Review of the Terrorist Screening Center
(Redacted for Public Release)
Audit Report 05-27
Office of the Inspector General
Identifying suspected terrorists and keeping them out of the United States is an essential goal of the nationís counterterrorism efforts. However, soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it became apparent that federal agencies were using a variety of systems to track terrorist information. The federal government had no unified database of information to allow law enforcement agencies to undertake a comprehensive and timely check of databases when a suspected terrorist was screened or stopped.18 In reviewing the events surrounding September 11, the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry recommended the creation of a center to coordinate and integrate all terrorist-related watch list systems.19
On September 16, 2003, the President signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6 (HSPD 6), requiring the Attorney General to establish an organization to "consolidate the Governmentís approach to terrorism screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of Terrorist Information in screening processes." Specifically, the organization was assigned responsibility for consolidating terrorist watch lists and providing 24 hour, 7-day a week operational support for terrorist screening by federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, and foreign governments, and private sector organizations across the country and around the world.
The resulting Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a $27 million organization with about 175 staff as of the end of FY 2004, is only one of several organizations established after the September 11 attacks in an attempt to protect the United States from terrorism. The following timeline reflects when these various organizations were created and the stated purpose for each.
Two reviews conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) relate directly to the work of the TSC.
The GAO review, issued on April 15, 2003, reported on the sharing of terrorist watch list information between federal, state, and local agencies.20 This report pre-dated the creation of the TSC and focused on the importance of sharing terrorist information within the intelligence community and the opportunities for consolidating this information. The GAO concluded that the existing watch lists of various federal agencies needed to be standardized and consolidated, and that the level of federal watch list information sharing was inconsistent with congressional and presidential direction. In its report, the GAO cited 12 watch lists maintained by 9 different agencies that it said were in need of consolidation. These watch lists, the information they contain, who accesses them, and how they are utilized are discussed in detail in Chapter 2.
The DHS OIG review focused on the DHSís role in the terrorist watch list consolidation efforts.21 This report, issued in August 2004, criticized the DHS for not coordinating the consolidation of terrorist watch lists. It opined that DHS oversight and coordination of the overall consolidation efforts could help correct "ad hoc" management of terrorist watch list consolidation. DHS management responded to the OIG report by stating that, because it was just formed, the DHS was not in a position to manage the watch list consolidation effort at the time that HSPD 6 was drafted. The DHS noted that when the TSC was begun, the DHS was less than a year old and was still addressing significant staffing and resource challenges. DHS management noted that the President in HSPD 6 gave authority to the Attorney General to establish an organization for consolidating the governmentís approach to terrorism screening. The DHS response to the report further stated that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection were working diligently to support the Attorney Generalís efforts, as outlined in HSPD 6.
The purpose of this audit was to determine whether the TSC: 1) has implemented a viable strategy for accomplishing its mission; 2) is effectively coordinating with participating agencies; and 3) is appropriately managing the terrorist-related information to ensure that a complete, accurate, and current watch list is developed and maintained.
To accomplish our first objective, we examined the TSCís strategic planning outline, management correspondence, applicable legislation, directives, and executed agreements, as well as additional supporting documentation. We reviewed these documents to ensure that we had a thorough knowledge of the creation, vision, mission, establishment, maintenance, and future planning of the TSC. In addition, we conducted numerous interviews with TSC managers and staff members, as well as officials from outside the TSC.
We pursued our second objective by interviewing participating agency representatives and touring facilities to ensure we obtained a detailed understanding of the working relationships, assistance provided, and communication flow during the terrorist screening process.
To fulfill our third objective, we performed testing of the databases maintained by the TSC, including the consolidated watch list. We also reviewed the primary source systems of terrorist-related information. Additionally, we met with officials in various FBI units regarding the role they play in nominating individuals to the consolidated watch list, and we analyzed the paper trail for the inclusion of individuals in the database. Detailed information regarding our audit objectives, scope, and methodology is contained in Appendix I.
In Chapter 2 of the report, we provide background on the terrorist information that existed in watch lists or databases maintained by various agencies, as well as how terrorist screening was performed by these agencies, prior to the establishment of the TSC. This chapter also contains information on the events that led up to the Presidentís mandate in September 2003 to create the TSC. In Chapter 3, we discuss the planning phase of the TSC, including the organizationís mission, role, and functions; the efforts made to stand up the organization; and the coordination among various participating agencies.
Chapter 4 contains a description of the TSCís initial operating capability along with details on how the organization functioned during its earliest days. The TSCís efforts to create a consolidated watch list database are detailed in Chapter 5, and a description of the TSCís current structure, activities, and operations is contained in Chapter 6. The results of our testing of the accuracy and completeness of the consolidated watch list are contained in Chapter 7.
In Chapter 8, we examine the activity within the nerve center of the TSC Ė its screening of the increasing number of inquiries from law enforcement personnel who encounter individuals whose identifying information is included in the consolidated watch list. Chapter 9 contains information on future challenges for the TSC, including the need to develop a strategic plan to guide the organization.