Terrorist Screening Center

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On September 16, 2003, the U.S. Department of State announced in two separate news releases (New Terrorist Screening Center Established and Fact Sheet: The Terrorist Screening Center) that, by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6[1], the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) had been established by President George W. Bush.

The Center was slated to be operational by December 1, 2003. "The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will administer the TSC. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and others will coordinate with and assign operational and staff support to the TSC."[2]

"In a press release dated September 16, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet announced the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) to consolidate terrorist watchlists and provide 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operational support for thousands of federal screeners across the country and around the world.
"The new center will ensure that government investigators, screeners and agents are working from the same comprehensive information -- and that they have access simultaneously to information and expertise that will allow them to act quickly when a suspected terrorist is screened or stopped."

According to Ashcroft, "The Terrorist Screening Center will provide 'one-stop shopping' so that every federal anti-terrorist screener is working off the same page -- whether it's an airport screener, an embassy official issuing visas overseas, or an FBI agent on the street."

The mission of the Center was "not [to] provide any new law enforcement or collection powers to any government official," but, rather, to "simply [consolidate] information that law enforcement, the Intelligence Community, the State Department, and others already possess" into a "single consolidated anti-terrorist watchlist."

"'What's different about the TSC is the ability to make that information available in real time, constantly updated, 24 hours a day and across the board,' said FBI Director Robert Mueller. 'By providing this around-the-clock service to anti-terrorist screeners throughout the federal government, the new Center will ensure not only that those who need it will have access to the best, most current information, but they will also have access to on-call experts who can support them in taking immediate and appropriate action to stop terrorists and prevent attacks at any hour of the day or night.'"[3]

The "'Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), was created to ensure that all members of the federal government's intelligence community have access to the same information,' said Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. 'The job of the new Terrorist Screening Center is to make sure we get this information out to our agents on the borders and all those who can put it to use on the front lines -- and to get it there fast.'"[4]

"The TSC will not independently collect any information on U.S. citizens. In fact, the TSC does not collect information at all - it only receives information provided by the TTIC and the FBI. The TTIC will provide to the TSC all appropriate and necessary information connected to international terrorism about any individuals - U.S. citizens or not - that TTIC partner agencies hold pursuant to their own authorities and the FBI will provide to the TSC appropriate and necessary information concerning domestic terrorism, regardless of whether it involves U.S. citizens. If the TSC receives information on U.S. citizens connected with terrorism, its use of that information is subject to the same legal limitations to which it would be subject if the information were not included in the database. Purely domestic terrorism information will not go through TTIC, but will be placed directly into the TSC database by the FBI."[5]

"The Department of State and the CIA are collaborating to ensure that the identities of thousands of known and suspected terrorists are integrated into the State Department's TIPOFF system and accessible to consular officers and Department of Homeland Security border inspectors worldwide. The TIPOFF program will form the basis for the TSC database."[6]

"Officials from the FBI, Justice Department, intelligence community and DHS announced in the fall that the screening center would serve as a clearinghouse for terrorist watch-list information. The center began operation in mid-November, about two weeks before its official launch date of Dec. 1, sources said. ... Ridge said the center already has helped state and local officials seeking to identify suspicious individuals." 30 December 2003

"'The FBI has said the Terrorist Screening Center is operational. But without a comprehensive unified watch list, its effectiveness is limited and its promise to the American people is not fulfilled,'" Rep. Jim Turner (D-TX) said.

"According to a statement Turner released, fewer than 20 percent of terrorist records--from only a few of the government's 12 watch lists--have been integrated into the screening center's test system.

"Turner released a letter that he received last month from the FBI's Congressional Affairs Office in response to his request for information about the screening center. The FBI told Turner that 'the Terrorist Screening Data Base (TSDB) will provide the TSC with the flexibility to conduct advanced algorithmic searches on vast amounts of data.'

"The FBI added that it had established a 'nomination process' to add individuals to the database; a review process for accepting or rejecting nominations; procedures for modifying or deleting watch list records; a data correction process; and the creation of ombudsman positions to manage misidentification of persons listed in the database.

"Turner said he doesn't believe that agencies' rivalries and foot-dragging are to blame for the list merger delay. ... The lack of a unified watch list, Turner said, hampers the effectiveness of other homeland security programs, such as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System and the Computer Assisted Passenger PreScreening System II program for checking air travelers in advance of airliner flights." 13 January 2004

According to the February 2, 2004 online edition of U.S. News, "Spinning Terror's Rolodex. Creating a master list of bad guys is turning out to be a tall order." News reporter Samantha Levine writes:

"The new database, and the multiagency Terrorist Screening Center created to run it, were to be 'operational' by Dec. 1, 2003.
"The lights did go on as scheduled at the new screening center, but the master list of terrorists the president ordered is still a work in progress. It contains only about 11,250 names culled from the State Department's TIPOFF watch list and the FBI's National Crime Information Center. That's only about a fifth of the names that should be there, says Rep. Jim Turner, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee and a vocal critic of the administration's efforts. Indeed, it will be months, some say years, before the TSC reaches its full potential. But that may be too long. 'This has to happen, or intelligence analysts will never see the big picture, and they have to,' says former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (James S. Gilmore III), who led a major investigation of domestic responses to terrorism. 'There is nothing more fundamental.'
"In fact, though, the timetable for the TSC might have been unrealistic from the get-go. This kind of 'groundbreaking' work cannot be rushed, says Liz Tobias, spokesperson for Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. 'We don't want the TSC to say `We're done!' and really have issues left to be addressed.' Adds Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism: 'I would have been shocked if it was operational by December 1.'
"Indeed, an internal FBI memo dated just days before the December 1 deadline explained that the TSC's initial capabilities would be 'limited.' A few weeks later, an FBI official responding to an inquiry from Turner said the TSC was in a 'test phase' and still working to get data from federal law enforcement agencies. Then, on December 29, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told reporters that lists were not yet integrated but that they were accessible from computers under one roof--rather than in various buildings all over town, as had previously been the case. This rate of progress is 'inexcusable,' says Turner, who, along with Connecticut senator--and Democratic presidential candidate--Joseph I. Lieberman, plans to scrutinize the TSC during the new congressional session. The latest update has the list being completed by the end of March."

See 15 January 2004: "Lawmaker: Terrorist Database Is Overdue" by Liza Porteus, FOX News: "More leadership must come from the top if the U.S. government is to complete its master list of potential bad guys, [Jim Turner] charged on Tuesday. ... "

Also see September 23, 2003, Testimony: "United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Information Sharing and Coordination for Visa Issuance: Our First Line of Defense for Homeland Security" by John Brennan, Director, Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

Other Related SourceWatch Resources

External links

  • 30 December 2003: "Ridge: Merged terrorist watch list due next year" by Wilson P. Dizard III, Government Computer News: "...the government will combine about a dozen terrorist watch lists into one next year. ... the interagency Terrorist Screening Center, run by the FBI, now is carrying out the watch list function."