The U.S. government’s terrorist watchlist holds the names of around two million people who are viewed as potential threats, a number nearly two times higher than it was just six years ago, according to a CBS News report.

The watchlist, which was first launched in 2003 in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, started with around 120,000 names on it. That number grew exponentially over the next 14 years as more than 1.1 million people were on the list by 2017. Over the past six years, the watchlist has nearly doubled to two million people, including thousands of American citizens, CBS News reported.

According to the report, which cited dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence community leaders, the terrorist watchlist has been “quietly expanding in number” and “in who it targets.” The federal government places people on the watchlist if they are “reasonably suspected to be involved in terrorism.”

Russ Travers, an intelligence community veteran who helped create the watchlist, said that not everyone on the list is a terrorist.

“It means there’s something that has led a department or agency to say, ‘This person needs a closer look,’” Travers said.

The intelligence expert added it’s likely many people in the database are dead, and national security officials said there are names on the watchlist that are outdated, but they lack the staff to keep everyone’s file updated regularly.

Monte Hawkins, who has served on the National Security Council under every president since George W. Bush, told CBS News, “Those 2 million people who are on the list are on there for a reason.” He added that of those on the watchlist, a “vast majority” are not U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Many people on the terrorist watchlist have attempted to cross the U.S. southern border in the past year as Customs and Border Protection agents have arrested 169 people on the watchlist attempting to illegally enter the country in 2023, up from 98 in 2022, Fox News’ Bill Melugin reported in October. Only 15 people on the terrorist watchlist were arrested attempting to cross into the U.S. in 2021 and three in 2020.


The new revelations about the expanding terrorist watchlist come as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warn of increased terror threats from groups such as Hamas and other foreign terrorists.

“In a year where the terrorism threat was already elevated, the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole other level,” FBI Director Chris Wray stated before Congress last month. “On top of the so-called lone actor threat, we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas, or another foreign terrorist organization, may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil.”

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