Wired reports on testimony from the FBI about the terrorist watchlists. In 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive No. 6 consolidated administration of the no-fly, selectee and other security watchlists under the jurisdiction of the Terrorist Screening Center.
In prepared remarks (pdf), Timothy J. Healy, Director Terrorist Screening Center, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, “During FY2009, the TSC processed over 55,000 ‘encounters’ from federal, state, local, tribal and territorial screening agencies and entities. Of those encounters, over 19,000 were a positive match to a watchlisted known or suspected terrorist.”
In a footnote, Healy said: “The watchlisted person being screened may not always be present during the screening encounter. For example, a watchlisted person may apply for immigration benefits by mail and will, therefore, not be present during the screening encounter that takes place at a distant U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.” Healy also said:
Most of the individuals on the Terrorist Watchlist are not U.S. citizens, but are terrorists living and operating overseas. The Terrorist Watchlist is made up of approximately 400,000 people. The reasonable suspicion standard includes known or suspected terrorists ranging from suicide bombers to financiers. The “No Fly” list has its own minimum substantive derogatory criteria requirements which are considerably more stringent than the Terrorist Watchlist’s reasonable suspicion standard. In order to be placed on the “No Fly” list, a known or suspected terrorist must present a threat to civil aviation or national security. Consequently, the “No Fly” list is a very small subset of the Terrorist Watchlist currently containing approximately 3,400 people, of those approximately 170 are U.S. persons. On a daily basis, the TSC receives between 400 and 1,200 unique additions, modifications or deletions of terrorist identities. It is through this nomination and review process that the TSC strives to maintain a thorough, accurate and current database of known or suspected terrorists for lawful and appropriate use in the screening process.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Inspector General reported (pdf) substantial problems with the terrorist watchlists. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has improperly kept nearly 24,000 people on a terrorist watch list based on outdated or sometimes irrelevant information, while it missed others with legitimate terror ties who should have been on the list,” said the New York Times.
You can read more about security and privacy problems connected to the watchlists in the archives.