Once connected, a TSC operations specialist works through a series of standard questions with officers so that they can elicit enough information to make an identity determination. TSC Outreach Coordinator Terence Wyllie provides an example he uses when he briefs local law enforcement. “Let’s say a known terrorist lost two fingers in a previous bombing,” Wyllie says. “A TSC operations specialist might tell a dispatcher to have the officer analyze a suspect’s right hand. If the officer reports that two fingers are missing, we know that’s the guy.”
Once a positive match is made, the information flow begins, all to the benefit of enhanced national and homeland security. Although 10 states lead the country in the times an officer encounters a known or suspected terrorist, encounters occur in every state in the nation. This is why it is critical for law enforcement officials everywhere to contact the TSC when an NCIC check turns up a potential hit. Still, many officers are not working with the TSC to the degree necessary to provide the full value of the Terrorist Watchlist to protect officers, communities and homeland.
Given all that is at stake and the simplistic process, why wouldn’t an officer contact the TSC if an NCIC check brought up the TSC banner? The main reason: Many are still unfamiliar with the TSC banner and the procedure.
This is why the TSC runs an active outreach program, where officials offer training and briefings to those who need it. The TSC also works individually with departments from Arlington, Va., to San Diego, Calif.
Though the basic program is relatively constant, the TSC tailors each training session to each unit and the particular terrorist threat characteristics of certain areas. The TSC has conducted hundreds of briefings for thousands of officials nationwide since its creation, and has briefed at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference.
Wyllie wants every law enforcement official to know that the training is available. “Our program raises awareness and encourages the use of this important system. We want all officers and chiefs integrating TSC into their daily practices,” He urges departments to consider enacting new standards of procedure that make contacting the TSC when the banner is displayed to be a compliance issue, and many departments have responded enthusiastically.
The TSC & the Terrorist Watchlist
Before 9/11, various government agencies maintained nearly a dozen separate watchlists including the FBI’s National Crime Information Center/Known or Suspected Terrorist file (NCIC/KST), the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the U.S. Marshals Service Warrant Information, the Department of State’s Terrorism Watch List called “TIPOFF” and several others designed to screen persons of interest to U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence officials.
While some lists were shared, there was little integration and cooperation, and there was no central clearinghouse where all law enforcement and government screeners could access the best information about a person of interest.
“We had a lot of strong threads, but they weren’t sewn together to form a powerful net. That has all changed now,” Healy says.
The TSC began operations on Dec. 1, 2003, and is the U.S. government’s consolidation point for known and suspected terrorist watchlist information, both foreign and domestic. The Terrorist Watchlist (a.k.a. the Terrorist Screening Database or TSDB), contains thousands of records that are updated daily and shared with federal, state, local, territorial, tribal law enforcement, and intelligence community members, as well as international partners to ensure that individuals with links to terrorism are screened.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller describes it simply: “Think of this as the who’s who of terrorists.”
But building and keeping the watchlist accurate, current and thorough is only half of TSC’s strategic mission in homeland security and counterterrorism efforts. The other half is implementation, information-sharing, and pushing the list to people who need it.
“Without the participation of the entire law enforcement, homeland security and counterterrorism communities, the Terrorist Watchlist is just a hollow bunch of names,” Healy adds. “A core part of our mission is to push this information out to law enforcement so they know we are here to help, but more importantly, so they realize the critical role they play in the effort to keep up with today’s modern terrorist threat.”