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A New York City Police Department sergeant has admitted he illegally obtained a name contained in an FBI terrorist watchlist and gave it to an acquaintance to use in a child custody case.

Haytham Khalil, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge stemming from the unauthorized access and dissemination of information from the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The database contains information from the agency's terrorist screening center identifying individuals listed on a terrorist watchlist.

According to documents filed in federal court in Manhattan, Khalil lacked the authority to access the information, so he used a fellow cop's username and password to gain entry. Remarkably, the fellow officer left his credentials on a notepad so his co-workers could access the system when he wasn't around.

In December 2007, Khalil used his colleague's login credentials to access the NCIC database so he could obtain information identifying an unnamed person contained on the FBI terrorist watchlist. Khalil then turned the information over to an acquaintance who was locked in a child custody battle with the person. The acquaintance then turned the information over to an attorney to use it in a pending proceeding.

Khalil faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000 or more at sentencing, which is scheduled for April 14.

The episode is exactly the kind of red meat that feeds critics of government watchlists, who say such databases are rife with potential for abuse. Law enforcement officials say such databases are carefully restricted, but as Khalil's guilty plea demonstrates, the measures can often be easily circumvented. ®

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