WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Prisons is not doing enough to monitor the written and verbal communications of high-risk inmates, according to the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general.
A recent investigation found that the FBOP does not read all mail for terrorists and other high-risk inmates that are on monitoring lists, it does not have enough translators to read correspondence written in foreign languages, and it does not sufficiently train staff to identify suspicious content.
The investigation also found problems with monitoring practices for telephone calls, visits with family and friends, and cell-block conversations.
The investigation follows widespread media reports in March 2005 that revealed that terrorists convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing housed at the supermax facility in Florence, Colo., wrote more than 90 letters to Islamic extremists outside of the prison between 2002 and 2004. Some of the extremists who received letters included suspects in the March 2004 Madrid, Spain, commuter train bombings.
FBOP officials told inspector general investigators that the bureau initiated several plans to improve monitoring international terrorist communications after the correspondence came to light, including hiring a full-time staff member to translate Arabic communications, upgrading intelligence analysis capabilities, and developing policies to limit mail and telephone calls for high-risk inmates. However, budget constraints limited the efforts and a security threat still remains, according to the inspector general’s office.
• The FBOP does not read a sufficient amount of inmate mail. At each of the 10 facilities that the ISO visited, employees told investigators that goals were not met for reading mail for inmates on the monitoring list to detect terrorism or criminal activity.
Although the FBOP does not have a written guideline for reading mail for inmates on monitoring lists, the bureau expects staff to read all correspondence, according the bureau’s assistant director for correctional programs division. At seven of the facilities visited, staff said mail monitoring had decreased during the last year because staffing was eliminated or reassigned during a systemwide streamlining process. With fewer staff, the bureau’s investigative teams were overwhelmed because of other responsibilities, such as monitoring telephone calls and carrying out other investigative duties.
The bureau also does not have a systemwide policy for randomly reading inmate correspondence, and mail management does not require institutions to track the amount of incoming and outgoing mail, according to the IGO. The investigation found that the amount of randomly read mail varied from 0.3 percent to 75 percent.
• Capability to translate foreign language mail does not sufficiently support monitoring need. The FBOP primarily uses staff members who volunteer to translate foreign-language mail, according to the IGO. However, in 2005, three full-time Arabic language specialists were hired at the Florence prison.
But, the bureau does not have a comprehensive policy that provides standard procedures or requirements for staff translations, requires staff acting as translators to have a certain level of language proficiency, or establishes a procedure to randomly review the accuracy of translators.
The FBOP also does not have enough staff members fluent in foreign languages to meet all translation needs, especially for Spanish, the most frequently used foreign language among federal prisoners.
• Intelligence capability to analyze the content of terrorist inmates’ mail is not well developed. The FBOP lacks sufficient intelligence to adequately analyze information from inmate mail to detect terrorist activity, according to the IGO.
Specialized capabilities needed to analyze potential terrorism communications have not been developed, including analyzing communications in uncommon languages, understanding extremist ideology and radicalization, understanding worldwide terrorism networks, performing link analysis, and overseeing enforcement .
During the IGO investigation, prison staff told investigators that staff directly responsible for monitoring terrorist and high-risk inmates need additional intelligence training to adequately analyze inmate mail. The FBOP provided only one three-day course to the bureau’s investigation supervisors in September 2005. Two classes that contained terrorism information were provided during a mandatory four-day introductory course on investigative practices for all newly appointed investigative lieutenants, and one hour of training was provided to all employees during their annual refresher training.
Investigators found that the FBOP has also not taken full advantage of the greater access to intelligence, information sharing and resources that could be obtained through various federal law enforcement agencies and task forces.
• Problems affecting the FBOP’s monitoring of mail also affect monitoring of telephone calls and other verbal communications. The IGO found that similar to mail monitoring, staffing reductions have limited monitoring of verbal communications. None of the facilities visited by investigators met the goal of monitoring 100 percent of telephone calls from inmates on monitoring lists.
The goal of randomly monitoring 10 to 15 percent of phone calls from other inmates was also not met. The FBOP also did not monitor the cell-block conversations of SAMs inmates or visiting-room conversations of international terrorist and other high-risk inmates.
• The investigative department’s coordination and information sharing for international terrorist inmates are inadequate. The bureau does not require inmates arrested for international terrorism-related crimes to be reviewed to determine if special administrative measures should be enacted to ensure that they do not continue terrorist activities behind bars. Investigators also found several problems in the way the bureau and the FBI interact with each other.
The FBOP has several ongoing and proposed initiatives to improve the monitoring of communications for terrorist and other high-risk inmates. The initiatives include building stronger foreign language translation and intelligence analysis capabilities within the FBOP, consolidating all terrorist inmates in a few institutions in order to concentrate the resources required to monitor them, limiting the volume of mail and other types of communication available to terrorists or other high-risk inmates, and eliminating unsolicited (junk) mail for all inmates:
Arabic Translators — In 2005 the FBOP hired three full-time Arabic language specialists at Florence supermax. These language specialists also are available to translate for other institutions. The language specialists are required to have top-secret security clearances and be certified proficient in Arabic by the FBI.
Language Translation Software — The FBOP is exploring the use of language translation software. FBOP officials say that although such software is promising, it does not yet meet BOP standards for accuracy. Therefore, the BOP plans to use it only to initially assess inmate communications in the absence of a qualified translator.
Counterterrorism Unit — The FBOP is developing a headquarters-level counterterrorism unit where four additional full-time Arabic language specialists will be co-located with FBOP Intelligence Analysts. The FBOP believes that co-locating the language specialists will improve the accuracy and timeliness of translations of inmate communications. The goals of the unit are to consolidate counterterrorism intelligence, produce intelligence products for FBOP institutions, improve information sharing on terrorism matters with the FBI other and law enforcement agencies, and manage BOP translation services.
Counterterrorism Training — The FBOP says it is collaborating with the FBI to develop training targeted to the FBOP’s specific needs of managing high-risk inmates. FBOP officials say they are assessing various counterterrorism and intelligence training to determine which topics would be most applicable to the correctional setting.
Link Analysis Database — In June 2004, the intelligence section at FBOP headquarters created a terrorist inmate database to conduct link analyses. The database includes information on inmate correspondence, telephone calls and financial transactions. The FBOP is seeking to enhance its link analysis capabilities to include all existing data systems that contain inmate information.
Consolidation of International Terrorist Inmates — The FBOP is planning to consolidate all international terrorist inmates in approximately six institutions for enhanced management and monitoring. The FBOP believes that this consolidation will allow it to achieve better counterterrorism coverage with its limited intelligence, counterterrorism, and translation resources, while allowing the remaining institutions to concentrate on gang-related activity and other prison-based issues.
Limiting Mail and Verbal Communications — The FBOP is developing a new policy that would permit it to limit the communications of inmates detained or charged with any terrorist-related activity upon request from the FBI or other law enforcement agencies, or if the FBOP identifies a need to impose such restrictions. Under this policy, the FBOP could limit communication to only immediate family members, courts, the inmate’s attorney, members of Congress, law enforcement agencies and other specified entities.
Eliminating Unsolicited Mail — The FBOP also is developing a policy to limit or eliminate unsolicited junk inmate mail. This limitation would reduce the overall volume of mail so that institutions could better focus their efforts on inspecting the mail for contraband and reading it for evidence of criminal activity.