Terror inmates’ mail unread

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The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not read all the mail from and to terrorists and other high-risk inmates on current monitoring lists and does not have enough proficient translators for foreign-language mail, a report said yesterday.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said the bureau’s mail-monitoring program is “deficient in several respects,” including staff trained to analyze whether terrorists’ communications contain suspicious content.

In addition, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is unable to monitor effectively high-risk inmates’ oral communications, which include telephone calls, visits with family and friends and cellblock conversations.

“We found significant problems in the BOP’s efforts to monitor high-risk inmates’ mail and other communications,” Mr. Fine said. “The BOP is taking various measures to address these issues, although significant improvements need to be made in these critical areas.”

The issue of monitoring inmates’ communications received widespread attention in March 2005, when three terrorists convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing held at the bureau’s highest security prison, the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., sent 90 letters to other suspected terrorists overseas between 2002 and 2004.

Those who received the letters included the leader of a plot to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid, inmates tied to others suspected in the March 2004 attacks on Madrid commuter trains, and other Islamic radicals in Spain and Morocco, among them a man charged with using the inmates’ letters for recruiting suicide operatives.

The terrorist attacks in Madrid killed 191 persons and wounded more than 1,700.

The report noted that the inability to translate letters was not limited to Arabic.

In a written response to the 75-page report, BOP Director Harley G. Lappin said the bureau recognized that the mail of inmates on monitoring lists should be held to a higher standard, and the bureau was making efforts to develop “procedural modifications and technology aids” to assist in developing uniform tracking and standards for the proper review and assessment of inmate communications.

Mr. Lappin, who said the review was expected to be completed in December 2007, also noted that “based on our correctional experience,” targeting high-risk inmates was “the most efficient and effective means of intelligence detection.” He said establishing a target percentage for the random sampling of all inmates’ mail, as recommended in the Inspector General’s report, would “divert critical resources and attention away from high-risk offenders.”

The bureau, with 35,000 employees, is responsible for 191,000 federal inmates at 113 facilities. About 10 percent of them are high-risk domestic and international terrorists and gang leaders and members.

According to the IG’s report:

• The BOP is expected to read all the mail of inmates placed on mail monitoring lists, but staff members at seven of 10 institutions acknowledged they did not do so.

• BOP staff randomly read the mail of inmates not on monitoring lists to gather intelligence, but the high volume, short processing deadlines and staff reallocations had resulted in a decrease in the amount of random reading.

• BOP has inadequate agencywide procedures for translating inmate mail in foreign languages. Instead, the agency relies primarily on staff volunteers to translate mail as a collateral duty.

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