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The September 11 Detainees:
A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks

June 2003
Office of the Inspector General




This chapter describes the Department's initial response to the terrorist attacks. First, we examine the immediate actions taken by the FBI and INS in New York City to arrest and detain aliens in connection with the terrorism investigation. Next, we describe the Department's philosophy as it related to aliens arrested in connection with the terrorism probe, and we discuss some of the processes developed at FBI and INS Headquarters to coordinate information about these detainee cases. We also provide demographic statistics about the September 11 detainees. In addition, we describe the system used by the FBI, INS, and BOP to review and process aliens detained on immigration charges in connection with the terrorism investigation.


  1. Initial FBI Response

    The FBI took the lead in investigating the September 11 attacks, an investigation that became known as the Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombings investigation, or PENTTBOM. The FBI's investigation initially was affected by the chaotic situation in New York City as a result of the terrorist attacks, which displaced thousands of people from their homes and offices in lower Manhattan. As a result of the attacks, the FBI was forced to evacuate its New York City office in the Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza, seven blocks from what became known as "Ground Zero." Similarly, the INS was forced to evacuate all detainees housed at its Service Processing Center at 201 Varick Street in Manhattan's lower West Side.18

    The FBI's focus immediately after the attacks was whether any of the airplanes remaining in the air posed a threat. Once air traffic over the United States had ceased completely, the FBI turned its attention to locating those responsible for the terrorist attacks and preventing future attacks. During the evening of September 11, the FBI New York Field Office moved telephones, computers, facsimile machines, and other equipment into a temporary command post in a parking garage ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻ. In addition to the ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻ site, the FBI created command posts ŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ near midtown Manhattan and at FBI offices in Queens and Long Island, New York.

    With the help of the airlines and the INS, the FBI quickly determined the names used by the hijackers and immediately began to pursue leads related to them. During this initial period, the overall terrorism investigation was coordinated from the FBI's high-security Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) located at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. coordinated the New York aspects of the terrorism investigation through the FBI's New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), a group composed of a variety of law enforcement agencies including the INS, the New York Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.19 In addition, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and the Eastern District of Virginia, in conjunction with the Department's Criminal Division, worked closely with the New York JTTF to direct major aspects of the terrorism investigation from both Washington, D.C., and New York City.

    The day after the attacks, officials at FBI Headquarters began developing a "watch list" that initially was designed to identify potential hijackers and other individuals who might be planning additional terrorist acts once air travel resumed. By September 14, the FBI had forwarded the watch list, which at this point contained more than 100 names, to the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial airlines, FBI field offices, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and 18,000 state and local police departments across the country. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the watch list ultimately contained the names of "individuals the FBI would like to talk to because we believe they have information that could be helpful to the [PENTTBOM] investigation." 20

    The FBI allocated massive resources to the September 11 terrorism investigation. Within 3 days of the attacks, more than 4,000 FBI special agents and 3,000 support personnel were assigned to work on the PENTTBOM probe. Six days after the attacks, FBI Director Mueller reported that more than 500 people representing 32 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies were working 24 hours a day at FBI Headquarters. By September 18, 2001, 1 week after the attacks, the FBI had received more than 96,000 tips or potential leads from the public, including more than 54,000 through an Internet site it established for the PENTTBOM case, 33,000 that were forwarded directly to FBI field offices across the country, and another 9,000 tips called into the FBI's toll-free "hotline."

  2. Department of Justice Response

    In response to the September 11 attacks, the Attorney General directed all Department of Justice components to focus their efforts on disrupting any additional terrorist threats. As articulated in a September 17, 2001, memorandum to all United States Attorneys from Attorney General Ashcroft, the Department sought to prevent future terrorism by arresting and detaining violators who "have been identified as persons who participate in, or lend support to, terrorist activities. Federal law enforcement agencies and the United States Attorneys' Offices will use every available law enforcement tool to incapacitate these individuals and their organizations." Given the identities of the September 11 terrorists, the Department recognized from the earliest days that its terrorism investigation had a significant immigration law component.

    The Attorney General summarized the Department's new focus in a speech he gave to the U.S. Conference of Mayors on October 25, 2001:

    Forty years ago, another Attorney General was confronted with a different enemy within our borders. Robert F. Kennedy came to the Department of Justice at a time when organized crime was threatening the very foundations of the Republic...

    Robert Kennedy's Justice Department, it is said, would arrest mobsters for "spitting on the sidewalk" if it would help in the battle against organized crime. It has been and will be the policy of this Department of Justice to use the same aggressive arrest and detention tactics in the war on terror.

    Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visa - even by one day - we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in jail and kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute. We will seek every prosecutorial advantage. We will use all our weapons within the law and under the Constitution to protect life and enhance security for America.

    In the war on terror, this Department of Justice will arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated the law. Our single objective is to prevent terrorist attacks by taking suspected terrorists off the street. If suspects are found not to have links to terrorism or not to have violated the law, they are released. But terrorists who are in violation of the law will be convicted, in some cases deported, and in all cases prevented from doing further harm to Americans.

    The Attorney General told the OIG that he instructed that if, during the course of the investigation, aliens were encountered who had violated the law, they should be charged with appropriate violations, particularly if the alien had a relationship to the September 11 attacks.

    The Deputy Attorney General explained to the OIG that the threat presented by terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks required a different kind of law enforcement approach. He stated that the Department needed to disrupt such persons from carrying out further attacks by turning its focus to prevention, rather than investigation and prosecution.

    Michael Chertoff, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, told the OIG that within days of the attacks it became evident that some aliens encountered in connection with the PENTTBOM investigation were "out of status" in violation of the law - a matter that fell within the jurisdiction of the INS. He stated the Department's policy was to "use whatever means legally available" to detain a person linked to the terrorists who might present a threat and to make sure that no one else was killed. In some instances, he noted, that would mean detaining aliens on immigration charges, and in other cases criminal charges. Chertoff said he did not believe that the Department had a blanket policy to go with one or the other, if both were possible. He said he understood the Department would use whichever charge was most "efficacious." He stated that he was involved in meetings with the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, and the FBI Director at which this philosophy was discussed, but he added that, from the beginning, there was an insistence from senior Department officials that things be done legally. Chertoff explained that his deputy, Alice Fisher, was placed in charge of immigration issues for the Criminal Division.

    Fisher told the OIG that during the fall of 2001 she spent the "majority" of her time on terrorism issues, some of which involved illegal aliens who presented a potential terrorism threat. She recalled that Chertoff told her "we have to hold these people until we find out what is going on." She said she understood that the Department was detaining aliens on immigration violations that generally had not been enforced in the past.

  3. New York FBI's Response

    The FBI Field Office in New York City and its JTTF received thousands of leads from the public related to terrorism in the weeks after September 11. Staff at the New York JTTF command post entered the leads into an FBI database that assigned each PENTTBOM lead a unique number. Leads then were sent to one of the four FBI command posts in the New York City area and assigned to a JTTF team that included FBI and INS agents, among other law enforcement personnel.

    Many of the leads pursued by the JTTF in New York City and elsewhere across the country involved aliens, many from countries with large Arab or Muslim populations. If JTTF teams in New York encountered an illegal alien in the course of pursuing a PENTTBOM lead - whether or not the alien was the subject of the lead - the INS agent on the team examined the alien's immigration and identity documents to determine whether the alien was lawfully in the United States. If an INS agent was not present during the JTTF's initial interview of the individual, the team notified the INS New York District Office, which dispatched an INS agent to determine the alien's immigration status. The team would arrest any alien encountered in the course of investigating a JTTF or PENTTBOM lead who was found to be in the country illegally.

    Many of the aliens arrested under these circumstances were put into a special category referred to as persons "of interest" to the FBI. Their names were placed on a list referred to as "the INS Custody List." The INS and FBI did not always agree on which aliens should be included on the list, and we found that the cases were not handled uniformly nationwide. The complexities of how a person came to be included in this special category of immigration detainees is discussed in detail in Chapter 4, where we also examine some of the problems that arose from creation of this category of detainees. Moreover, as we describe later in this report, being labeled "of interest" had significant ramifications for the detainees' place and length of detention. The Department severely limited these detainees' ability to obtain bond, and detainees on this list could not be removed from the United States without a written "clearance letter" from the FBI. These requirements created substantial obstacles for detainees who sought release or removal. We describe these issues in more detail in the chapters that follow.

    In conjunction with the New York FBI's JTTF, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the SDNY immediately began to investigate the terrorist attacks. David Kelley, the Deputy United States Attorney for the SDNY, helped direct the search warrants, subpoenas, and material witness warrants in the Southern District and also participated in the supervision of the PENTTBOM task force in Washington, D.C. Within one to three days after the attacks, Kelley explained, he focused on individuals "really" of "investigative interest" (as opposed to those simply labeled "special interest" by the FBI or the INS). He explained that individuals of "genuine investigative interest" were people connected to a subject or target of the investigation, such as a person whose telephone number was linked to a hijacker, or a person who lived in a building near a location of high interest.

