The FTO List and Congress: Sanctioning Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations
CRS Report for Congress
The “FTO List” and Congress:
Sanctioning Designated Foreign
October 21, 2003
Audrey Kurth Cronin
Specialist in Terrorism
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The “FTO List” and Congress: Sanctioning Designated
Foreign Terrorist Organizations
The purpose of this report is to provide Congress with an overview of the nature
and status of the designated foreign terrorist organizations list, as a potential tool in
overseeing the implementation and effects of U.S. legislation designed to sanction
terrorists. It centers on the list of terrorist groups that are formally designated by the
Secretary of State pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as
amended under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-
FTO list designations, which last for two years and must be renewed, occur
after an interagency process involving the departments of State, Justice, Homeland
Security, and the Treasury. Since the designations can be challenged in court, they
require a detailed administrative record often based on classified information. An
organization that is placed on the FTO list is subject to financial and immigration
sanctions, potentially including the blocking of assets, the prosecution of supporters
who provide funds, refusal of visas, and deportations of members. There have been
a number of designations and changes since the list was established, but it currently
includes thirty-six organizations. (See Appendix A.)
The FTO list is often confused with some of the other “terrorist lists” that are
maintained by the U.S. government. These include the “state-sponsors of terrorism”
list, which is pursuant to Section 6(j) of the 1979 Export Administration Act (P.L.
which is pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (P.L. 95-
223; 50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) and was initiated in 1995 under Presidential Executive
Order 12947; the “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” (SDGT) list, initiated in
2001 under Presidential Executive Order 13224; and, finally, the “Specially
Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons” (SDN) list, a master list that contains the
other lists. All of these are summarized and maintained by the Office of Foreign
Assets Control of the Treasury Department. Lastly, the “Terrorist Exclusion List”
or “TEL,” which relates to immigration and is pursuant to Section 411 of the USA
Patriot Act of 2001 (8 U.S.C.1182) is maintained by the State Department. Like the
FTO list, the TEL includes the names of terrorist organizations, but it has a broader
standard for inclusion, is subject to less stringent administrative requirements, and
is not challengeable in court. There is a complicated interplay among all of these
lists, and it is important to distinguish them from the better-known FTO list.
The FTO list has been of considerable interest to Congress, and there are
arguments in favor and against it. It publicly stigmatizes groups and provides a clear
focal point for interagency cooperation on terrorist sanctions; however, some argue
that it is inflexible and misleading, since groups that are not on the list are still often
subject to U.S. sanctions. The report concludes with a discussion of potential policy
options for Congress, including some of the recently proposed amendments to the
legislation that establishes it. It will be updated as events warrant.
In troduction ......................................................1
Not the Only U.S. “Terrorist List”.....................................3
History of the FTO List.............................................6
Advantages of the FTO List..........................................6
Disadvantages of the FTO List.......................................8
Policy Options for Congress........................................10
Appendix A. Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations.................12
The “FTO List” and Congress:
Sanctioning Designated Foreign Terrorist
The purpose of this report is to provide Congress with an overview of the nature
and status of the designated foreign terrorist organizations list (FTO list), as a
potential tool in overseeing the implementation and effects of U.S. legislation
designed as a basis for imposing sanctions on terrorists. The report centers on the list
of terrorist groups that are formally designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to
section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.), as
amended under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-
132). These groups are often collectively referred to as the “terrorist group list” or
The focus here is on the operation and effectiveness of the FTO list as a U.S.
counterterrorism tool. The first part of the report provides a background on the
process for designating a group, as well as the procedure used to remove a group. It
describes the administration of the list and the role of the various Executive agencies
involved in maintaining it.1 Next follows a section explaining the distinctions
between the FTO list and other terrorist lists that are maintained by the U.S.
government, with an emphasis on both tracing the complicated interplay among the
numerous lists and untangling their confusing acronyms. The arguments in favor and
against the FTO list are then discussed, with information about the practicalities of
implementing it. The report concludes with a discussion of potential policy options
for Congress, including some of the recently proposed amendments to the legislation
that establishes it.
The potential issue for Congress is to assess, as part of its oversight
responsibility, the effectiveness of the FTO list in confronting terrorist groups that
are a threat to the United States. This report will be updated as events warrant.
The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which
amends section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (P.L. 82-414; 8 U.S.C.
