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The FBI watchlist was leaked — and includes U.S. partners in Syria
The United States is partnering with Kurdish revolutionaries, but also blacklisting their leaders, whom Turkey considers terrorists.
The FBI’s counterterrorism watchlist for air travel was leaked online a few weeks ago. Some news coverage described the leak as the work of a “hacker,” although it appears that a budget airline simply left the data up for grabs on a public-facing server before realizing its mistake.
In any case, the data has been widely distributed among researchers, and the website DDoSecrets is giving it out to people who can prove a “clear journalistic or academic project.” The data actually includes two sub-lists: the infamous “No-Fly List” and the list of “selectees” for extra screening.
These lists are a subset of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center database that is shared with aviation authorities and airlines.
Both leaked lists mention Kurdish politicians, including Syrian Kurdish leaders who have partnered with the U.S. military effort there. It is pretty likely the result of a Turkish request, as Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish revolution to be a threat to national security, due to its ties with Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey.
The choice of names was really interesting. The list includes civilian figures in the revolution but not Mazlum Abdi, also known as Ferhat Abdi Şahin, a Kurdish general who is actually alleged to have taken up arms against Turkey on Turkish soil. Because Abdi has had high-profile cooperation with U.S. forces, it may be too embarrassing to put him on the watchlist, while civilian functionaries are more of an “easy target.”
You can read my analysis of the leak — and responses from Kurdish figures on the list — at the Kurdish Peace Institute.
There are probably more interesting revelations buried in the data, waiting to be discovered by journalists and researchers. For decades after 9/11, the U.S. government kept its counterterrorism watchlist a secret, with passengers getting banned from travel with no idea why and no way to find out. This month’s leak lifts the curtain on the process a little bit.
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