It’s what’s needed in a post-9/11 world: a unified watch list of known or appropriately suspected terrorists that can be tapped into by every official sworn to protect the U.S.—everyone from border patrol and transportation officials to federal agents and local police officers working their beats.
And it exists, thanks to the work of the inter-agency Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). “There is one watch list,” TSC Director Donna Bucella told reporters Tuesday during an informational briefing at FBI headquarters. “Our list is not a stagnant list. We add, modify, and delete every day.”
How the list is embedded in the everyday work of law enforcement officials and intelligence officers reveals a level of information-sharing unprecedented before the 9/11 attacks. Agencies still have their own supported systems to screen known or appropriately suspected terrorists, but those systems are now fed by the TSC’s consolidated and comprehensive database in a unified format. That makes the same information available to the full spectrum of the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
Here’s how a typical scenario might play out: A police officer makes a traffic stop and asks the driver for his license. The officer checks the information against the FBI’s NCIC database . If the query comes back with a TSC flag, the officer calls the TSC, which analyzes the potential threat on the spot and links the officer to the agency that filed the original report. The officer is then guided on how to proceed—whether to detain or to seek more information. The same process occurs for border crossings, passport and overseas visa applications, and international flights.
The terrorist identities information that flows into the TSC comes from the FBI (domestic terrorist information) and the National Counter Terrorism Center (international), which gets information from more than a dozen intelligence agencies, like the CIA and DHS, under the umbrella of the Director of National Intelligence.
By serving as the day-to-day, 24-hour conduit that links front-line law enforcement to critical field intelligence on terrorists, TSC staff is able to do more than maintain the database and link calls. Their access to a constant flow of intelligence helps them assemble a big picture view of potential threats and help connect the dots for the agencies they support.
The TSC itself is another model of bridging cultural divides and sharing information. It is staffed round-the-clock with field-trained analysts and agents from the different components of the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
“When you walk through the door you wear the TSC hat,” said Bucella, a former federal prosecutor who established the TSC on December 1, 2003, just 36 days following a presidential directive in 2003.
Links: Terrorist Screening Center | TSC Frequently Asked Questions