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325,000 Names on Terrorism List
Analysts at the NCTC review all incoming names and can reject them if they do not have an apparent link to international terrorists, officials said. "That is not common, but it does happen," an NCTC official said, citing as examples a domestic or foreign drug dealer or a member of a U.S.-based extremist group, when neither has any sign of international terrorist connections.
The NCTC then sends a subset of the repository list to the FBI's screening center, and each entry includes a reference "to how the individual is associated with international terrorism," according to a June 2005 report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. This reference is assigned one of 25 codes such as "Member of a Foreign Terrorist Organization," "Hijacker" or "Has Engaged in Terrorism," according to the report. The report also notes that the codes are split in two categories: "Individuals who are considered armed and dangerous and those who are not."
Fine's office criticized the TSC for including nearly 32,000 records of people in the "armed and dangerous" category but giving them the lowest handling code, which means that no report needs to be sent back to the FBI if they are encountered in the United States by law enforcement officers.
The TSC consolidates NCTC data on individuals associated with foreign terrorism with the FBI's purely domestic terrorism data to create a unified, unclassified terrorist watch list. The TSC, in turn, provides, for official use only, a version giving each person's name, country, date of birth, photos and other data to the Transportation Security Agency for its no-fly list, the State Department for its visa program, the Department of Homeland Security for border crossings, and the National Crime Information Center for distribution to police.
Shannon Moran, a spokeswoman for the FBI screening center, declined to answer detailed questions about the center's work, including how many names are on its list, how many U.S. citizens are included and whether the FBI database includes names linked to the NSA program. Fine's office reported last year that the FBI database contained more than 270,000 names, including a large number of people associated with domestic terrorist movements such as radical environmentalists and neo-Nazi white supremacists.
"If being placed on a list means in practice that you will be denied a visa, barred entry, put on the no-fly list, targeted for pretextual prosecutions, etc., then the sweep of the list and the apparent absence of any way to clear oneself certainly raises problems," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who has been sharply critical of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies.
The growth of terrorist-related data networks within the U.S. intelligence community has greatly accelerated since Sept. 11, 2001. Before the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there were databases containing terrorist identities at the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI and State Department. In addition there were 13 independent watch lists, but the lists or databases were not interoperable.
Currently, according to an NCTC official, there are 26 classified data networks carrying terrorism material. In a December 2005 interview on Federal News Radio, Redd said his agency "is really the only place in government and certainly in the intelligence community where all counterterrorism intelligence comes together." He also said that analyses of terrorism issues from all 15 intelligence agencies come into the NCTC, which then puts them on its Web site.
"What that means," Redd said, "is about 5,000 analysts around the counterterrorist intelligence community can pull up that Web site and see . . . what every other agency has as well, assuming they have the clearances."
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the size of the NCTC list and other terrorism-related databases underscores the severity of the "false positive" problem, in which innocent people -- including members of Congress -- have been stopped for questioning or halted from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects' names.
"One of the seemingly unsolvable problems is what do you do when someone is wrongly put on this watch list," Rotenberg said. "If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn't be there. But how are they ever going to get off?"