  4. SIOC Working Group

    Within one week of the attacks, a group was established by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher to coordinate efforts among the various components within the Department that had an investigative interest in or responsibility for the September 11 detainees. This group became known as the "SIOC Working Group" because its initial meetings took place in the FBI's SIOC. In addition to the FBI, the Working Group included staff from the INS; the Department's Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL); the Terrorism and Violent Crime Section (TVCS) of the Department's Criminal Division, which reported directly to Fisher; and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.21

    The SIOC Working Group met daily during the first months after the attacks, and sometimes multiple times within a single day. As one of its duties, the group coordinated information and evidence sharing among the FBI, INS, and U.S. Attorneys' offices related to the September 11 detainees. As discussed in detail in Chapter 4, the group sought to ensure that aliens detained as part of the PENTTBOM investigation would not be released until they were cleared by the FBI of involvement with the September 11 attacks or terrorism in general. FBI participants from its Office of General Counsel assisted in preparing affidavits to support INS opposition to bond for these detainees, while FBI agents coordinated with FBI field offices to obtain information regarding clearance investigations for detainees. INS attorneys on the SIOC Working Group served as a link to INS Headquarters and its field offices. The assessments of individual detainee cases communicated by the FBI to the INS at the SIOC Working Group, as we describe later, had a significant impact on detainees' ability to obtain bond or be removed from the United States.

    The FBI created an "INS Detainee Unit" in October 2001 located in the SIOC to handle detainee cases. This group, staffed by FBI special agents and others from the FBI Counterterrorism Division, worked closely with the SIOC Working Group to handle detainee matters.


For the most part, the 762 aliens classified as September 11 detainees were arrested by FBI-led terrorism task forces pursuing investigative leads and were held on valid immigration charges.22 These leads ranged from information obtained from searches of the hijackers' cars and personal effects to anonymous tips called in by members of the public suspicious of Arab and Muslim neighbors who kept odd schedules.

In New York, the JTTF moved aggressively to pursue the thousands of PENTTBOM leads that poured into the FBI in the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks. Witnesses both inside and outside the FBI told us that given the wide-ranging nature of the terrorism probe, the FBI interpreted and applied the term "of interest to the September 11 investigation" quite broadly. For example, a supervisory special agent in the FBI's New York Field Office who was in charge of the unit responsible for detainee clearance investigations told the OIG that if JTTF agents searching for a particular person on a PENTTBOM lead arrived at a location and found a dozen individuals out of immigration status, each of them were considered to be arrested in connection with the PENTTBOM investigation. He said no distinction generally was made between the subjects of the lead and any other individuals encountered at the scene "incidentally," because the FBI wanted to be certain that no terrorist was inadvertently set free. Consequently, he said all of the aliens in the above situation would be arrested on immigration charges and treated as "of interest" to the September 11 investigation because there was no way to tell who might be an associate of the subject of the lead.

PENTTBOM leads that resulted in the arrest of a September 11 detainee often were quite general in nature, such as a landlord reporting suspicious activity by an Arab tenant. For example, several Middle Eastern men were arrested and treated as connected to the September 11 investigation when local law enforcement authorities discovered "suspicious items," such as pictures of the World Trade Center and other famous buildings, during traffic stops. Similarly, local police stopped three Russian tourists because they were observed photographing "sensitive" locations in New York City, such as the Holland Tunnel. Another man was arrested on immigration charges and labeled a September 11 detainee when authorities discovered that he had taken a roll of film to be developed and the film had multiple pictures of the World Trade Center on it but no other Manhattan sites. This man's roommates also were arrested when law enforcement authorities found out they were in the United States illegally, and they too were considered September 11 detainees.

September 11 detainees and other witnesses interviewed by the OIG provided additional examples of how some aliens were arrested and labeled "September 11 detainees," including:


Our review determined that September 11 detainees arrested in New York City generally were confined at the MDC or transported to Passaic and other INS contract facilities in northern New Jersey. The housing determination for a September 11 detainee was the result of a two-step process that began with the FBI's assessment of the detainee's possible links to terrorism. The FBI provided this assessment to the INS, which made the actual housing determination. Witnesses told the OIG that the INS's determination was based almost solely on the FBI's assessment.

