Bush orders integration of U.S. terrorist watch lists

WASHINGTON (09/22/2003) - On Sept. 16, two years and five days after one of the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history led to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the White House directed that a multitude of federal terrorist watch lists be integrated into a single master list that will be maintained by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Signed last week by the president, Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6 on the integration and use of screening information directs the attorney general to work with the departments of State and Homeland Security and the joint FBI-CIA Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) to create by Dec. 1 a master list of "known and suspected terrorists." The master database would then become the primary tool used by federal consular officials to screen visa applicants and the primary terrorism data mart for state and local law enforcement agencies.

In response to the presidential directive, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft signed an eight-page document creating a new FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center to maintain the master watch list. According to that memorandum, the new screening center will consolidate data from more than a dozen existing terrorist watch lists. That master list will then become a subset of the identities database maintained by the TTIC.

"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," said Ridge in a statement.

The memorandum requires the TTIC and the FBI to incorporate all available biometric data on known or suspected terrorists and envisions the use of future biometric technology as it becomes available. And it instructs the FBI to make sure its IT infrastructure can accept continuous, real-time data feeds from federal agencies that maintain their own watch lists.

The DHS will review all additions to the database and will manage which records are made available to state and local law enforcement officials and to private-sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure facilities. Likewise, the TTIC has been tasked to "promptly assume responsibility" for the State Department's TIPOFF database, which contains more than 110,000 names of known and suspected terrorists. TIPOFF is used by consular officials to screen foreign visitors to the U.S.

"Right now, there are several major watch lists and related systems. But with each separate watch list comes the potential for another seam," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The Terrorist Screening Center will provide 'one-stop shopping' so that every federal antiterrorist 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."

In a written statement, Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said, "Consolidating our nation's terrorist watch lists will address a major problem cited in virtually every review of the performance of the U.S. intelligence community prior to 9/11."

Two of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were on a CIA watch list, but that data was not shared with the FBI in time to stop them from entering the country.

The Terrorist Screening Center is the latest in a series of data sharing and integration initiatives started by the federal government since the attacks. For example, the State Department and the CIA are working together to ensure the accuracy of the TIPOFF database, which will form the basis of the new master watch list. In addition, the FBI has made information on subjects of its terrorism investigations accessible through the National Crime Information Center system to 650,000 state and local law enforcement officers nationwide. Likewise, the Transportation Security Administration has established a "no-fly" list, which has led to the successful apprehension of several terrorist suspects.

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