- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are developing a database that will allow private companies to submit lists of individuals to be screened for a connection to terrorism, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center Director Donna A. Bucella told legislators yesterday.

The database “will eventually allow private-sector entities, such as operators of critical infrastructure facilities or organizers of large events, to submit a list of persons associated with those events to the U.S. government to be screened for any nexus to terrorism,” Miss Bucella said at a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security subcommittees.

The screening center oversees the master database of known and suspected terrorists, which became operational in December. That database, created by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, was developed to ensure investigators, screeners and agents work off a unified set of antiterrorist information.

In his opening statement for the hearing, Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said the screening center’s support is “particularly important to our nation’s first responders, our border protection officials, and the consular officers who adjudicate hundreds of visa applications every day.”

However, Mr. Cox also raised concerns about the need for the watch list not to violate the privacy of Americans. “To be the right solution, the TSC must not come at the price of the civil rights or First Amendment freedoms of American citizens,” he said.

Civil liberties groups say federal law-enforcement and intelligence officials are keeping the terror watch lists so secret by that mistakes are inevitable.

Mrs. Bucella said a process to address “misidentification issues” is in place.

“We recognize that with all of these capabilities also comes the responsibility to ensure that we continue to protect our civil liberties,” she said. “Procedures are in place to review and promptly adjust or delete erroneous or outdated domestic terrorism information.”

After the deadly hijackings of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration attempted to stem confusion caused by the existence of multiple terrorist watch lists by establishing a joint FBI-CIA Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), consolidating more than a dozen previous lists, including the State Department’s TIPOFF database of more than 110,000 known and suspected terrorists.

In September, a few days after the two-year anniversary of the hijackings that killed about 3,000 people, officials announced the creation of the TSC to consolidate watch lists and provide round-the-clock operation support for federal screeners across the country and around the world.

Mrs. Bucella outlined several successes since the TSC became operational in September, including the establishment of a consolidated 24-hour call center that law-enforcement authorities can call to determine whether an individual in question is a suspected terrorist.

After a positive or negative match, “we help coordinate operation support as to how the person should be handled,” Mrs. Bucella said. The system has fielded 2,000 calls since its inception.

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