Where a September 11 detainee was housed had significant ramifications on the detainee's detention experiences. Detainees housed at the MDC (discussed in Chapter 7) experienced much harsher confinement conditions than those held at Passaic (discussed in Chapter 8). The September 11 detainees held at the MDC were locked down 23 hours a day, were placed in four-man holds during movement, had restricted phone call and visitation privileges, and had less ability to obtain and communicate with legal counsel.

  1. FBI Assessment

    The first part of the process to determine where a September 11 detainee would be confined began with the FBI's initial assessment of the detainee's links to the PENTTBOM investigation or ties to terrorism. The FBI assessed a detainee as "high interest," "of interest," or "interest undetermined." The "high interest" detainees were considered by the FBI to have the greatest potential to be linked to the PENTTBOM investigation or to terrorism. The FBI believed the "of interest" detainees might have some terrorist connections. For the "interest undetermined" detainees, the FBI could not affirmatively state that the detainee did not have a connection to the September 11 attacks. As we discuss in Chapter 4, this assessment was not based on specified criteria or consistently applied to all detainees. In addition, the INS was not authorized to release a September 11 detainee until the FBI completed its clearance investigation because of the concern about inadvertently releasing a terrorist. Therefore, the FBI in New York City never labeled a detainee "no interest" until after the clearance process was complete.

    Almost all the September 11 detainees in our review were arrested by the INS. Often an FBI agent present at the arrest provided the INS with a verbal assessment of the FBI's level of interest in the particular detainee. However, we found that this initial assessment often was based on little or no concrete information tying the detainee to the September 11 attacks or terrorism.

  2. INS Housing Determination

    After the INS arrested September 11 detainees, they were taken to an immigration processing center, such as the INS's Service Processing Center on Varick Street in New York City, to complete arrest and initial detention processing (after the attacks the Center no longer housed detainees, but remained open for processing). The FBI New York Field Office identified its level of investigative interest in the detainee to the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) at FBI Headquarters, which informed, usually verbally, the INS's National Security Unit (NSU). The information passed to the NSU by the FBI included a request that detainees of "high interest" be housed at the MDC.

    From September 11 to 21, 2001, INS Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations Michael Pearson made all decisions regarding where to house September 11 detainees. According to Daniel Cadman, the NSU Director, NSU staff provided briefings to Pearson that consisted of the FBI's assessments, other derogatory information obtained during the investigation (if any), and the security risk posed by the detainee (if known). Based on this information, Pearson decided whether a detainee should be confined at a BOP facility (such as the MDC), an INS facility, or an INS contract facility (such as Passaic). Pearson's decision was relayed to the INS New York District, which transferred the detainees to the appropriate facility.

    The INS's housing determination process changed on September 21, 2001, when the INS created the Custody Review Unit (CRU) at Headquarters and appointed three INS District Directors to make detainee housing determinations based on input provided by the FBI. At this point, Pearson removed himself from this decision-making process.

    We were also told that some detainee housing determinations were made outside the process described above. Dan Molerio, Assistant District Director for Investigations in the INS New York District, said three Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Southern District of New York detailed to the FBI Headquarters contacted him on a number of occasions and identified "high interest" detainees held by the INS in New York. Molerio said the FBI's Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Counterterrorism in New York also called him on several occasions about "high interest" detainees. Molerio said when the FBI told him a detainee was "high interest," he would ensure that the detainee was sent to the MDC.

    In sum, even though the INS established a process for making housing determinations, the INS's decision was based almost entirely on the FBI's assessment.

  3. BOP Confinement Decisions

    Soon after the September 11 attacks, the BOP made several decisions regarding the detention conditions it would impose on the September 11 detainees. These decisions (discussed in more detail in Chapter 7) included housing the detainees in the administrative maximum (ADMAX) Special Housing Unit (SHU), implementing a communications blackout, and classifying the detainees as Witness Security (WITSEC) inmates. According to Michael Cooksey, the BOP's Assistant Director for Correctional Programs, the BOP decisions were based on the BOP's concerns about potential security risks posed by the September 11 detainees. He said the BOP made the decision to impose strict security conditions in part because the FBI provided so little information about the detainees and because the BOP did not really know whom the detainees were. He said the BOP chose to err on the side of caution and treat the September 11 detainees as high-security detainees. He said that the Department was aware of the BOP's decision to house the September 11 detainees in high-security sections in various BOP facilities. Cooksey said the BOP did not treat the September 11 detainees different than "regular" high-security inmates.

