- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director, Nihad Awad, one of a select group of American Muslim leaders invited to join former US President George W. Bush in a press conference condemning the 9/11 attacks. CAIR, the recipient of multiple leadership awards, is also terror-listed by World-Check.
- Liberal Democrat politician Maajid Nawaz, who founded counter-extremism think tank Quilliam and has advised successive British prime ministers.
- Former World Bank and Bank of England advisor Mohamed Iqbal Asaria, who was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) award in the 2005 Queen's Honours List for services to international development.
However, numerous individuals and organizations have reacted with anger and shock to the discovery that they have a "terrorism" designation on World-Check's database, which is compiled using public domain sources. They have told VICE News that they dispute their inclusion, and believe that it may have harmed their reputation or business dealings. None of them have ever faced terror charges.
'Inaccurate, bigoted garbage'
Former World Bank and Bank of England advisor Asaria told VICE News he was "angry and upset" at the designation and accompanying allegations. "It makes me more than worried. If this is what the banks have at best, they're not looking at something serious here."
'Plucking names from baseless online allegations'
Banks are not legally obliged to tell their customers why they have closed their accounts and World-Check binds its users to secrecy about use of the database. Both PSC and the Cordoba Foundation are currently terror listed by World-Check among a number of other major British non-profits.Several of these individuals and organizations expressed concerns that their listing had affected their lives in other ways."I believe it cut off 50 percent of potential business for me," Asaria CBE told Vice News. "Several people in my industry said, 'I'll get so-and-so to contact you but never came back.' I'm sure they consulted World-Check and asked, do we want this?"'No independent input'In an email to non-profit Cage seen by VICE News, World-Check claims to be an impartial resource that stores profiles of individuals and organizations with "no independent input or opinion." However, critics argue this claim is at odds with its "terrorism" designation, in which profiles are accompanied by a logo of a red balaclava."World-Check slaps a big red 'terrorism' label right next to people's names," Ben Hayes, an independent consultant specializing in terrorist sanctions and financial surveillance told VICE News. "That is their judgment; no-one else's.""The repercussions of categorizing an individual or organization as a terrorist are severe, prejudicial and punitive for a range of individuals, most of whom may never have even known that they were profiled by World Check," Ravi Naik, Head of Public Law at London-based ITN Solicitors which represents PSC, told VICE News. PSC is currently considering legal action.
'I believe it cut off 50 percent of potential business for me'
VICE News examined Asaria's profile. The unsubstantiated allegations that have contributed to his terrorism designation are all sourced to two right-wing blogs: PipeLineNews and Militant Islam Monitor. The named author of the PipelineNews piece is also the director of Militant Islam Monitor. The allegations are not sourced to any news site, official sanctions list or government entity.
'Once you start spreading it, it starts to stick'
The UK's Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is another organization whose bank accounts were closed without explanation last year by the Co-Operative Bank. The closure of its accounts is a decision ultimately taken by the banks, but VICE News discovered that the organization had received a "terrorism" designation on World-Check based on allegations made by IPT and another blog.
'Something from Never-Never Land'
"[It] is a bit like someone wanting to brand the Shadow Chancellor a terrorist on the basis of his former comments about the IRA," said Tom Dawlings, a former Bank of England Financial Sanctions Unit Head who advised World-Check in 2008. "If that's what's happening to prospective MPs then I would suggest it has gone too far."A World-Check senior staffer VICE News spoke to said that profiles were reviewed, but that this would be a quick process and sourcing would not typically be checked. Individual reviewers checked between 300 and 600 profiles a day, they said."For World-Check this is a terrific virtuous circle," said Tom Keatinge, the Director of the Centre for Financial Crime & Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). "The problem of course is that if you add an extra 25,000 names per month you had better keep them up-to-date".The profile of a terror-listed professor from one of the elite British Russell Group of universities seen by VICE News had not been updated in over six years. Another terror profile, this time for a Western anti-war umbrella group, had not had its profile updated in eight years.When banks or regulators find a terror profile, it can take the option to conduct an "enhanced due diligence report." However a bank's compliance officer is unlikely to do so, according to former World-Check executive and board member Mike Short.
'For World-Check this is a terrific virtuous circle'
However, two senior World-Check employees who asked not to be named told VICE News that in over eight years working at the firm they had not seen a single case of an individual successfully challenging their terror designation."Once a terrorist always a terrorist – no matter what he says, he stays where he is," said a current senior analyst. They spoke to VICE News on condition of non-attribution."Because of World-Check's confidentiality clause, the overwhelming majority of people affected by World-Check's profiling will have no idea why they have been refused a bank account or had a transaction blocked," said consultant Hayes. "So it is preposterous to suggest that World-Check is genuinely interested in removing innocent parties."Even someone on the Al-Qaeda, Taliban UN 1267 sanctions list has more rights to an ombudsman than someone caught up in this," said RUSI's Keatinge.
'Once a terrorist always a terrorist'
"It's clear they've been aggressively expanding their database to include as many people as possible," said Hayes, who has documented the rise of World-Check.World-Check's Terrorism and Insurgency Research Unit Head John Solomon boasted in 2007 that the system had "a distinguished record of alerting its clients to terrorists and their supporters prior to their inclusion in official government lists." The confidential service would also monitor "violent animal rights extremists" and "ethno-nationalist groups.""World-Check very effectively taps into an extreme neurosis the banks have," Keatinge told VICE News. "They are protecting themselves from known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns."
'World-Check very effectively taps into an extreme neurosis the banks have'
An industry blacklist used and sold by leading construction firms in the UK, which highlighted people for union activities or for raising health and safety concerns at work, was uncovered in 2009. A group of 600 affected workers from a blacklist of over 3,000 workers, including teachers and postal staff, brought legal action against the companies. The action prompted an "unprecedented" apology from the firms and the workers are reportedly close to securing damages totaling tens of millions of pounds after taking legal action."When private companies have bigger intelligence databases than organizations like Europol, and sell them on the open market, alarms bells should be ringing," said Hayes. "Instead they have been given free rein."Amnesty International UK's Economic Affairs Director Peter Frankental said: "Any company using or maintaining blacklists is at risk of abusing human rights."The end result for those targeted could well be violations of their right to privacy and loss of livelihood from being deprived of employment opportunities. Victims of such activity should have access to civil litigation to claim a remedy for damage done to them, and those companies that engage in blacklisting activities or make use of such lists illegally should be held criminally accountable."Follow Namir Shabibi and Ben Bryant on Twitter: @nshabibi and @benbryantCorrection: An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect that Daniel Pipes runs DanielPipes.org, not the website World News Daily Report. Pipes is a contributor to WorldNetDaily but has nothing to do with World News Daily Report.
'They have been given free rein'