1For descriptions of the specific terrorist organizations that are on the list, see the U.S. State
Department’s annual publication Patterns of Global Terrorism. The report is accessible at
[ ht t p: / / www.s t a t e .gov/ s / c t / r l s / pgt r pt / ] .
1101 et. seq.), states that the Secretary of State is authorized to designate an
organization as a “foreign terrorist organization” if three conditions are met:
3. The terrorist activity threatens the security of United States citizens or the
national security of the United States.2
If the Secretary of State decides that an organization meets these conditions, he or she
may add it to the terrorist group list at any time by informing Congress and
publishing a notice to that effect in the Federal Register. Designations last for two
years, at which time they may be renewed. Groups can also be removed from the list
at any time, either by the Secretary of State or by Act of Congress. The criteria for
removal by the Secretary are general and are subject to interpretation: the Secretary
of State may revoke a designation if he or she finds either that the circumstances that
were the basis for the designation have changed, or that the national security of the
United States warrants a revocation of the designation.3 Designations normally occur
after an involved interagency process; but the Secretary of State makes the ultimate
Although the State Department officially designates a group and takes the lead,
there are a number of agencies involved in administering the FTO list. Before the
determination, the intelligence community is an important player, because the
designation is based upon evidence of a group’s terrorist activity. This often involves
classified information and entails assembling an administrative record that will
potentially stand up in court. The intelligence community also provides the
information upon which decisions to renew an organization’s designation are based.4
The Justice Department weighs the legal evidence before the designation is approved,
and when renewal is being considered. The Department of Homeland Security is also
consulted before designations are made.
After the designation, the Treasury Department may block financial transactions
involving an organization’s assets and determine whether U.S. banks are complying
with the law. The Justice Department determines whether or not to prosecute
offenders who violate any aspect of the Treasury Department’s sanctions. Judges
from the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review decide
immigration cases, with appeals potentially going all the way to the Attorney
General. A variety of different agencies in the Department of Homeland Security are
then involved in carrying out immigration sanctions, including deportations.
Thus, from the perspective of the members of a group, the legal consequences
of being designated a foreign terrorist organization are in two general areas: financing
2See “Designation of foreign terrorist organizations,” in the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act, 8 U.S.C. 1189.
38 U.S.C. 1189 (a)(6)(A).
4In each case, classified summaries of the administrative records gathered on each group are
provided to Congress, and the unclassified descriptions of designated foreign terrorist
organizations are included in the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism.
and immigration. Under the AEDPA, people who provide funds or other material
support to a designated FTO are breaking the law and may be prosecuted.5 This
applies to both the members of a group and to those who may be sympathizers. If
Treasury imposes sanctions, U.S. financial institutions are required to block the funds
of designated FTOs and their agents and to report that blockage to the Treasury
Department. This can have important consequences for a designated terrorist
organization’s ability to access its resources. As for immigration, members of
designated FTOs can be denied visas or excluded from entering the United States,
and/or they can be deported once they are in the country.
Not the Only U.S. “Terrorist List”
The FTO list is not the only so-called “terrorist list” that the U.S. government
keeps.6 There are a number of others, and it is important to clarify the distinctions7
Probably the best known is the “state-sponsors of terrorism” list, which is
pursuant to section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-72; 508
U.S.C. app. 2405(j)(as amended)). Under the terms of the act, the Secretary of State
provides Congress with the list of countries that have “repeatedly provided support
for acts of international terrorism.” There are currently seven states on the state
sponsors of terrorism list: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.9
Being on the list subjects a country to a range of severe U.S. export controls,
especially of dual-use technology and military weapons. The provision of U.S.
foreign aid (except humanitarian assistance) is also prohibited.
The state sponsors of terrorism list has been remarkably static since its initiation
in 1979, with only two states ever having been removed: South Yemen, which was
518 U.S.C. 2339B.
6And there are many lists internationally. For example, the United Nations maintains its
own list of individuals and entities that are sanctioned under U.N. Resolutions 1267 (1999),
1333 (2000), 1390 (2002) and 1455 (2003). See the list at [http://www.un.org/Docs
/sc/committees/1267/1267ListEng.htm]. The European Union also maintains its own list.