    BOP Director Kathy Hawk Sawyer told the OIG that officials in the Deputy Attorney General's Office contacted her to discuss specific detainees' ability to communicate with other inmates and with the outside world. She said she understood from these conversations that the Department wanted the BOP to limit, as much as possible within their lawful discretion, the detainees' ability to communicate with other inmates and with people outside the MDC.23

  4. Department of Justice's Role

    Witnesses told us that the Department of Justice had little input into where the detainees were held. For example, Chertoff, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, said he did not have any information about where or how the detainees would be held, with the exception of one conversation in which he was told that an alien had claimed he was hurt by a guard. He said that he was later told that the report was inaccurate, and that the alien had not made such an accusation. David Israelite, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, said he could not recall any discussions of holding people "incommunicado" or any discussion of where detainees should be held. He also recalled one allegation of mistreatment being called to the attention of the Attorney General, who he said asked staff to look into the incident.

    Alice Fisher, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General who was in charge of terrorism issues for the Criminal Division, stated that she had no information about which facility a detainee would go to or the conditions that would be imposed on the detainees. She noted that there was an "effort" to accommodate the needs of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who were conducting the grand jury investigation into the attacks. David Kelley, the Deputy U.S. Attorney for the SDNY who played an important role in the September 11 investigation, said he had no input into where people would be confined, except that a person might be moved to the New York area if he was needed to testify. An Assistant U.S. Attorney from the SDNY who worked on the terrorism investigation explained that he generally did not have input into where detainees would be held. He recalled being frustrated that the BOP did not distinguish between detainees who, in his view, posed a security risk and those detained aliens who were uninvolved witnesses.



The age of the detainees varied, although most, 479 (or 63 percent), were between 26 and 40 years old. However, many of the detainees were much older. ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻ Ż ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ Ż ŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ Ż Ż ŻŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻ ŻŻŻ ŻŻ ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ See Figure 1.

Bar chart showing the age ranges for the September 11 detainees. Some information has been redacted. 161 detainees aged 26-30, 170 detainees aged 31-35, 148 detainees aged 36-40.

The September 11 detainees were citizens of more than 20 countries. The largest number, 254 or 33 percent, came from Pakistan, more than double the number of any other country. The second largest number (111) came from Egypt. Nine detainees were from Iran and six from Afghanistan. In addition, 29 detainees were citizens of Israel, the United Kingdom, and France. See Figure 2.

Bar chart showing the nationalities of the September 11 detainees. Countries represented include Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Guyana, Algeria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, UK, France, and Other.

The arrest location of a September 11 detainee proved significant because it determined which FBI field office had responsibility for, among other things, investigating the detainee for any connections to terrorism (the "clearance process" that we examine in detail in Chapter 4). By far the majority of detainees were arrested in New York (491 of 762, or 64 percent), followed by New Jersey with 70 detainee arrests, ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ with 38, ŻŻŻŻŻ with 28, and ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ with 16. See Figure 3.

Bar Chart showing the arrest location of September 11 detainees. Some information has been redacted. There were 491 New York Arrests and 70 New Jersey arrests.

The timing of detainee arrests shows that 658 detainees (86 percent) were arrested in the first 3 months after the terrorist attacks. See Figures 4 and 5 for information on the numbers of September 11 detainees arrested by week and month. The most detainees arrested in a single week - 85 - were arrested during the week after the September 11 attacks.

Figure 4:
September 11 Detainee Arrests (By Week)

is not available electronically.

Figure 5:
September 11 Detainee Arrests (By Month)

is not available electronically.

* Detainee arrest data for the month of September 2001 is as of September 11, 2001.


Perhaps the factor that most significantly affected the length of a September 11 detainee's confinement was the nature of the multi-step, multi-agency process used by the Department for handling aliens detained as part of its terrorism investigation. The OIG developed the following flow chart (Figure 6) to depict the process for handling September 11 detainees from their initial encounter with law enforcement authorities through their release from custody or removal from the United States. The chart displays the process used by the Department to investigate PENTTBOM leads, arrest September 11 detainees, determine where to house them, conduct detainee clearance investigations, complete the INS hearings and removal proceedings, and remove the detainees.24

Figure 6
Processing September 11 Detainees from Arrest to Clearance

is not available electronically.

The following steps describe the procedures depicted by this chart:

Arrest Process:

  1. U.S. law enforcement received information regarding an individual who may have connections to the September 11 attacks or terrorism in general (a PENTTBOM lead).

  2. If deemed worthy of investigation, the responsible FBI field office assigned the lead for investigation (in New York City, generally to the JTTF).

