Suspected terrorist, what now?

Editor's Note: To schedule a specialized training session for your unit or to speak with the TSC’s outreach office, contact Terry Wyllie at 571-350-4106.   A simple phone call is all that’s required for officers to verify whether an...


Editor's Note: To schedule a specialized training session for your unit or to speak with the TSC’s outreach office, contact Terry Wyllie at 571-350-4106.

 

A simple phone call is all that’s required for officers to verify whether an individual may be a known or suspected terrorist. That phone call connects the officer to a massive technology network and system superior to any other like it in the world: the Terrorist Watchlist. It may also help save lives by arming officers with intelligence and the information that they may be dealing with one of the most dangerous individuals on the planet.

In 2011, thousands of known or suspected terrorists were stopped in each of the 50 states by law enforcement officials for all sorts of reasons unrelated to terrorism. As of September 2011, the FBI Terrorist Watchlist contained approximately 420,000 individuals.

However, if LEOs don’t know about or don’t contact the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a terrorist could slip through a routine stop and go on to commit a horrendous attack, which isexactly what happened before 9/11. In fact, three of the 9/11 hijackers—Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Hani Hanjour—were stopped by law enforcement for routine traffic violations in the days leading up to the attack.

In those days, however, there was no central system to identify them as having an association with terrorism. Thankfully, that has all changed. Today, state and local law enforcement have a willing partner to help improve officer safety, strengthen national security and expand U.S. counterterrorism efforts—the TSC.

Timothy J. Healy, director of the TSC and a career FBI agent, explains that it is critical for law enforcement officials to work closely with the TSC. “If the TSC was operational prior to 9/11 and the process worked as it does today, it could have made that horrible day entirely different,” Healy says. “Since the first day we stood up the TSC operations center, we have always pushed to create a seamless relationship between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement.

“One call can make an enormous difference. The officer gets important information, the intelligence community gets important information, and our communities and our country are safer. So a big part of what we do is to work with law enforcement officials across the country to develop standards of procedure so that this important conversation takes place. Hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line.”

Transactional interface

Although there have been numerous improvements to the process, one of the most significant is the sheer speed of information flow from the TSC to law enforcement and other government screeners. What used to take days now takes place in a matter of minutes. Today, when an individual is placed on the Terrorist Watchlist, that information is made available almost instantly to all downstream users.

This is called transactional interface. When the FBI eventually identified the man who attempted to bomb Times Square in 2010, Faisal Shahzad, and he was placed on the no-fly list (a subset of the Terrorist Watchlist), that information was available within minutes to all government screeners. Customs and Border Protection officials had that information instantaneously, identified the bomber, notified the TSC and there was an operational response to arrest him. This showcased the system’s agility and transactional interface, where the information was available and the system worked the way it was designed.

One phone call to a specialist at TSC’s 24/7 operations center is all it takes to verify whether there is a positive match. It is a process that takes as little as 5 to 10 minutes for an average stop.

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