7All of the lists are available at the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control
web site, accessible at [http://www.treas.gov/offices/eotffc/ofac/sdn/index.html]. The
Treasury Department has a compilation, in alphabetical order, of all of the persons
(individuals and entities) designated under OFAC’s economic sanctions regimes and
includes those entities designated as FTOs by the Secretary of State. Additionally, the entire
list is published as Appendix A to Chapter 5 of the CFR (See 31 CFR Ch V, App. A).
8States may also be identified as supporters of international terrorism and sanctioned under
the terms of section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act (P.L. 90-629; 22 U.S.C. 2781); and
sec. 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195; 22 U.S.C. 2371).
9The fact that Afghanistan was not on the list of state sponsors of terrorism before 9/11 is
often cited as evidence of the negligence of pre-9/11 counterterrorist policies of the U.S.
government. The explanation was that the Taliban national government was not recognized
by the United States and so that state could not be named a state sponsor.
removed in 1990 when it effectively ceased to exist, merging with North Yemen to
form the current state of Yemen; and Iraq, which was removed from the list in1982
(when it was allied with the United States) and was returned to the list in 1990 (after
its invasion of Kuwait).10 This list differs from the FTO list, as it is directed
specifically toward states, not substate actors — like the terrorist groups that the
states allegedly support. It also derives from different legislation.11
At least three other important U.S. “terrorist lists” are in use. The “specially
designated terrorists” (SDTs) list was generated pursuant to the International
Emergency Economic Powers Act (P.L. 95-223; 50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.). It was
initiated under Presidential Executive Order 12947 on 25 January 1995 and was
specifically oriented toward persons (individuals and entities) who threaten to disrupt
the Middle East Peace Process. Later, following the events of September 11, 2001,
the President invoked the same emergency authorities in Presidential Executive
Order 13224, to block “all property and interests in property” of certain designated
terrorists and individuals and entities materially supporting them.12 This established
another, much longer list, known as the Specially Designated Global Terrorists
(SDGTs) list. There are currently over three hundred persons identified as SDGTs.
These two lists are especially targeted toward blocking terrorist financing, and they
do not have an immigration element.
The Treasury Department maintains the so-called SDT and SDGT lists, and,
unlike the FTO list, the Secretary of the Treasury takes the lead in adding individuals
or organizations to the lists and then freezing the assets of persons or entities that are
on them. The lists have grown to include more than 200 entities, organizations,
and/or individuals. They derive from different legislation and, again, are not the
same as the designated FTO list.13
The SDT, SDGT, state sponsors, and (as of October 2002) FTO lists were
placed together in a new, larger roster called the “Specially Designated Nationals
and Blocked Persons” (SDN) list maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control
of the Treasury Department.14 Although the individual lists retain separateness
pursuant to their legislation, this comprehensive SDN list presents in one place all
of the terrorist entities that are economically sanctioned through having their assets
10Paul Pillar, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution
Press, 2001), p. 170. For more information specifically about adding and removing
countries from the state sponsors of terrorism list, see CRS Report RL30613.
11For further information on state sponsors of terrorism see CRS Report RL30613, North
Korea: Terrorism List Removal; CRS Report RL3119, Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and
State Sponsors, 2002; and CRS Issue Brief IB10119, Terrorism and National Security:
Issues and Trends. There are also individual CRS reports on each of the listed countries.
12The President, “Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions to Commit or Support
Terrorism.” Executive Order 13224 of September 23, 2001. 66 FR 49079-49081;
September 25, 2001.
13For more information about these sanctions, see CRS Report RL31658,Terrorist
Financing: The U.S. and International Response.
14The National Council of Resistance for Iran is excepted from the SDN list.
