TSC Marks Five Years
Keepers of the ‘Watch List’
Terrorist Screening Center Marks Five Years
|TSC Director Leonard Boyle says the five-year-old
center has succeeded in it’s mission to consolidate
all the terrorist watch lists. | All About TSC
The Terrorist Screening Center’s recent five-year-anniversary celebration—like its operation—was decidedly low-key.
The September 17 event, in a cramped conference room at TSC’s headquarters in Northern Virginia, brought together staff who have manned the 24-hour call center since its early days as a “start-up.” What began with 10 employees tasked by a 2003 presidential directive to create and manage a single watch list of suspected terrorists has grown to a staff of more than 350 people who analyze tens of thousands of calls a year. The “encounters,” as they are called—by Border Patrol officers; airlines; local, federal, and state law enforcement; the State Department—are vetted against names in the TSC’s comprehensive database.
Illustrating the center’s growth, a watch commander addressing about 150 TSC staff held up a manila envelope dated December 1, 2003, the day the center went operational. Contained in the flimsy worn file were the first day’s encounters.
“It all started with a piece of paper,” said watch commander Mike Ross.
Today, the list is updated daily and maintained in a state-of-the art database. TSC’s annual budget has increased significantly to accommodate the growing need—watch list records (which may include multiple aliases) increased from about 158,000 in 2004 to about 755,000 last year. TSC averages about 50 positive encounters a day, most at ports of entry.
TSC Director Leonard Boyle distilled TSC’s mission to this: “Doing everything that can be done to keep the bad people out.” That includes continually refining the system to ensure that civil liberties are respected.
Hours are still long and space is tight, but it’s come a long way, according to Richard Kopel, TSC’s principal deputy director. He held in his hands a green notebook labeled “HOLES.” In it, staff once kept notes on what they might be missing. There are few gaps today, according to frequent audits and a 2007 report by the Government Accounting Office, which stated, “Use of the watch list has helped federal, state, and local screening and law enforcement officials obtain information to make better-informed decisions.”
Kopel reminded TSC’s staff of the privilege that comes with working in the intense round-the-clock environment.