325,000 Names on Terrorism List
Rights Groups Say Database May Include Innocent People
By Walter Pincus and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Post" -- -- The National Counterterrorism
Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of
international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid
them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of
2003, according to counterterrorism officials.
The list kept by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) --
created in 2004 to be the primary U.S. terrorism intelligence
agency -- contains a far greater number of international
terrorism suspects and associated names in a single government
database than has previously been disclosed. Because the same
person may appear under different spellings or aliases, the true
number of people is estimated to be more than 200,000, according
to NCTC officials.
U.S. citizens make up "only a very, very small fraction" of that
number, said an administration official, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because of his agency's policies. "The
vast majority are non-U.S. persons and do not live in the U.S.,"
he added. An NCTC official refused to say how many on the list
-- put together from reports supplied by the CIA, the FBI, the
National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies -- are U.S.
The NSA is a key provider of information for the NCTC database,
although officials refused to say how many names on the list are
linked to the agency's controversial domestic eavesdropping
effort. Under the program, the NSA has conducted wiretaps on an
unknown number of U.S. citizens without warrants.
The government has been trying to streamline what
counterterrorism officials say are more than 26
terrorism-related databases compiled by agencies throughout the
intelligence and law enforcement communities. Names from the
NCTC list are provided to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC),
which in turn provides names for watch lists maintained by the
Transportation Security Administration and other agencies.
Civil liberties advocates and privacy experts said they were
troubled by the size of the NCTC database, and they said it
further heightens their concerns that such government terrorism
lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people.
Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for privacy rights at the
American Civil Liberties Union, called the numbers "shocking
but, unfortunately, not surprising."
"We have lists that are having baby lists at this point; they're
spawning faster than rabbits," Sparapani said. "If we have over
300,000 known terrorists who want to do this country harm, we've
got a much bigger problem than deciding which names go on which
list. But I highly doubt that is the case."
Asked whether the names in the repository were collected through
the NSA's domestic intelligence intercept program, the NCTC
official said, "Our database includes names of known and
suspected international terrorists provided by all intelligence
community organizations, including NSA."
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary
Committee last week that he could not discuss specifics but
said: "Information is collected, information is retained and
information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy
interests of all Americans."
The NCTC name repository began under its predecessor agency in
2003 with 75,000 names, and it continues to grow. The center was
created as part of a broad reorganization of U.S. intelligence
agencies after the failure to disrupt the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. It is the main agency for analyzing and integrating
terrorism intelligence and is under direction of Director of
National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.
Its central database is the hub of an elaborate network of
terrorism-related databases throughout the federal bureaucracy.
Terrorism-related names and other data are sent to the NCTC
under standards set by Homeland Security Presidential Directive
6, signed by President Bush in September 2003, according to a
senior NCTC official. The directive calls upon agencies to
supply data only about people who are "known or appropriately
suspected to be . . . engaged in conduct constituting, in
preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism."
"We work on the basis that information reported to us has been
collected in accordance with those guidelines," Vice Adm. John
Scott Redd, the center's director, said in a statement.
Analysts at the NCTC review all incoming names and can reject
them if they do not have an apparent link to international
terrorists, officials said. "That is not common, but it does
happen," an NCTC official said, citing as examples a domestic or
foreign drug dealer or a member of a U.S.-based extremist group,
when neither has any sign of international terrorist
The NCTC then sends a subset of the repository list to the FBI's
screening center, and each entry includes a reference "to how
the individual is associated with international terrorism,"
according to a June 2005 report by Justice Department Inspector
General Glenn A. Fine. This reference is assigned one of 25
codes such as "Member of a Foreign Terrorist Organization,"
"Hijacker" or "Has Engaged in Terrorism," according to the
report. The report also notes that the codes are split in two
categories: "Individuals who are considered armed and dangerous
and those who are not."
Fine's office criticized the TSC for including nearly 32,000
records of people in the "armed and dangerous" category but
giving them the lowest handling code, which means that no report
needs to be sent back to the FBI if they are encountered in the
United States by law enforcement officers.
The TSC consolidates NCTC data on individuals associated with
foreign terrorism with the FBI's purely domestic terrorism data
to create a unified, unclassified terrorist watch list. The TSC,
in turn, provides, for official use only, a version giving each
person's name, country, date of birth, photos and other data to
the Transportation Security Agency for its no-fly list, the
State Department for its visa program, the Department of
Homeland Security for border crossings, and the National Crime
Information Center for distribution to police.
Shannon Moran, a spokeswoman for the FBI screening center,
declined to answer detailed questions about the center's work,
including how many names are on its list, how many U.S. citizens
are included and whether the FBI database includes names linked
to the NSA program. Fine's office reported last year that the
FBI database contained more than 270,000 names, including a
large number of people associated with domestic terrorist
movements such as radical environmentalists and neo-Nazi white
"If being placed on a list means in practice that you will be
denied a visa, barred entry, put on the no-fly list, targeted
for pretextual prosecutions, etc., then the sweep of the list
and the apparent absence of any way to clear oneself certainly
raises problems," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University
law professor who has been sharply critical of the Bush
administration's anti-terrorism policies.
The growth of terrorist-related data networks within the U.S.
intelligence community has greatly accelerated since Sept. 11,
2001. Before the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon, there were databases containing terrorist
identities at the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI and
State Department. In addition there were 13 independent watch
lists, but the lists or databases were not interoperable.
Currently, according to an NCTC official, there are 26
classified data networks carrying terrorism material. In a
December 2005 interview on Federal News Radio, Redd said his
agency "is really the only place in government and certainly in
the intelligence community where all counterterrorism
intelligence comes together." He also said that analyses of
terrorism issues from all 15 intelligence agencies come into the
NCTC, which then puts them on its Web site.
"What that means," Redd said, "is about 5,000 analysts around
the counterterrorist intelligence community can pull up that Web
site and see . . . what every other agency has as well, assuming
they have the clearances."
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center, said the size of the NCTC list and other
terrorism-related databases underscores the severity of the
"false positive" problem, in which innocent people -- including
members of Congress -- have been stopped for questioning or
halted from flying because their names are wrongly included or
are similar to suspects' names.
"One of the seemingly unsolvable problems is what do you do when
someone is wrongly put on this watch list," Rotenberg said. "If
there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably
shouldn't be there. But how are they ever going to get off?"
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)