Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) places operations against domestic dissent on a higher priority than law enforcement [link].
The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) is a multi-agency center serving many public and private sector security agencies, and is a
division of the National Security Branch of the Federal Bureau of
The TSC maintains the U.S. government's consolidated
Terrorist Watchlist, and is responsible for identifying suspected or
"Inside the Terrorist Screening Center"
2007-08-30 by Dina Temple-Raston [www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14040581]:
visit the Terrorist Screening Center, you have to make some promises.
The first is not to divulge where the center is — aside from saying it
is in a secure location in Northern Virginia. A reporter has never been
allowed inside the center, and NPR was not allowed to record the
analysts who work there, in case someone said something that was
To get into the small, top-secret room where about 50
analysts from the FBI, Immigration and other agencies work, my escort
has to punch a code into a small keypad and pull open a heavy steel
door. He announces my presence by shouting a single word: "Uncleared."
that signal, the flat screens in the cubicles around the room go dark. A
giant, interactive map on a pull-down screen at the front of the office
space switches to a nondescript picture of the center's logo. Flat
screens show high-definition images of flowers and landscapes. Normally,
the screen at the front of the office displays a large map of the
United States sprinkled with dots, each dot representing the whereabouts
of a terrorist or suspected terrorist in the continental United States.
If I weren't in the room, it would look like the spy center in the
movie Patriot Games.
"We pretty much are the one-stop-shop mechanism for any kind of terrorist encounter," Watch Commander Mike Ross says.
says the terrorist-locator dots on the map in the room change color
depending on how long it has been since a local law enforcement officer
called in a positive encounter, or "hit." If you have ever wondered when
you get pulled over in a traffic stop whether your name is being fed
into a terrorist database, rest assured — it is. When the police officer
puts your name and driver's license into his computer, he is linking to
"The police officer would actually be accessing a computer
database where we house the list of known or appropriately suspected
terrorists," Ross says. "That hit would come back on his sheet, and it
would say, 'You may have encountered a known or suspected terrorist;
call the Terrorist Screening Center.' "
When the officer calls, he is
connected to an analyst who often already knows the suspect is in the
area. It could be a neighborhood where the suspect works or lives. If a
lot of calls come in from a particular area, that could be signaling
something as well — a meeting of some sort, for example, and that would
be important to know. The Center's director, Leonard Boyle, says the TSC
fields several hundred calls a week and then sends the information to
the intelligence community.
That, of course, has been the brickbat in
the fight against terrorism — the idea that one part of the
intelligence community knew something another part didn't know might
have contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks. One of the Sept. 11 hijackers,
Ziad Samir Jarrah, was given a speeding ticket in Maryland two days
before the attacks. He was going 95 mph. The theory is that if the TSC
was around then, he would not have been permitted to leave with a ticket
in his back pocket.
"The information walls are down to the extent
they can be," Boyle says. "We have moved from a need-to-know mindset to
an obligation-to-share mindset."
Share within the community, that is.
Average Americans have a dearth of information about the watchlist. For
example, the TSC won't say how big it actually is. Most informed
unofficial estimates put the total at several hundred thousand people.
is more certain is the number of hits the TSC gets from the list and
its link with local law enforcement. In 2004, the year the TSC opened
its doors, it had some 5,400 hits. This year, the FBI expects to log
more than 22,000.
Those kinds of numbers worry civil liberties
advocates like David Sobel, the senior counsel with the Electronic
"The bottom-line problem is the government since
9-11 has gotten into the business of making lists of suspicious
people," he says. "This has happened without much discussion of the
criteria or how affected people might get some recourse and get their
names off if they mistakenly have been put on such a list."
the names that go on the watch list are put there based on rigorous —
but classified — criteria. Boyle says the TSC won't tell anyone whether
they are on the list, but it has set up a redress unit to help people
who say they have been mistakenly included.
"What we can do for
people if they are being misidentified — we can give them information to
help them avoid or minimize the inconvenience that they face," he says.
says the TSC intends to go further later this month. Specific
high-ranking officials in various agencies will be given responsibility
for taking care of these cases. He says that will create more
accountability, help find errors, and make sure the terrorists they are
tracking are really terrorists.
"Terrorist Screening Center Recognized for Information Sharing Efforts"
Yesterday, on the first day of its annual conference, the National Fusion Center Coordination Group recognized the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), with an award for TSC's information sharing and outreach initiatives to bridge the counterterrorism efforts of federal agencies and state and local law enforcement.
TSC is a component of the FBI which maintains the U.S. government's consolidated terrorist watchlist.
"The TSC's focus on sharing information among federal, state, and local authorities has been key to the effectiveness of the terrorist watchlist as a counterterrorism tool," said TSC Deputy Director Cory Nelson, who leads the organization's fusion center outreach efforts. "We're grateful to be recognized by the National Fusion Center Conference for those efforts."
A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office found that "TSC plays a central role in the real-time sharing of this information [collected during encounters], creating a bridge among screening agencies, the law enforcement community, and the intelligence community." The report also concluded that the consolidated terrorist watchlist had "helped combat terrorism" and "enhanced the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts."
The TSC initiatives recognized by the "We Hear You" award include:
* Real-time notification of encounters with watchlisted individuals. TSC notifies fusion centers by telephone as soon as the TSC Call Center has confirmed an encounter with a known or suspected terrorist by a state, county, or municipal law enforcement agency in their geographic jurisdiction.
* Daily reports about encounters across the country. TSC posts unclassified versions of its daily report of encounters with known or suspected terrorists across the country on law enforcement networks, providing greater visibility on terrorist encounters than ever before.
