protection quiz him about his travels, his religious faith, or about whether he sends money overseas.

"I am told that they don't have the authority to tell me what's wrong. They're just doing their job," Reed says.

Reed may be one of the 300,000 people - or close to 800,000 names, including aliases - on the nation's consolidated Terrorism Watch List administered by the Department of Homeland Security since December 2003. The names, from 22 component agencies, have quadrupled in the past four years, and DHS won't confirm who is or isn't on the list.

Leonard Boyle, the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center, told a congressional hearing last month that during the past year, 269 foreigners were denied entry into the U.S. because of the watch list.

According to the Justice Department, only about five-percent of the individuals in the database are U.S. citizens like Reed. During the past year, more than eight million cars and drivers were stopped for secondary security screenings while crossing the Canadian or Mexican borders into the U.S. That's 14 percent of cars crossing from Canada and five percent from Mexico, and the percentage of trucks and buses stopped is significantly higher. By comparison, only four percent of airline passengers undergo secondary screenings.

The irony for Reed seeming to be classified as a homeland security risk is that he is a part of his city's homeland security plan. Reed, 41, is a firefighter for more than a decade whose helmet is graced by a memorial sticker in honor of the 343 New York firefighters who perished in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Reed also served 20 years in the Ohio's National Guard.

Typically wearing jeans and a T-shirt, Reed, who stands six-foot three with light brown hair and blue eyes, was born Edward Eugene Reed, the son of a U.S. Navy veteran, and raised a Lutheran. When he converted to Islam ten years ago, he changed his name to Zakariya Muhammad Reed. His religion, Reeds believes, could be at the root of the problem.

"There's been a growing trend towards fear and loathing toward Islam and Muslims in this country for a long time. Certainly, we are treated as second class citizens," Reed says.

He travels regularly to Toronto with his wife and two sons to visit his in-laws. Sometimes they take two cars to avoid the whole family being detained during the border stops. "It's terrifying. My wife is in tears most of the time," Reed says.

While Reed and a handful of others are going public with their border ordeals, advocacy groups like the Arab-American Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says they know of dozens of other examples.

The American Civil Liberties union (ACLU) is now spearheading a class action lawsuit in federal court with nine plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens, who've been stopped while driving home from Canada.

Illinois native Akif Rahman, 34, a Muslim, who runs a computer consulting firm outside Chicago, is the lead plaintiff in the suit, Rahman v. Chertoff, now winding its way through federal courts.

In May 2005, returning from a visit to relatives in Canada, Rahman was stopped by U.S. border guards at Detroit's Windsor Tunnel. They escorted him from his car and detained him for six hours, separating him from his wife and two children, who were with him.

"I was handcuffed to a chair for three hours. I was guarded for the full duration I was there," Rahman tells CBS News. "And asked a series of questions about whether I knew any of the 9/11 hijackers, whether I knew anything about terrorism funding." He did not.

Rahman had previously been detained three times while trying to fly international flights back to the U.S. In response to a letter of complaint, the Department of Homeland Security wrote back to Rahman that his difficulties had resulted from an "unfortunate misidentification scenario."

"Didn't tell me why I was handcuffed, didn't tell me why I was detained, didn't tell me why I was set free," Rahman says. "They should be able to know, based on my passport number or my name or my certain identification, I am who I am, and I am not someone they need to be concerned about."

ACLU attorney Harvey Grossman is leading the litigation in the Rahman case. "The fact that they're always allowed to go home, we know they don't pose the kind of threat that the government suggests in the manner in which they treat them," Grossman says.

Earlier this year, DHS established the Travelers Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP), an internet-based tool for people to submit complaints about screening or misidentification problems. To date, the department has received nearly 16,000 inquires and has responded to half of them. Kathleen Kraninger, DHS's Director of Screening Coordination, told the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee that DHS's goal is to clear people who are wrongly listed within 30 days, but currently it is taking, on average, 44 days to clear the innocent.

A bill currently before Congress would require DHS to maintain a comprehensive "cleared" list and distribute it to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies so that once a person is cleared, they're no longer stopped at the border crossings by mistake.

"I hope, first of all, that there is a process put into place for people like me who have been mistakenly identified to be taken off that list or not repeatedly be detained," Rahman says. "I have nothing to hide. I know I haven't done anything wrong."