Review of the Terrorist Screening Center
(Redacted for Public Release)
Audit Report 05-27
Office of the Inspector General
On December 1, 2003, the TSC began operating as the primary point of contact for screening individuals with ties to terrorism. While operational, the TSCís capabilities at this time were limited due to its recent establishment. Its primary component was a 24-hour, 7-day a week call center staffed with personnel temporarily assigned to the TSC from participating agencies such as the FBI and the DHS.33 Although work had begun on developing the first consolidated watch list, it was not ready on December 1 for screening purposes. Instead, the TSC relied on previously existing individual databases or lists to screen persons suspected of having links to terrorism.
When the TSC first became operational, officials established daily briefings that provided a framework for ensuring that TSC staff were focused on priority matters and that on-going or quickly arising issues needing special attention were presented to management. The daily briefings remain an essential management tool at the TSC and, in our opinion, represent a best practice during the infancy of an organization with such an important national security mission. The prior dayís activities are discussed in these meetings and a list of action items is maintained. In addition to TSC staff, staff from the FBIís Counterterrorism Division and NCTC regularly attend these meetings.
According to TSC officials on-board at the time, by December 1, 2003, the TSC had established a call center staffed with detailees from the various participating agencies. These individuals were experienced in the functions of their home agencies and the related databases used for terrorist screening, which were now available to the TSC in one location.
The call center, co-located with the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF), was initially equipped with computers individually networked to the source watch listing systems. However, access to the individual systems in the call center was limited. Often, agency representatives detailed to the call center were the only individuals at the TSC with the authorization and passwords to use systems owned by their agency. As a result, call center staff relied on each other to fulfill the screening needs of the calls received.
TSC officials stated that as of December 1, 2003, the call center was staffed and ready to respond to inquiries from the law enforcement and intelligence communities. While no consolidated database was yet in existence, the TSC and its partner agencies worked together to electronically identify terrorist records within the supporting watch listing systems. As a result, when one of these terrorist records was queried by a front-line law enforcement official, the system would provide instruction to call the TSC. The call center staff recorded on a hard copy form the subjectís identifying information, the callerís name, and call-back information including the law enforcement agencyís main precinct/headquarters telephone number and evidence to ensure that the caller was a representative of a valid law enforcement agency. The call screener would then initiate a search of each agency database in an effort to determine if the person encountered was a match against any identities within the various databases. Often, this search involved multiple call center staff members because access to the participating agency databases generally was limited to employees from that agency.
The TSC forwarded to the FBIís CT Watch all calls where a positive identity match was made against a record on a watch list, or if the match could not be confirmed or refuted. Once involved, CT Watch was responsible for coordinating directly with the law enforcement officer who initially called the TSC and deciding how the FBI would operationally respond to the encounter. If an immediate law enforcement response was required, CT Watch would deploy nearby FBI agents or coordinate with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) within the area of the encounter.34
Beginning on the first day of call center operations on December 1, 2003, the TSC began tracking the calls it received as well as the adjudication of the matters. To facilitate this tracking, the TSC maintained a log that included information about the inquiring law enforcement agency, the databases the TSC staff searched and the information obtained from these systems, the status of the TSCís efforts to confirm a match against a watch list record (i.e., positive, negative, or inconclusive), and, if appropriate, a notation that the inquiry was forwarded to CT Watch. In addition, TSC staff were responsible for following up to obtain and record data about the CT Watch response to the call along with any other information about actions taken by law enforcement or additional data about the subject.
Although the call center was a major portion of the TSCís activity as of December 1, 2003, officials and staff were also in the process of designing the consolidated watch list database required by HSPD 6. These efforts are discussed in detail in Chapter 5. In addition, the TSC was working to establish a process for resolving instances of persons wrongly identified as suspected terrorists and working to educate the law enforcement and intelligence communities about the TSCís mission, role, and functions.
In January 2004, the Director of the TSC reported that most calls to the TSC came from the DHSís Customs and Border Protection and were the result of encounters with possible terrorist subjects at the nationís borders. The remaining inquiries came from the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs and state and local police departments.
In these early days, the TSC had not established a formal plan for conducting outreach, but understood the importance of informing other agencies of the service that it could provide in the overall counterterrorism effort. To heighten awareness of the TSCís usefulness to the law enforcement and intelligence communities, the TSC began to give briefings to such organizations as the Department of Defense; the FBIís Basic International Terrorism School in Quantico, Virginia; the New York Police Department; and various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies gathered together for a conference on Homeland Security. The TSC representatives also articulated the importance of each agencyís terrorism-related data and asked that such information be shared in order for the TSC to receive the information for screening purposes.
Also during this time, TSC officials stated that they were in the process of developing procedures for handling erroneous or outdated information. As of January 2004, the Director reported that several such records had already been identified and were updated or removed. TSC officials said they also discussed creating an "Office of Ombudsman" to handle instances where individuals were incorrectly matched against a watch list record due to similarities of identifying information (known as the misidentification process). However, these processes and procedures were still in their infancy, and very little progress was made during the TSCís early months. The misidentification process is discussed further in Chapter 8.
As of December 1, 2003, the TSC was up and running and had centralized the location of disparate terrorist watch list information developed by multiple agencies and used in different ways. In January 2004, the TSC Director reported to Congress that as of December 31, 2003, the TSC was able to: 1) make the names and identifying information of known or suspected terrorists accessible to federal, state, and local law enforcement; 2) have a system for properly reviewing whether a known or suspected terrorist should be included in or deleted from additional screening processes; 3) administer a process to ensure that persons who may share a name with a known or suspected terrorist were not unduly inconvenienced in U.S. government screening processes; and 4) implement a system to adjust or delete outdated or incorrect information to prevent problems arising from misidentifications.35 Many of these accomplishments continued to be works in progress, but the TSCís effort to achieve initial operating capability within about 75 days of the Presidentís mandate to create a screening organization was a significant accomplishment.