New center to consolidate terror lists

Law enforcement and homeland security officials announced today the creation of a new center to consolidate terrorist watch lists and provide information to screeners and border agents in the field.

The Terrorist Screening Center is intended to ensure all agents can receive the same terrorist information and access it quickly when a suspected terrorist is stopped or screened, officials said.

The center is a partnership among the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State, the FBI and the CIA. The center builds on the efforts underway with the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and DHS' new Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection unit.

"The job of the new Terrorist Screening Center is to make sure we get this information out to our agents on the border and all those who can put it to use on the front lines — and to get it there fast," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement.

The General Accounting Office has identified a dozen different watch lists maintained at nine agencies. Congress has criticized DHS for moving too slowly to merge the lists and passing the responsibility between agencies.

Watch lists are maintained by a number of agencies including the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, Transportation and Treasury. They are designed to provide information about known or suspected terrorists. When an individual applies for a visa or enters the United States, for example, government officials check the name against the lists to determine if the person should be denied entry or apprehended while in the country.

The new center is now tasked with completing the consolidation.

"The Terrorist Screening Center will provide 'one-stop shopping' so that every federal antiterrorist screener is working off the same page — whether it's an airport screener, an embassy official issuing visas overseas or an FBI agent on the street," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

The consolidation effort has been underway at the FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, where the new center's operations will be phased in, officials said. It will be operational by Dec. 1, 2003. The center, established by a presidential directive to the heads of the departments, will be administered by the FBI, and the principal deputy director of the center will be a DHS official.

The new center will receive most of its information about known or suspected terrorists from the TTIC after the information has been analyzed. The FBI will also provide the center with information about domestic terrorism. The center will consolidate this information into an unclassified terrorist screening database available to federal, state and local agencies for screening purposes, officials said.

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