Fingerprinting Database Shows Many Terrorists Have U.S. Records

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," July 7, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

E.D. HILL, HOST: Oceans separate us from many of the world's terrorists, but some of them have been here. Fingerprints of some fighters captured overseas show that about one in every 100 has lived or at least visited America. In fact, they already got in trouble here. They have criminal records -- here!

Watch E.D. Hill's interview

With us now for more on that discovery is FBI Supervisor Special Agent Paul Shannon. He actually is the one who fingerprinted Saddam Hussein after his capture in 2003. There you are right there. Thanks for being with us.

You know, I was really floored when I saw this. Because it goes back to old fashioned police work that started as an ad hoc adventure and now has turned into an incredible database. Explain what you found when you went out to certain regions and started fingerprinting people?

PAUL SHANNON, FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Well what we did in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack is we came to the conclusion that we didn't have anything in our databases, because they were domestic criminal databases, that would have alerted us ahead of time that the hijackers might have been a threat.

So what we did was we put a proposal together to go to Afghanistan and fingerprint and photograph, basically "book" people the way a police officer would book a bank robber or a burglar and memorialize forensically the identities of the terrorist enemy that we were fighting in Afghanistan.

HILL: Were you ready to find out that so many of the people you had fingerprint had been here in America?

SHANNON: Well, it was a surprising finding, but it was also something that I think we anticipated, and that's the reason we made the proposal, because we knew that this terrorist enemy that we were fighting was an international mobile enemy and we also know that terrorism has close association to criminality. So we anticipated that there may well be criminal records. It's, still, though, is a surprise when you fingerprint somebody in the shadow of Tora Bora that you find out that that person has a misdemeanor arrest in Phoenix and some other city in the United States.

HILL: And in fact you found some people -- I think one case I read about was up to seven or 11 felony counts against that person.

SHANNON: Yes, that's correct.

HILL: How did you pick the people that you would fingerprint? Did it have to be somebody that you found with a gun firing at our troops or at NATO forces? How would you pick the people?

SHANNON: Well, generally we went with military detainees in Afghanistan and we also went with detainees that were being held by the Northern Alliance forces in places like Mazar e-Sharif, Kandahar and in other locations because we knew that those people had been plucked right off the battlefield and we knew that they had been fighting against us.

We also fingerprinted people on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan because the foreign fighters were trying to flee the country. And that was our main concern. Actually while the hit rate is interesting and important and gives us actionable identifications that lead to investigations in our country, the other important part of this program is that we memorialize these people's identity forensically so that we're always going to able to identify them as a potential threat to the United States.

HILL: So when people were simply crossing the border, you were able to fingerprint them as well? They didn't necessarily have to be involved or suspected in a criminal act?

SHANNON: Well, most of these were foreign fighters. By foreign fighters, I mean Saudis, Pakistanis, North Africans who had been in the Bin Laden training camps and were coming across the border to get away from the bombings in Tora Bora. So that was the initial pool of people that we dealt with.

HILL: All right, Afghanistan, Iraq, the horn of Africa. How did you pick the places that you went to? I'm interested in the heart of Africa right down there at the tip of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

SHANNON: Well, that's similar to what Afghanistan was pre-9/11 where it was sort of an ungoverned space. And terrorist organizations thrive in ungoverned spaces because they can recruit and operate with impunity without having to worry about authorities or a government structure that's going to come down on them.

HILL: All right, thank you so much for being with us.

SHANNON: Thank you.

HILL: Paul Shannon, very interesting. He is the supervisory special agent for the FBI in D.C.

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