Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Terror database lists 200,000 names

Run-ins with authorities have led to 60 arrests, director says
Terry Frieden
March 15, 2006

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Terrorist Screening Center marked its second anniversary as keeper of the government's terrorist watch list Tuesday by disclosing it had received about 6,000 "positive hits" of known or suspected terrorists.

But Director Donna Bucella stressed that only about 1 percent of the cases led to an arrest.

In a meeting with reporters at FBI headquarters, Bucella said in most of the encounters, law enforcement officials gathered additional information on the "appropriately suspected" person and released him or her.

Bucella said several of the 6,000 "matches" were repeat inquiries on the same person.

Bucella said the watch list, which is updated daily, contains about 350,000 "identities," which include partial names and identifying marks, but only about 200,000 names of "real people, known individuals."

Most are overseas and have never tried to enter the United States.

The TSC list, conceived after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, combines about a dozen databases from nine agencies that any government official -- from a Customs agent to a state trooper -- can use to check the name of someone who has been screened or stopped, The Associated Press reported.

When there is a possible match, the screening center verifies the information is accurate and advises what steps to take, the AP reported.

Bucella told reporters the screening center, which has ordered flights thought to be carrying terrorism suspects diverted, is improving its methods.

"We're doing a lot better," she said. "We haven't had a plane diverted in a long time."

Bucella said plans to deal with potential suspects on flights into the country are taking place before the flights take off, rather than up to 45 minutes after.

Bucella said one of several improvements the multiagency Terrorist Screening Center has made in recent months is the addition of representatives of the federal air marshals service, who need to be aware of terror suspects traveling within the country, and NORAD, which is responsible for scrambling military jets.

The center was formed in September 2003 to consolidate terrorist watch lists and provide support for flight screeners worldwide. Plans at the time were for the center to be operational by December 2003.

A separate federal program designed to use the center's database and take over screening airline passengers has run into repeated delays.

The Transportation Security Administration said last month that the Secure Flight program was heading back to the drawing board after four years and more than $130 million in development.

TSA Director Edmund "Kip" Hawley told a Senate committee he was "rebaselining" the planned Secure Flight program, and indicated he will drop plans to check passengers' names against commercial databases such as credit reports, one of the most contentious aspects of the program.

The announcement came amid protests from privacy advocates and a stinging evaluation from the Government Accountability Office, which must certify the program before it can take effect.


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