Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence from around the world — field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies, sometimes idle gossip — arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, Va., near Washington, D.C., where analysts feed them into the nation’s central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects, reports the Washington Post. Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the U.S. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one a key intelligence gap revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the failure of agencies to share what they knew about al-Qaeda operatives.
Ballooning from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000, the database threatens to overwhelm the people who manage it. “The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control,” said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center. “Where am I going to be, where is my successor going to be, five years down the road?” TIDE has created concerns about secrecy, errors, and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low; once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. The process can lead to “horror stories” of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information.