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ON THE BORDER
Keeping America Safe by Keeping Terrorists Out

02/17/04

Photograph of Robert J. Garrity,  Jr. Deputy Assistant Director

So how exactly does the FBI help keep terrorists from setting foot -- and perhaps later launching attacks -- on American soil?

In two main ways, explained Robert Garrity, Deputy Assistant Director of our Records Management Division, at a Friday hearing of the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights in Los Angeles.

First, we take the names of all those applying for U.S. VISAs and run them through our National Name Check Program (NNCP). Anyone whose name comes back with a "hit"--meaning it appears in an FBI investigation, generally either as a known terrorist, an associate, or a witness -- is checked out further to see whether he or she poses a threat. This helps weed out terrorist travelers before they show up at our doorstep.

But what if someone shows up at a U.S. seaport, airport, or border checkpoint, with all the right papers, but acting suspiciously? Or what if his or her name registers a "hit" by screeners? Or what if an agent or officer stops someone who appears to have crossed the border illegally? Who would screeners and officers contact to make absolutely sure that the person isn't a terrorist?

That's where the second part of the answer comes in: the Terrorist Screening Center, or TSC. TSC was stood up on 12/1/03 to provide "one stop shopping," 24/7, for screeners, agents, and police around the world to call when they need to check names and get more identifying information from the universe of U.S. investigative files and watch lists. TSC capabilities are increasing in speed and precision as interagency files are consolidated into a single digital database.

Do our efforts -- and those of our many partners -- guarantee that a terrorist won't get into the U.S.? Unfortunately, no. Terrorists can obtain bogus or fraudulent VISAs. They may slip unseen across our extensive borders. They may not be known to the FBI or law enforcement... and thus not be named in our records. But our efforts -- and the collective efforts of U.S. law enforcement and the international community -- continue to turn terrorists away and make a real difference in preventing potential attacks on American soil.

Want more details? Read Mr. Garrity's full statement. Or see the fact sheet and recent congressional testimony on the TSC. You can also take a look at Mr. Garrity's earlier congressional statement on our name check program.