  3. Law enforcement personnel interviewed the individual, and an INS agent determined his immigration status. The subject was released if the FBI expressed no investigative interest related to the terrorism probe and the individual had not violated his immigration status.

  4. If the INS agent determined that the alien was in violation of immigration status, the INS agent took the alien into custody and asked the FBI for an assessment of its interest in the alien with respect to the terrorism investigation.

  5. The FBI determined its level of interest in the alien: generally "of interest," "high interest," "no interest," or "undetermined." Based on this assessment by the FBI, "high interest detainees" were sent to BOP high-security facilities, while "of interest" and "interest unknown" detainees generally were housed in less restrictive facilities, such as county jails under contract to the INS.

FBI Clearance Process:

  1. After the FBI received the detainee's A-File from the INS, the FBI initiated detainee clearance investigations and notified the SIOC Working Group that the alien was in custody. The Department had issued a standing order that detainees were not to be released until clearance investigations were completed.

  2. The SIOC Working Group requested CIA checks on the detainee.

  3. If clearance investigations and CIA checks on the detainee were clear, the detainee was determined to be of "no interest" to the FBI.

  4. The FBI's ITOS decided the final clearance of a September 11 detainee and issued a formal FBI clearance letter, signed by the ITOS Section Chief. Until the FBI issued the clearance letter, the Department did not allow the INS to remove the detainee.

  5. The SIOC Working Group forwarded the FBI clearance letter to the INS or BOP, whichever agency was holding the alien. If the BOP was holding the alien, BOP Headquarters then issued its clearance memorandum to the BOP facility, called a "Cooksey memorandum," notifying the appropriate warden that a detainee was eligible for release into the facility's general population.25

INS Immigration Process:

  1. After INS Headquarters review, the INS District Director in the INS district where the September 11 detainee was arrested issued the charging document to the detainee (known as the "Notice to Appear" or NTA) that describes the immigration laws the detainee has allegedly violated. The INS initially held all September 11 detainees without bond, but the detainees were able to request bond re-determination hearings before an Immigration Judge after receiving the NTA and accompanying documents.

  2. An Immigration Judge conducted a hearing on the detainee's alleged immigration violations (a "merits hearing") to determine whether the detainee should be removed from the United States.

  3. The Immigration Judge issued a final order removing the detainee or permitting the detainee to leave the country voluntarily.

  4. INS Headquarters issued its clearance memorandum - known as the "Pearson memorandum" - to the appropriate INS Region Office.26 Issuance of the INS clearance letter was predicated on the INS receiving a clearance letter from the FBI stating that it had "no interest" in the detainee, as described above.

  5. The alien was either removed from the United States, allowed to depart voluntarily, or released from INS custody.

The impact of each of these procedures on the length of the September 11 detainees' detentions and their conditions of confinement is discussed in detail in the chapters that follow.


  1. INS Service Processing Centers process and detain illegal aliens who are awaiting disposition of their immigration cases or awaiting removal from the country. A detainee could be held at a Service Processing Center from one day to several years.

  2. Each of the FBI's 56 domestic field offices now leads a JTTF in its respective geographic area of responsibility. The FBI's New York Division formed the first JTTF in 1980. Participants in JTTFs include the INS; U.S. Secret Service; Naval Criminal Investigative Service; U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Customs Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; U.S. Department of State/Diplomatic Security Service; Offices of Inspectors General; Postal Inspection Service; Internal Revenue Service; Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management; Air Force Office of Special Investigations; U.S. Park Police; Federal Protective Service; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

  3. FBI Director Robert Mueller, Press Conference at FBI Headquarters (September 14, 2001). We discuss the development and eventual dissolution of this watch list in greater detail in Chapter 4.

  4. OIL is the unit within the Department's Civil Division that handles immigration litigation, while TVCS assists federal prosecutors nationwide in prosecuting terrorism cases.

  5. We found one instance in which a September 11 detainee was held for over 72 hours before being released, despite the fact that there was no valid immigration charge.

  6. We discuss Hawk Sawyer's conversations with Christopher Wray, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, and David Laufman, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General, in Chapter 7.

  7. The chart depicts the process for September 11 detainees held at the MDC or Passaic. Some detainees only went through part of this process, depending on their individual immigration cases and the progress of their FBI clearance checks. The "BOP Process" shown in the chart applied only to those detainees housed at the MDC.

  8. Cooksey memoranda were signed by Michael Cooksey, the BOP Assistant Director for Correctional Programs.

  9. Pearson memoranda were signed by Michael Pearson, then the INS Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations.
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