Democrats question watch list center

House Select Committee on Homeland Security Democrats' Web site

Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security questioned the capabilities of a center created to consolidate terrorist watch lists.

The congressional representatives issued a report with 10 basic requirements for an effective Terrorist Screening Center, which is slated to be operational by Dec. 1. The center is intended to ensure law enforcement and homeland security officials can receive the same terrorist information and access it quickly. The center combines a dozen disparate watch lists into single common database.

However, House Democrats are skeptical of the new center's duties.

"It is highly likely, however, that the TSC will not be fully operational on Dec. 1, because many critical policy questions and procedures necessary for TSC's effective use of a unified watch list are likely to still be unresolved," the report states.

For example, the business rules for accessing and adding to the watch list information have not been established, according to a letter from the House minority staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller. "Additionally, we understand that the transfer of watch list information from key agencies has only very recently begun, making it unlikely that a comprehensive and unified watch list will be in place before the first quarter of 2004," the letter states.

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

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

Based on a study of the issue over the past year, Democrats identified 10 necessary capabilities of the center:

* The watch list should be comprehensive and include information from all available sources in a searchable and integrated database.

* The information should be accurate and automatically and rapidly updated.

* The database should be accessible to all federal intelligence personnel, screeners at ports of entry, federal, state and local law enforcement, visa application screeners, certain foreign governments and authorized private sector officials.

* Officials must be able to access information quickly.

* Center personnel and systems must be able to provide varying levels of information.

* Privacy must be protected by guaranteeing authorization for viewing the information.

* Clear rules must govern who gets placed on watch lists and who can make changes to it.

* Procedures should be in place for removing individuals from the list.

* The system should be flexible enough to identify suspected terrorists who use known aliases or whose names have multiple spellings.

* The center must have a trained workforce, adequate facilities and technology and sufficient funding.

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