* Tailored analytical products. TSC provides special analysis reports on encounters with known or suspected terrorists-including analysis of possible trends-to state and local law enforcement through fusion centers.
The U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (TSC was, established December 2003 by Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6. It serves as the U.S. Government's consolidation point for known and suspected terrorist watchlist information, both foreign and domestic. The consolidated watchlist contains records that are updated daily and shared with federal, state, local, territorial, tribal law enforcement and intelligence community agencies as well as international partners to ensure that individuals with links to terrorism are appropriately screened. The TSC is a multi-agency organization administered by the National security branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"The U.S. Terrorist Screening Center: Connecting the Dots for Law Enforcement Agencies at All Levels"
2007-10 by Leonard C. Boyle, Director, U.S. Terrorist Screening Center, Washington, D.C.
From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 10, October 2007. Copyright held by
the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington
Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.
What calls people to a career in law enforcement? The answer undoubtedly varies, but the well-known credo “to protect and serve” certainly resounds with everyone who has worn the uniform. I know that service of those noble goals sustained and motivated me when I joined the East Hartford, Connecticut, Police Department in 1975. The notion that I was protecting those who could not protect themselves gave me an identity and purpose that I carried during my career as a federal prosecutor, as commissioner of the Connecticut State Police, and now as the director of the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center, the U.S. government’s consolidation point for known and suspected terrorist watchlist information.
In 1975 the terrorist group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional), a Puerto Rican clandestine terrorist group that advocated complete independence for Puerto Rico, claimed credit for the bombing of the historic Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, killing four innocent people. They did it—so they said—in the name of independence for Puerto Rico. Two decades later, Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 people in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He did it—so he said—because of his discontent with the U.S. government. And, of course, in 2001, al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens in coordinated attacks against the United States. They did it—so they said—in the name of jihad.
All these criminals claimed to have acted for a greater cause, one for which they cared deeply. Perhaps that is true. But they were unconcerned with the issue of who failed to stop them—as long as no one did. They did not care whether they killed in Oklahoma or New York; it didn’t matter to them whether they violated state laws, federal laws, or both. All that concerned them was that they were successful, not who bore the blame for failing to stop them. For all these years, law enforcement agencies concerned themselves too much with laying the blame for such failures—and our enemies exploited it.
Before September 11, 2001, state and federal law enforcement officials shared information on a limited basis. Today, we all recognize the value of sharing information among federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies. Routine traffic stops are now seen as opportunities to gather intelligence or perhaps serve as the last line of defense to ensure that those who would do us harm do not fly another plane into buildings. While we may never know if we could have prevented some or all of the 9/11 hijackers from inflicting mindless destruction, the U.S. government has clearly made great strides to ensure that appropriate information is shared.
The U.S. director of national intelligence has directed that the federal intelligence community no longer operate on a “need-to-know basis” but rather on an “obligation to provide.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has funded dozens of state, county, and municipal intelligence fusion centers around the country. And U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller has mandated that FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) and Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs) share intelligence with federal and state law enforcement partners in ways never before envisioned. The U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), part of the FBI’s National Security Branch, plays a central role in funneling terrorist information to those who most need it: U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents; the Transportation Security Administration; and state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers.
The FBI lists every subject of its terrorist investigations in the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF). Even during a routine traffic stop, police officers can query the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system and automatically check the driver’s name against the VGTOF. Should the subject’s name generate a “hit,” officers receive a message that instructs them to call the TSC to verify the driver’s identity.
The TSC call center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week—no busy signals, no recordings. Each call is answered by a trained TSC analyst who has full electronic access to all known information about the subject. If the identity is confirmed, the TSC analyst will connect police officers (or dispatchers) to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Operations Unit, which coordinates federal law enforcement response through the case agent or the local JTTF. Once the case agent and JTTF are notified, they will work with encountering officers to develop as much useful intelligence as possible. All these actions take place within a matter of minutes, providing officers with valuable information and guidance that allows them to determine the best course of action, which can include gathering more information or further questioning the subject.
Since the inception of the TSC we have seen state, county, and municipal officers develop intelligence of extraordinary value to ongoing terrorist investigations. Identifying passengers in a car occupied by a suspected terrorist may yield critical links to other groups or activities. Items seized during a car search or a search incident to arrest have yielded a treasure trove of intelligence used to track suspects, develop probable cause for warrants and wiretaps, or mine existing sources for more specific information.
With the development of state fusion centers nationwide—another effort to share information—the TSC is coordinating activities to maximize local knowledge of terrorist suspects, vulnerabilities, and trends. Depending on the protocols established by the constituent agencies, fusion center personnel may serve as another point of contact with the TSC and federal law enforcement agencies during an encounter with a suspected terrorist. By accessing local intelligence databases, fusion centers can serve as valuable sources of additional intelligence while at the same time coordinating actions on the street so that encountering officers are not distracted at the risk of their safety and have whatever additional resources they need.
Since starting operations in December 2003, the TSC has seen the historical pre-9/11 “stovepipes” give way to today’s active information-sharing environment. Our consolidated watchlist provides access to the type of information that may have helped Maryland state troopers identify Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker who piloted the plane that crashed into a field in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania, following a routine traffic stop in 2001. Making the call to the TSC could mean the difference between stopping a terrorist and experiencing another catastrophic event on U.S. soil. Local law enforcement agencies are truly the last line of defense to keep hometowns and the homeland safe. We might never know what potential terrorist attacks law enforcement officers have thwarted. We can be certain, however, that successful apprehension of suspected terrorists will result from shared information that “connects the dots.”