Information Technology:

Terrorist Watch Lists Should Be Consolidated to Promote Better Integration and Sharing

GAO-03-322: Published: Apr 15, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2003.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Randolph C. Hite
(202) 512-6256
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Terrorist and criminal watch list systems--sometimes referred to as watchout, lookout, target, or tip-off systems--are important tools in controlling and protecting our nation's borders. The events of September 11, 2001, and other incidents since then, have highlighted the need to share these watch lists. In light of the importance of border security, GAO was asked to identify federal databases and systems that contain watch lists, the agencies that maintain and use them in protecting our nation's borders, the kind of data they contain, whether federal agencies are sharing information from these lists with each other and with state and local governments and private organizations, the structural characteristics of those lists that are automated, and whether opportunities exist to consolidate these watch lists.

Generally, the federal government's approach to using watch lists in performing its border security mission is decentralized and nonstandard, largely because these lists were developed in response to individual agencies' unique missions, including their respective legal, cultural, and systems environments. Specifically, nine federal agencies--which prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spanned the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Transportation, and the Treasury--develop and maintain 12 watch lists. These lists include overlapping but not identical sets of data, and different policies and procedures govern whether and how these data are shared with others. As a general rule, this sharing is more likely to occur among federal agencies than between federal agencies and either state and local government agencies or private entities. Further, the extent to which such sharing is accomplished electronically is constrained by fundamental differences in the watch lists' systems architecture (that is, the hardware, software, network, and data characteristics of the systems). Two agencies identified opportunities to standardize and consolidate these lists, which GAO believes would improve information sharing. The President's homeland security strategy further recognizes the need to address the proliferation of these lists. While the Office of Homeland Security was reportedly pursuing consolidation as part of an effort to develop a border and transportation security blueprint, referred to as an enterprise architecture, the DHS Chief Information Officer told us that the department had recently taken responsibility for the blueprint. However, we were not provided enough information to evaluate these efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, according to TSC officials, including the Director, the center has, among other things, reported to Congress periodically on the status and progress of its efforts via testimonies before congressional committees, written responses to congressional inquiries, and briefings with congressional staff.

    Recommendation: In addition, the Secretary of Homeland Security should report to Congress by September 30, 2003, and every 6 months thereafter, on the status and progress of these efforts, as well as on any legislative action needed to accomplish them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, according to TSC officials, including the Director, the center, among other things, developed a near-term strategy for integrating the lists that was used as part of their efforts to consolidate the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government's master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies. TSC officials stated that they continue to pursue a longer-term strategy for evolving the Terrorist Screening Database that provides for, among other things, defining and adopting more standard policies and procedures for watch list sharing and addressing legal issues and cultural barriers impeding greater watch list sharing.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include ensuring that these strategies provide for defining and adopting more standard policies and procedures for watch list sharing and addressing any legal issues affecting, and cultural barriers to, greater watch list sharing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, according to TSC officials, including the Director, the center, among other things, developed a near-term strategy for integrating the lists that was used as part of their efforts to consolidate the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government's master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies. TSC officials stated that they continue to pursue a longer-term strategy for evolving the Terrorist Screening Database.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include developing a near-term strategy for implementing the target architecture that provides for the integration of existing watch lists, as well as a longer-term strategy that provides for migrating to a more consolidated and standardized set of watch lists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, according to TSC officials, including the Director, the center has, among other things, developed a target architecture that addresses homeland security strategic goals and objectives, congressional direction, and opportunities to leverage non-federal sources. These officials also stated that this information was used as part of their efforts to consolidate the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government's master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include basing the target architecture on achievement of the mission goals and objectives contained in the President's homeland security strategy and on congressional direction, as well as on opportunities to leverage state and local government and private-sector information sources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, according to TSC officials, including the Director, the center has, among other things, defined the requirements of the nation's target or "to be" watch list architectural environment, including requirements that address agency-unique needs, such as national security issues and civil liberty protections. These officials also stated that this information was used as part of their efforts to consolidate the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government's master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include defining the requirements of our nation's target or "to be" watch list architectural environment, including requirements that address any agency-unique needs that can be justified, such as national security issues and civil liberty protections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center began operating in December 2003. Since then, the center has, among other things, updated the watch list information provided in this report via collaborative discussions with the other federal watch list agencies and used it to develop an architectural understanding of the current watch list environment. It also used this information as part of its efforts to consolidate the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government's master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include updating the watch list information provided in this report, as needed, and using this information to develop an architectural understanding of our nation's current or "as is" watch list environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendations, the President issued, in September 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 that among other things (1) makes it U.S. policy to develop, integrate, and maintain thorough and accurate information on terrorists and (2) directs the Attorney General to establish an organization to consolidate the federal government's approach to terrorist screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of such terrorist information in the processes used to screen for terrorists. To implement the President's directive, the Attorney General, along with Secretaries of Homeland Security and State, and the Director of Central Intelligence, signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16, 2003, that, among other things, established the Terrorist Screening Center, with a director reporting to the Attorney General through the FBI Director, to execute the responsibilities specified in the directive, including consolidating the government's approach to terrorism screening and maintaining a consolidated terrorist screening database that is to be continuously updated. The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) began operating in December 2003. Since then, the TSC has, among other things, consolidated the watch lists with the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Database in 2004. This consolidated database, as we reported in September 2006 (see GAO-06-1031), is the U.S. government?s master repository for all known and suspected international and domestic terrorist records used for watch-list related screening by federal agencies. According to TSC officials, including the Director, as part of the consolidation effort, the center developed and implemented its strategies within the context of the evolving enterprise architecture efforts of the several departments and agencies, including the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Recommendation: To promote better integration and sharing of watch lists, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in collaboration with the heads of the departments and agencies that have and use watch lists, lead an effort to consolidate and standardize the federal government's watch list structures and policies. To determine and implement the appropriate level of watch list consolidation and standardization, this collaborative effort should include developing and implementing the strategies within the context of the ongoing enterprise architecture efforts of each of the collaborating departments and agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Federal Bureau of Investigation

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 25, 2014

Sep 23, 2014

Jun 10, 2014

May 22, 2014

May 12, 2014

May 8, 2014

May 7, 2014

Apr 2, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here