blocked. (It also includes individuals and organizations that are sanctioned by having
their assets blocked for narcotics trafficking and other activities.) There are thus
fourteen different sanctions programs included in the SDN list, not all of which
pertain to terrorists. The list is accessible via the Internet and is frequently updated
to reflect the fluid nature of U.S. economic sanctions.15
There is also the so-called “Terrorist Exclusion List” or “TEL,” which is
pursuant to Section 411 of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-56; 8 U.S.C.,
the Attorney General, to designate terrorist organizations strictly for immigration
purposes. Individuals associated with organizations on the TEL list are prevented
from entering the United States and/or may be deported if they are already here.16 (It
is worth noting, that none of these immigration sanctions has an effect on the
behavior of U.S. citizens.) The TEL list expands the grounds for exclusion from the
United States and has a broader standard and less detailed administrative procedure
than does the FTO list. The State Department maintains the TEL list.17
In sum, with respect to sanctions against terrorists, the Executive branch
maintains an intricate array of lists pursuant to various legislation and Executive
Orders. These lists do overlap; however, the Executive Branch implements sanctions
against state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist organizations, and individual terrorists
somewhat differently depending upon which legislation applies, what the purpose is,
and which list is being considered. There are also international lists maintained by
the United Nations and the European Union, for example, that are not considered
here. This report looks in detail only at the designated FTO list and its sanctions,
which the State Department takes the lead in administering and which names only
specially designated terrorist organizations. The FTO list has unique importance not
only because of the specific measures undertaken to thwart the activities of
designated groups but also because of the symbolic, public role it plays as a tool of
U.S. counterterrorism policy.
15Again, see the Office of Foreign Assets Control web site, accessible at
[http://www.treas.gov/offices/eotffc/ofac/sdn/index.html]. The Treasury Department’s
master list, which includes SDTs, SDGTs state sponsors and FTOs and is accessible at this
web site, is called the “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons” list. At the
end of each entry is the acronym standing for the relevant list (SDT, SDGT, FTO, etc.) that
led to the terrorist entity’s inclusion on the list. (SDGTE and SDGTI stand for “Specially
Designated Global Terrorist Entity” and Specially Designated Global Terrorist Individual,
16See Fact Sheet, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Terrorist Exclusion List,”
November 15, 2002; accessible at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/2002/15222.htm]; and
Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002, pp.151-152.
17In addition to these lists, there are also a number of “watch lists” maintained by various
agencies, currently being consolidated into the Terrorist Screening Center. For further
information, see “New Terrorist Screening Center Established: Federal Government
Consolidates Terrorist Screening Into Single Comprehensive Anti-Terrorist Watchlist,”
White House press release, available at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news
/releases/2003/09/ print/20030916-8.html ].
History of the FTO List
The first terrorist organizations were designated and put on the FTO list in
October 1997, about eighteen months after the passage of the AEDPA. There were
thirty organizations on that initial list. In October 1999, the first review and
redesignation occurred. Of the 30 groups originally on the list, 27 were redesignated,
three were allowed to lapse, and one more group was added.18 Notably, the group
that was added to the FTO list that year was Al Qaeda, which was designated a
foreign terrorist organization especially because of its involvement in the August
The first exercise of the Secretary of State’s ability to add a group outside the
usual two-year cycle occurred in 2000, when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
was designated on its own. Then in the regular biennial review in 2001, the State
Department added two new groups, the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) and the
United Self-Defense Forces/Group of Colombia (AUC), and combined two other19
groups (Kahane Chai and Kach) into one. That brought the total to 28 FTOs. Since
that time, the list has grown significantly. There have been eight groups added to the
FTO list since October 5, 2001: the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (which is an armed
wing of the Fatah movement), ‘Asbat al-Ansar (a Lebanese-based group associated
with Al Qaeda), the Communist Party of Philippines/New People’s Army
(CPP/NPA) (a Maoist group), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) (an Islamic extremist group
based in Pakistan), Jemaah Islamiya (JI) (a southeast Asian terrorist network
connected with Al Qaeda), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT) (a Pakistan-based group fighting
in Kashmir), and Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) (apparent outgrowth
of the Algerian GIA, active in Europe, Africa and the Middle East). There are 36
groups currently designated as foreign terrorist organizations. (See Appendix A.)
Advantages of the FTO List
There are advantages and disadvantages for the United States in using a formal
list as a mechanism for counterterrorism purposes.20 Chief among the advantages is
18The Manuel Rodriquez Patriotic Front Dissidents (FPMR/D) and the Democratic Front for
the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) were dropped “primarily because of the absence of
terrorist activity, as defined by relevant law, by those groups during the past two years.”
The third group was the Khmer Rouge, dropped because it ceased to exist as a viable
terrorist organization. See “Foreign Terrorist Organization, Designations by the Secretary
of State,” Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, October 8, 1999;
accessible at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rpt/fto].
