Am I in the Terrorist Screening Database?

One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole subpoena unpleasantness over the New Year’s holiday is that the agents who came to my colleague Steve Frischling’s home allegedly threatened to revoke some of his security clearance. I wondered if they might do the same thing to me, perhaps adding my name to the Terrorist Screening Database.

I won’t leave you in suspense: They didn’t.

Yesterday I checked in for my Southwest Airlines flight to Las Vegas and this morning I passed through the TSA checkpoint without incident.

But what if they had? I’d probably be out of luck.

Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) now offers “one-stop shopping” so that every government screener is using the same terrorist watchlist — whether it is an airport screener, an embassy official issuing visas overseas, or a state or local law enforcement officer on the street, according to the FBI.

The TSC allows government agencies to run name checks against the same comprehensive list with the most accurate, up-to-date information about known and suspected terrorists.

Consolidating the database under the TSC made sense. Before that, information about known or suspected terrorists was dispersed throughout the U.S. government and no one agency was charged with consolidating it and making it available for use in terrorist screening.

But what doesn’t make sense is that if your name is on the list, they can’t tell you.

According to the FBI:

The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed.

If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.

I disagree. Revealing the names of the people on the TSC would serve several purposes, including exposing the names of people who shouldn’t be on the list and making the public aware of who is a likely terrorist. Many states publish the names of sex offenders for the same reason — to make the public aware that they may be exposed to a would-be criminal.

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I plan to file a request under the Federal Freedom of Information Act to reveal the names on the TSC. When I get it, I will publish it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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