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US terrorist watchlist flags 'ordinary people' in error

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The report notes that among those names on the OFAC list that could generate "false positives" are common names such as Abdul, Diaz, Lopez, Lucas, Gibson, and Patricia.

The LCCR report documents several cases of people who were denied services. Tom and Nancy Kubbany of California were refused by a mortgage broker because Mr. Kubbany's middle name is Hassan, an alias used by one of the sons of Saddam Hussein. A Phoenix, Ariz., couple was initially prevented from purchasing a home because the man's first and last names, both common Hispanic ones, were similar to a name on the OFAC list. Another California couple was flagged when buying exercise equipment because the man's first name is Hussein. This required investigation "because of Saddam Hussein," according to a representative from the bank that provides financing to the exercise store's customers.

The OFAC list predates September 11, 2001, but was expanded by President Bush soon after the attacks to include "specifically designated global terrorists," to freeze the assets of those who commit or support terrorist acts. The presidential order also expanded responsibility for engaging in transactions with those on the list to all US citizens, residents, and businesses.

In addition, the order made no exception for minimal transactions, so even a sale worth pennies could be penalized under the law. Furthermore, regulations issued by the Treasury Department in 2003 made clear that while "willful" violations of the law could result in criminal penalties, even transactions without any "willful" intent to violate the law could trigger civil penalties. Therefore, by its terms, the Executive Order extended liability to hair stylists, flower peddlers, hot dog vendors, or any Jane Doe who unwittingly sold a product or provided a service to a designated person.

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