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Back to Archives | Back to August 2006 Contents 

From the Director

The Terrorist Screening Center

Donna A. Bucella, Director, Terrorist Screening Center, Washington, D.C.

Donna A. Bucella

icture a typical traffic stop where an officer pulls over someone for speeding through a red light at a busy intersection. Law enforcement officers across the country handle thousands of these seemingly routine encounters every day. As usual, the officer or dispatcher queries the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). In addition to checking NCIC for wants and warrants, the same query checks the person's name against the government's consolidated terrorist watch list at the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). Within moments, the officer will know whether he or she is dealing with simply a reckless driver or perhaps a known or appropriately suspected terrorist.

After running the name, the dispatcher informs the officer that the person encountered may have possible ties to terrorism and instructs the officer to immediately contact the TSC. The officer calls the TSC's around-the-clock call center to determine whether the person stopped is the same person on the watch list. If so, then in most cases, the TSC will ask the officer to go back to the driver and gather as much information as possible.

The officer heads back to the car and begins asking the driver routine questions: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? May I please see the ID of your passengers? As usual, the driver and his passengers answer all the officer's questions.

The officer has been trained to observe the contents of the vehicle. Is there anything that seems suspicious or are there any items in the car that seem oddly out of place? As she scans the backseat, the officer notices a stack of maps and a beat-up folder containing 10 train tickets. Each ticket has a different name.

The officer then writes the driver a ticket for running a red light and heads back to her car with something extremely valuable: important information that can be sent immediately back to the TSC and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force for review. It is another piece of the puzzle, another part of our collective effort to investigate terrorism and prevent future attacks.

Established by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 on September 16, 2003, the Terrorist Screening Center represents a significant step forward in protecting America's communities and families by assisting those who deter, detect, and disrupt terrorist threats.

Working with the Justice, Homeland Security, and State Departments and others, the TSC has established terrorist watch list screening processes used at key points where terrorists seek to gain access to the United States, such as the visa application process, border crossing, and airline travel. Since its inception, the TSC has made great progress in institutionalizing the use of the terrorist watch list by state and local law enforcement authorities during routine traffic stops and similar situations. This has allowed the nation's counterterrorism efforts to harness the power of thousands of state and local law enforcement officers as a force multiplier in our efforts to detect known or appropriately suspected terrorists as they operate in the United States.

Since December 1, 2003, the TSC has merged appropriate terrorist watch lists from multiple agencies and consolidated them into one unified list, the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). TSC personnel work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies to make the TSDB information available to them for screening purposes.

The TSC's vision is to establish a dynamic global screening network to support the detection of terrorists. In pursuing this vision, the TSC is working to improve the federal government's ability to use terrorist screening information to detect terrorist movements and operations prior to an attack. In the future, the TSC will focus on expanding the federal government's terrorist screening network to enhance its ability to support those who act to prevent terrorist attacks.

The number one priority of the TSC is to help you, the first-line responders, safeguard America's citizens and communities. The TSC staff works diligently to spread the word about its mission both nationally and internationally. Coordinated communication efforts with targeted outreach to everyone from the officer on the street to federal authorities has increased the support and understanding of the TSC's mission and goals as we all work together. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 8, August 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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