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Growing Number of People On Terrorist Watchlist Crossing U.S. Southern Border

More individuals on the watchlist were intercepted in July than during all of Fiscal Year 2022

An increasing number of people on the U.S. terrorist watchlist have been encountered on the U.S. southern border this year, according to a new report released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States,” officials warn in DHS’s 2024 Homeland Threat Assessment.

Federal authorities employ a terrorist screening center to share terrorism-related information across the U.S. government and with other law enforcement agencies. Post-9/11, there is now a centralized terrorism watchlist, which holds information on individuals “reasonably suspected to be involved in terrorism (or related activities).”

The watchlist, also called the Terrorists Screening Data Set (TSDS), also includes known associates of watch listed individuals, such as family members and people directly engaged in terrorist activity.

In July, as the report notes, roughly 160 foreign nationals in the TSDS were encountered at the U.S. southern border attempting to illegally enter between ports of entry. “This represents an increase from the approximately 100 encounters in all of FY 2022,” the report states.

Homeland Security officials are cautioning that adversaries are likely to continue to target U.S. critical infrastructure over the next year.

On Sept. 15, a Homeland Security office downplayed border encounters with people on the TSDS, saying that the number is small compared to total encounters.

“Encounters of known or suspected terrorists attempting to cross the Southern Border are uncommon. These encounters represent significantly less than 0.01 percent of total encounters per fiscal year in recent years,” one homeland security official said. “These encounters may include individuals who are not known or suspected terrorists, such as encounters with family members.”

The official added that every person encountered at the border undergoes biometric and biographic screening and vetting.

Officials also say in the report they expect attacks connected to next year’s election.

“We expect the 2024 election cycle will be a key event for possible violence and foreign influence targeting our election infrastructure, processes, and personnel,” according to the report.

DHS names Russia, China, and Iran as entities likely to “conduct overt and covert influence campaigns” during the upcoming election cycle. Officials believe hostile nations are likely to use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improve the quality of their influence operations.

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