Sunday, March 19, 2006

More News that is being BURIED

6,000 terror watch list hits inside U.S.

UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) --
The U.S. government's Terrorist Screening Center says there have been about 6,000 "encounters" inside the United States between law enforcement or other officials and people on the center's terrorist watch list since it was set up on Dec. 1, 2003.
Donna Bucella, the center's director, told reporters in Washington Tuesday that "about 6,000 individuals who are known or suspected international terrorists have been encountered within the United States."
She said that about 40-50 percent of the encounters were "repeats" -- i.e. the same person encountered more than once -- but declined to give the total number of individuals involved.
"I don't mean at our borders," Bucella added, saying the encounters could have happened as a result of traffic stops by state or local law enforcement, or when the watch-listed person applied for a gun permit or a commercial driver's license to haul hazardous materials.
She said there had been "a very small number" of arrests as a result of the encounters.
Other officials sought to play down the impression that thousands of terrorists were lose in the United States, saying that some of the individuals might have only a peripheral connection to some terrorism investigation.
"Not everyone in the database is Mohammed Atta," said Bucella's chief of staff, John Lightfoot.
"Among the 6,000 there are grades that go all the way from pale white to dark black and all the shades of grey in between," added John Miller, the FBI's head of public affairs, pointing out that the FBI's national security branch had between 15,000-20,000 open investigations at any one time, each of which might involve more than one person.
"These could be main subjects in a case, these could be early subjects in a case" that were later eliminated from the inquiry, Miller explained of people on the watch list.
Bucella said the center had received roughly 56,000 inquiries since it was set up on Dec. 1, 2003, and "about half" were positive, but most of these were from abroad, for instance when a person applied for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
The Terrorist Screening Center is an interagency unit set up to unify the dozen-plus watch-lists of terror suspects run by the U.S. government prior to the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.
"This was something that law enforcement across the country was calling for" after Sept. 11, said Miller, describing the nation's 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies as "a post Sept. 11 force multiplier" for U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
Bucella said that the center had got positive matches from people that counter-terrorism officials did not know were in the United States.
The system is "a kind of radar" for counter-terrorism officials, "to show where these people are moving around," said Miller.
The screening center runs a database containing more than 350,000 names of people known or suspected to have ties to terrorism. In about 200,000 of those cases, Bucella said, there was enough information to enter the individual into the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, an FBI-run database that local police and government agencies can check to see if individuals have a criminal record or are wanted by the authorities.
The NCIC is updated automatically in real time as names are added to or taken off the screening center's list, but with databases maintained by other agencies -- like the State Department's visa database, CLASS, or the Border Patrol's IBIS system -- center officials upload updated versions of the list every day, Bucella said.
When a check on NCIC or other database reveals a possible match with the watch list, screening center officials are contacted via its 24-hour toll free telephone number, and can then "reach down" into the underlying, classified data -- the so-called "derogatory information" -- that resulted in the person being placed on the list.
The center's Privacy Officer Lyn Rahilly said that it was up to the agency in question to take action based on the information.
"The agency doing the screening, they have their own legal authorities and limitations they have to operate under ... We help connect them with the agency that has the often classified derogatory information, and then based on that information -- not just the fact that they're on the watch list -- the agency" has to decide how to proceed.
Sometimes, officials said, individuals were removed from the watch list as a result of these encounters.
"In some case they'll say to (the center), you know, 'We've run that case out, so you can take that one down now,' or 'We've reformulated our opinion on that person,'" said Miller
"In a lot of cases ... the information collected during a standard encounter is sufficient to eliminate that person from suspicion and then they are removed from the list," added Lightfoot.

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