19See the “2001 Report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” Released by the Office of the
Coordinator for Counterterrorism, October 5, 2001; accessible at
[ h t t p : / / www.s t a t e . go v/ s / c t / r l s / r pt / f t o ] .
20The best single source of the arguments for and against the use of lists is Pillar, pp. 150-
156. Although it was published before September 11, 2001, the book remains one of the
best sources of information on this issue and was used extensively in the preparation of this
the fact that the FTO list brings legal clarity to efforts to identify and prosecute
members of terrorist organizations and those who support them. Having the
designated FTO list helps to target U.S. counterterrorist sanctions under the AEDPA
because there is no ambiguity about which groups are included and which are not.
If a group is on the FTO list, then the AEDPA sanctions apply; if not, they do not.
Thus, being added to the list can have very substantial implications for both the
organization and for U.S. counterterrorist efforts.
In practical bureaucratic terms, the FTO list also provides lucidity in the often
complicated interagency process of coordinating the actions of Executive agencies,
by giving them a central focal point upon which the efforts converge. U.S.
counterterrorism is therefore potentially more effective. State, Treasury, Justice,
Homeland Security, and other agencies all recognize that groups on the list are
subject to scrutiny and sanctions. And these measures arguably make Americans
more secure from terrorist attacks, for example, by cutting down on terrorist
organizations’ access to resources and preventing terrorist group members from
entering the country. Specifically, the departments of Homeland Security and Justice
have used affiliation with an FTO as grounds for deportation of aliens.21 The
Treasury Department, working with the interagency and international communities,
has used the FTO list (among the other U.S. terrorist sanctions programs) in its effort
reportedly to block more than $125 billion in assets worldwide.22 And, of course, the
Justice Department has prosecuted individuals affiliated with FTOs.23 Having a focal
point for agency coordination enhances the effectiveness of government
implementation and may also serve as a deterrent to organizations that consider
engaging in illegal behavior.
Likewise, the FTO list is a useful mechanism in dealing with other governments,
especially those that are coordinating counterterrorism efforts with the United States.
Labeling and listing terrorist organizations also opposed by other states can be an
21Pillar, p. 151. This is not, however, the typically preferred grounds for deportation. Other
grounds are often easier to prove in deportation hearings and do not potentially require
revealing sensitive intelligence sources and methods in a hearing.
22Testimony of Juan C. Zarate, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Executive Office of
Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime, U.S. Department of the Treasury, testimony before
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 18, 2003; accessible at
[http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/js139.htm]. Other estimates place the number
somewhat lower; see Council on Foreign Relations, Questions and Answers,
[http://www.terrorismanswers.com/responses/money2.html#Q7] ; and “Terrorist Financing,”
Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, New
23It is worth noting, however, that from the perspective of the Justice Department, the
designated FTO list is only one tool for controlling or deterring the behavior of terrorist
organizations that threaten the United States. Members of organizations listed as designated
FTOs who engage in criminal behavior are also subject to prosecution under other criminal
statutes. And often prosecution for the other crimes that terrorists typically engage in is
more promising than relying upon the sanctions legislation. See Pillar, p. 151.
important source of convergence in bilateral national relations. There is a sense of
alliance against a common enemy. Often important benefits are derived in
counterterrorism or other aspects of the bilateral relationship as a result. Moreover,
states that are, actually or potentially, supporting organizations on the list can be left
in no doubt about U.S. policy on the issue. Clearly labeling what the United States
government considers a foreign terrorist organization can have significant domestic
and international foreign policy advantages. It can be a powerful diplomatic tool,
residing in the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
Another important benefit is the attention that the FTO list gives to the
organizations that are on it. Drawing attention to terrorist groups aids in identifying
them not only for states but for nongovernmental organizations and individuals. And
likewise the terrorist organizations are fully placed on notice that someone is
watching what they do. This can make it more difficult for them to operate.
The groups on the FTO list are stigmatized. Many modern terrorist
organizations have a varied portfolio of activities, some of which may be ostensibly
legitimate. Some who may have previously viewed an organization primarily as a
charity or as a public advocacy group may reconsider supporting it. Publicizing
which groups are formally designated has important legal implications: since the law
punishes those who wittingly support terrorist organizations, ignorance of a listed
organization’s activities is less defensible. Potential donors may not necessarily be
willing to contribute to an organization that is designated as “terrorist,” especially if
the gift may result in prosecution under U.S. law. The moral relativity that some
people claim dogs the “terrorist” label is removed, at least as far as official U.S.
policy is concerned.
