325,000 Names on Terrorism List
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials.
The list kept by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) -- created in 2004 to be the primary U.S. terrorism intelligence agency -- contains a far greater number of international terrorism suspects and associated names in a single government database than has previously been disclosed. Because the same person may appear under different spellings or aliases, the true number of people is estimated to be more than 200,000, according to NCTC officials.
U.S. citizens make up "only a very, very small fraction" of that number, said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his agency's policies. "The vast majority are non-U.S. persons and do not live in the U.S.," he added. An NCTC official refused to say how many on the list -- put together from reports supplied by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies -- are U.S. citizens.
The NSA is a key provider of information for the NCTC database, although officials refused to say how many names on the list are linked to the agency's controversial domestic eavesdropping effort. Under the program, the NSA has conducted wiretaps on an unknown number of U.S. citizens without warrants.
The government has been trying to streamline what counterterrorism officials say are more than 26 terrorism-related databases compiled by agencies throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Names from the NCTC list are provided to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), which in turn provides names for watch lists maintained by the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies.
Civil liberties advocates and privacy experts said they were troubled by the size of the NCTC database, and they said it further heightens their concerns that such government terrorism lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for privacy rights at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the numbers "shocking but, unfortunately, not surprising."
"We have lists that are having baby lists at this point; they're spawning faster than rabbits," Sparapani said. "If we have over 300,000 known terrorists who want to do this country harm, we've got a much bigger problem than deciding which names go on which list. But I highly doubt that is the case."
Asked whether the names in the repository were collected through the NSA's domestic intelligence intercept program, the NCTC official said, "Our database includes names of known and suspected international terrorists provided by all intelligence community organizations, including NSA."
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that he could not discuss specifics but said: "Information is collected, information is retained and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans."
The NCTC name repository began under its predecessor agency in 2003 with 75,000 names, and it continues to grow. The center was created as part of a broad reorganization of U.S. intelligence agencies after the failure to disrupt the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It is the main agency for analyzing and integrating terrorism intelligence and is under direction of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.
Its central database is the hub of an elaborate network of terrorism-related databases throughout the federal bureaucracy. Terrorism-related names and other data are sent to the NCTC under standards set by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6, signed by President Bush in September 2003, according to a senior NCTC official. The directive calls upon agencies to supply data only about people who are "known or appropriately suspected to be . . . engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism."
"We work on the basis that information reported to us has been collected in accordance with those guidelines," Vice Adm. John Scott Redd, the center's director, said in a statement.