- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

An airline anti-terrorism screening plan may not be able to tell the Department of Homeland Security how many passenger records are being screened or project the number of terrorist-watch-list “hits” to be sent to the nation’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), according to a report.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said the program shortfalls, found in a lengthy audit, have hurt the TSC’s ability to plan its role in the government’s new “Secure Flight” program, an initiative to let the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) compare the names of commercial airline passengers with TSC’s consolidated terrorist watch list.

Secure Flight has been described as a critical part of Homeland Security’s overall layered strategy to secure the nation’s commercial air transportation system.

The system will compare data provided to airlines with information provided by companies that collect personal data for marketing and credit scoring, and then match it with terrorist watch lists.

Privacy advocates have challenged the program, criticizing attempts to use personal information to determine who can board aircraft. Some lawmakers questioned its effectiveness after high-profile colleagues were flagged for secondary screening, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

TSC is a multiagency effort administered by the FBI whose mission is to consolidate terrorist watch lists and provide available 24/7 responses for screening people against the list.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that while the TSC had made “significant progress” in preparing for Secure Flight, neither it nor the TSA knows how many passenger records will be screened and cannot project how many watch-list “hits” it will forward.

Mr. Fine said the Secure Flight program likely would affect the TSC’s space, staffing and funding needs and had delayed other TSC projects. But, he said, the TSC could not adequately estimate the cost of new programs that increase its range of operations, such as Secure Flight.

“Implementing the Secure Flight program requires substantial, cross-cutting modifications and enhancements to the TSC’s infrastructure,” Mr. Fine said, adding that TSC officials could not easily distinguish Secure Flight funding needs from those needed for unrelated system enhancements.

“We found that the TSC is attempting to plan for a program that has several major undefined parameters,” Mr. Fine said.

“Specifically, the TSC does not know when Secure Flight will start, the volume of inquiries expected and the resulting number of resources required to respond, the quality of data it will have to analyze,” he said.

The Inspector General’s Office made five recommendations to the TSC to help it support the Secure Flight program, including enhancing the organization’s budget formulation and execution capabilities and re-examining the Secure Flight resource estimates as soon as the program is implemented and workload figures established.

Mr. Fine said the TSC agreed with the report’s findings and recommendations and would take the necessary action.

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