Disadvantages of the FTO List
Although it has important legal and symbolic significance, some argue that
having a “list” is overly mechanistic, restrictive and inflexible, especially in an area
of foreign policy that requires flexibility. Nonstate actors such as terrorist
organizations are often able to change their names and/or characteristics much more
quickly than ponderous bureaucratic lists can reflect. This is a serious problem in an
era when international terrorism is increasingly globalized in its reach and
capabilities, with borders becoming more permeable and less relevant, in an age of24
Internet links and open trade areas. Likewise, such lists are not very effective in
dealing with ad hoc activities engaged in by “volunteers,” who may not have a clear
long-term relationship with an organization. This has become a particular worry with
respect to Al Qaeda, for example.25
24For more on the globalization of 21st century international terrorism, see Audrey Kurth
Cronin, “Behind the Curve: Globalization and International Terrorism,” International
Security, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Winter 2002/2003), pp. 30-58.
25See, for example, Sebastian Rotella, “Al Qaeda’s Stealth Weapons; Muslim Converts Who
are Drawn to Fanaticism Pose Special Dangers Well Beyond their Symbolic Impact. ‘The
Blue-eyed Emir’ is One Example,” The Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2003, p. A1; and
The statement that a group is “on the list” or “off the list” can be very
misleading, and its significance is often misunderstood. It is true that the FTO list
is generally considered the primary means of imposing sanctions against terrorist
organizations. However, not being on the FTO list does not necessarily mean that
the U.S. government has failed to recognize that a group is engaged in terrorism, is
a threat, and should be subject to sanctions. Sometimes, for various reasons, groups26
are not on the FTO list, but are on the SDT or SDGT list. They can also be on the
Terrorist Exclusion List. There may be competing priorities in dealing with a group,
such as a desire to engage a group in negotiations or to use the FTO naming as
leverage for another foreign policy aim. Without a full appreciation of the interplay
among different sanctioning lists, not to mention the interplay between competing
foreign policy goals and all of the sanctioning lists, statements about whether or not
a group is on a particular list may ring hollow.
It is not necessarily the case that the FTO list is the most effective or
prosecutable mechanism to act against terrorist organizations, if that is the aim.
Sometimes it is easier to prosecute organizations or their associates by using the
Executive Orders under IEEPA. For example, it can be more difficult to prove that
someone is materially supporting, or working for or on behalf of, an FTO under
AEDPA than it is to prove that someone is violating the terms of Executive Order
13224. In that case, it might be to the benefit of U.S. counterterrorism efforts to
name a group a SDGT rather than an FTO. If a group is then also put on the
Terrorism Exclusion List, the combined effects of the sanctions overall could be
comparable to being formally named an FTO.27 Of course, the public attention and
diplomatic leverage that goes along with being on the better-known FTO list is not
equalled; however, the point is that in terms of the results with respect to fighting an
organization’s activities, the U.S. sanctions regime is far more complicated than
either being “on” the list or “off” the list would imply.
Competing foreign policy concerns often result in decisions to keep groups off
the list. This is not necessarily a problem, as U.S. foreign policy considers numerous
competing priorities in any given situation. The law “authorizes” but does not
require the Secretary of State to make any given designation. If there are
countervailing foreign policy priorities, then his or her judgment prevails.
Nonetheless, inconsistencies of standards from the perspective strictly of terrorism
can make the U.S. government appear hypocritical, especially in the eyes of those
who see the FTO list only in black and white terms and may not appreciate the
existence of other terrorist lists. Statements about organizations that are not
designated regularly appear in the press, journals and academic writing, for
Al Qaeda after the Iraq Conflict, CRS Report for Congress, RS 21529May 23, 2003.
26Groups, or (to use more specific legal language) those who work for or on their behalf; are
owned or controlled by them; provide material, technological, or financial support to them;
or are otherwise affiliated with them, are candidates to be included on the list.
27Another significant difference between the FTO and the SDGT list is that under the UN
Sanctions regime (1390 Committee), the U.S. is obligated to designate terrorists and does
so through E.O. 13224. The FTO program remains unilateral.
example.28 Having such a high-profile list can politicize and oversimplify what is
actually a complex web of legal sanctions that may be in addition to, or instead of,
those pursuant to the AEDPA.
