The Bush administration has announced plans for a master database of “known and suspected terrorists” to be used in background checks around the world, the Washington Post reports. The FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center will use data from nearly a dozen watch lists in agencies throughout the federal government to provide “one-stop shopping” for U.S. consular officials, airport workers, border agents, local police, and some private industries.
The project hopes to avoid the type of breakdown that occurred before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the CIA placed two future hijackers on its own watch list but failed to notify promptly the FBI and immigration authorities. By the time other agencies were told in August 2001, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi had already entered the United States.
The Post says the master list will be tapped by thousands of federal law enforcement officers and many others — from cops making traffic stops to airport workers screening passengers to nuclear plants checking on job applicants.
The move was greeted with cautious optimism by many lawmakers and homeland security experts, who had criticized the administration for not creating the database sooner. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that “having a single watch list is Counterterrorism 101.” A General Accounting Office report in April found nine federal agencies with 12 separate watch lists that include information about suspected terrorists.
The new database, which is scheduled to be operational Dec. 1, will include names compiled by the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security Department and the State Department. State maintains a watch list known as TIPOFF with the names of 110,000 potential terrorists. The new list will be controlled by the FBI, not the Homeland Security Department, because of the bureau’s experience running a nationwide criminal database used by local police.