Review of the Terrorist Screening Center
(Redacted for Public Release)
Audit Report 05-27
Office of the Inspector General
On September 16, 2003, the President signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive-6 (HSPD-6), which initiated the creation of the Terrorist Screening Center and the consolidated terrorist watch list.
Through HSPD 6, the President directed the Attorney General to establish an organization with the mission to "consolidate the Government’s approach to terrorism screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of Terrorist Information in screening processes." The goal was to create a unified, sensitive but unclassified terrorist watch list, not to replace the existing watch lists maintained by various federal agencies. These agencies were expected to continue gathering and developing terrorist information and to maintain separate systems to fulfill their distinctive missions. In a news release announcing the signing of HSPD 6, the White House announced that the TSC would be operational by December 1, 2003.
To implement HSPD 6, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entitled "Integration and Use of Screening Information to Protect Against Terrorism" was signed on September 16, 2003, by the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of State, and the Director of Central Intelligence. The MOU designated the FBI as the agency responsible for administering the TSC. The MOU also described the level of cooperation that would be needed, including the sharing of staff and information from the participating agencies.
The MOU specifically directed the TSC to maintain a continually updated database containing U.S. government terrorist information. This database was expected to be an unclassified subset of the data maintained by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Therefore, the consolidated watch list would be an index of watch listed individuals, and the records would include unclassified identifying information for these individuals.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Thomas J. Ridge described the role of the TSC as "to make sure we get this information to our agents on the borders and all those who can put it to use on the front lines - to get it there fast."30 To that end, the TSC was given the responsibility to merge international and domestic terrorist information into one centralized unclassified database and to provide federal, state, and local agencies with the ability to better identify potential terrorists encountered within the United States and at the borders.31 The TSC was expected to provide around-the-clock assistance with and access to the information.
In October 2003, the Attorney General appointed the Director of the TSC, and within one month, two deputy directors were brought on board. An additional deputy director arrived in December 2003. TSC management initially developed working groups with participating agencies to establish an initial planning document detailing how the new organization would function. The TSC designed a process flow chart to illustrate how terrorist information should be received and shared, and ultimately consolidated into an unclassified database.
In order for the TSC to begin operating by December 1, 2003, it was co-located with the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF).32 The FTTTF provided space, equipment, personnel, and technological and financial support to assist in the creation of the TSC. According to the TSC and the FTTTF, the FTTTF’s financial support of the TSC in FY 2004 totaled between $6.5 and $7.8 million.
As TSC management began its efforts to implement HSPD 6 and the MOU, it quickly found that processes related to maintaining a terrorist watch list or responding to an identified terrorist were not formally articulated. As a result, TSC officials began developing procedures and criteria related to: 1) adding or removing terrorist names to or from the individual lists maintained by the participating agencies, 2) providing instructions to law enforcement agencies in the event that a terrorist was identified, and 3) coordinating communication and feedback among the many law enforcement agencies that might be involved.
The TSC planned and assembled its operations center within an existing FTTTF facility. All TSC personnel were required to have appropriate clearances because of the nature of information they would need to research when attempting to identify a person on one of the watch lists. Therefore, TSC staff spent significant time coordinating the necessary security clearance issues during this developmental period.
In November 2003, the TSC brought an FBI special agent on board as the Chief of Operations. His initial duties were to obtain the software and hardware for the TSC operations and to create the call center logs on which call activity was to be recorded. Additionally, he interviewed personnel who were detailed to the TSC from the different participating agencies in order to match skill levels to the types of duties that needed to be fulfilled.
The TSC developed an initial planning document in November 2003 that consisted of a series of documents detailing the procedures and criteria to be followed. The plan included procedures for how to communicate with various agencies when a suspected terrorist was encountered. The TSC decided early on that the FBI’s Counterterrorism Watch (CT Watch) and the DHS’s National Targeting Center (NTC) would be involved in the operational response to an encounter with a terrorist. CT Watch is the FBI’s 24-hour global command center for terrorism prevention operations, while the DHS’s NTC provides around-the-clock tactical targeting and analytical research in support of the anti-terrorism efforts of the Customs and Border Protection agency.
In addition, the TSC identified the end users, or "customers," of its services to include: 1) the Department of State (DOS), which includes the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the visa application and revocation process; 2) the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and its subcomponents such as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); 3) the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its subcomponents such as the FBI and the multi-agency FTTTF; 4) the Department of Defense, including the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces; 5) other federal agencies; 6) state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies; 7) foreign countries supporting U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts; and 8) industries and infrastructure deemed critical.
The initial planning document stated that personnel detailed from the DOJ, DOS, DHS, and other agencies would comprise the staff at the TSC; however, the document did not specify the number of staff to be provided by the participating agencies. The detailed staff would represent and support their respective Departments, while supporting the functions of the TSC and reporting to the TSC Director. For example, a State Department employee would perform numerous tasks while assigned to the TSC, such as determining which terrorist records should be included in the DOS Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) database, examining information related to visa applications and visa holders for terrorist links, coordinating with the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, Bureau of Consular Affairs, and Bureau of Intelligence and Research to enhance information sharing with foreign governments, and implementing information sharing agreements between the United States and foreign governments.