Furthermore, as noted, above, the FTO list is subject to judicial review. Thus,
on a number of occasions, groups have filed law suits to be removed from it. For
example, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) in 1999 both filed suits in the District of Columbia arguing
that they had been denied due process; but they lost in court.29 A separate legal
challenge was undertaken by the LTTE and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK), which argued that the FTO portion of the AEDPA was unconstitutional. The
suit was brought by individuals and groups seeking to make contributions to the
designated organizations. They also lost their case; however, the ability to win in
court has at times evidently been an element in the initial decision whether or not to
designate a group.30 This may mean that the designation has more to do with the
legalities of the evidence than with the protection of U.S. national security from a
Policy Options for Congress
In the 108th Congress, a number of amendments have been offered to change the
AEDPA legislation so as to improve the effectiveness and ease of implementation of
the FTO list. Some have proposed that the law should be changed so that the
designation does not lapse if the Secretary of State fails to renew it every two years.
It is a significant bureaucratic burden to ensure that the designations are appropriately
reviewed, investigated, the administrative record updated, the appropriate agencies
consulted, and the public statement of renewal made every two years after the initial
designation. Some might argue that the burden of proof should be placed on the
terrorist organization, and that the designations should stand unless a successful
appeal is placed by the organization. The requirement for renewal is one of the
aspects that some believe make the FTO list less desirable than the other sanctioning
tools available under IEEPA and the relevant Executive Orders.
On the other hand, opponents may point out that the powers of the federal
government under the Patriot Act are already extensive, and that placing the burden
of proof on designated FTOs essentially makes them guilty until they prove
28See, for instance, Gary Leech, “Good Terrorists, Bad Terrorists: How Washington Decides
Who is Who,” Colombia Journal Online, May 7, 2001, accessible at
[ h t t p : / / www.col o mb i a j our nal .or g/ col o mb i a 62.ht m] .
29See the 1999 report, “Foreign Terrorist Organization, Designations by the Secretary of
State,” Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, October 8, 1999;
accessible at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rpt/fto].
30Pillar, pp. 154-155. There was also an unusual recent case involving the MEK where the
court held that the FTO designation decision under the AEDPA was obtained in violation
of the Constitution, and that such a designation could not be a predicate for a criminal
prosecution. See United States of America v. Roya Rahmani, 2097.Supp.2d 1045 (C.D. Cal.
themselves innocent. The state sponsors of terrorism list has been largely static in
part because states remain on the list until the Secretary of State is able to attest to
listed states having stopped being involved in supporting terrorism. It is always
difficult to prove a negative. Some might argue that the FTO list is a more flexible
document with the current arrangement regarding renewals and should be kept that
way. The FTO list provides a public venue for the State Department periodically to
reemphasize the importance U.S. foreign policy places upon countering these
Another idea is to remove the requirement for judicial review of the FTO list.
This would make it much harder for terrorist organizations to appeal their placement
on the list. The arguments for and against this suggestion are similar to those
presented above, since judicial review is an important mechanism available for
organizations whose members believe that they have been wrongly labeled and
punished. There is a precedent for trying this suggestion. The Foreign Narcotics
Kingpin Designation Act (passed in December 1999) originally contained a “no
judicial review provision.” This caused concern among some owners of private
businesses who feared that they might somehow be added to the list for unwitting
business relationships with narcotics traffickers. Shortly thereafter, legislation was
passed to remove the provision, and judicial review was restored.
Appendix A. Designated Foreign Terrorist
Abu Nidal organization (ANO)
Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
Armed Islamic Group (GIA)
Aum Supreme Truth (Aum) Aum Shinrikyo, Aleph
Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)
Communist Party of Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA)
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group, IG)
HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)
Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)
Hizballah (Party of God)
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
Jemaah Islamiya (JI)
Al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad)
Kahane Chai (Kach)
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK, KADEK)
Lashkar I Jhangvi (LJ)
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
National Liberation Army (ELN — Colombia)
Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
Real IRA (RIRA)
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17 November)
Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)
Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)]
Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path or SL)
United Self-Defense Forces/Group of Colombia (AUC)
Source: U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002, published
April 2003; accessible at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/], p. 99ff. (Some spellings
have been adapted.)