WASHINGTON — Convicted terrorists locked up in U.S. prisons can still use mail and verbal communications to conduct terrorist or criminal activities, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Department of Justice's inspector general.
The inspector general launched a review after a series of NBC News Investigative Unit reports in February and March 2005 revealed that jailed terrorists — even those responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center — were continuing to support jihadists and encourage violence around the world.
"We found that the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) has not effectively monitored the mail of terrorist and other high-risk inmates," concludes the 122-page report.
In 2005, Lisa Myers and the NBC News Investigative Unit reported that, while behind bars at the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary in Florence, Colo., the 1993 World Trade Center bombers continued their terrorist activities, writing letters to other suspected terrorists and brazenly praising Osama bin Laden in Arabic newspapers. The prison, also known as "Supermax," houses the largest number of and most dangerous terrorist inmates.
According to confidential Spanish court documents obtained by NBC, at least 14 letters went back and forth between the Trade Center bombers at Supermax and members of a Spanish terror cell. One example, from February 2003: Trade Center bomber Mohammed Salameh writes: "Oh, God! Make us live with happiness, make us die as martyrs, may we be united on the day of Judgment."
The recipient, Mohamed Achraf, later allegedly led a plot to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid. In July 2002, a letter Salameh sent from prison was published in the Al-Quds Al Arabi newspaper, proclaiming, "Osama bin Laden is my hero of this generation."
As part of its investigation, the inspector general visited 10 federal prisons and interviewed 163 BOP officials. The report says none of the 10 prisons met a Bureau of Prisons goal of reading 100 percent of the mail for inmates on monitoring lists. In fact, at seven of the 10, special investigative staff told the inspector general their reading of mail for inmates on monitoring lists had decreased during the past year. Prison staff blamed the decrease on the reallocation of positions under bureau-wide streamlining initiatives, and described the mail monitoring workload as "overwhelming."
The report's specific findings include:
The report found that when special investigative staff members at Supermax learned of correspondence between its Trade Center bomber inmates and Islamic extremist inmates in Spanish prisons, they did not notify the FBI because "they did not understand the implications of the correspondence for furthering terrorist activity."
According to the report, the bureau said that after the Supermax incident, "it initiated several corrective actions and plans to initiate others to improve its monitoring of international terrorist communications. For example, the BOP hired full-time staff to translate Arabic communications, started upgrading its intelligence analysis capabilities, and developed policies to limit high-risk inmates' mail and telephone calls."
But the report says that federal prison officials warn they "cannot fully implement the initiatives because of budget constraints, and an increasing inmate population."
In addition to inmates' mail, the inspector general's report revealed another related security problem: The prison bureau "is unable to effectively monitor high-risk inmates' verbal communications, which include telephone calls, visits with family and friends, and cell block conversations."
The report found that bureau staff often do not listen to or translate calls in a foreign language by inmates on monitoring lists, including calls placed by inmates identified as posing the greatest risk of being engaged in illegal or suspicious activity. For example, the inspector general's report found that at Supermax, 50 percent of such calls each month were not monitored.