WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday expressed outrage at the failure to meet – yet again – the deadline to consolidate a dozen terrorist watch lists housed at nine separate government agencies.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last September promised the watch lists would be consolidated into a single database at the newly created Terrorist Screening Center, located at the FBI, by December 2003. In December, the FBI announced that TSC was “operational,” leaving the impression the watch lists had been consolidated.
But the department’s 2004 strategic plan, publicly released Monday, states that “by the end of 2004, there will be a fully integrated watch list data base in the Terrorist Screening Center, which will provide immediate updates to federal border screening and law enforcement systems.”
Lieberman commented: “I cannot fathom why this consolidation has not yet occurred, when we know full well the dangers to which a lack of intelligence coordination exposes us.
“We are now two years, five months, and counting since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and yet one of the best defensive mechanisms that we could muster, a consolidated watch list of terrorists – to keep them out if they try to get in, or to identify them if they do slip in – still is not in place.”
Failure to use the watch lists prevented two of the September 11th hijackers from being detected. They had been identified as terrorists in 1999, but the CIA didn’t place them on the appropriate watch list until the end of August 2001, long after they had crossed our nation’s borders several times.
Again, the lack of a consolidated list in December 2003 – when the Homeland Security Department raised the threat level to high and several international flights were canceled – meant officials had to check each list separately against the passenger manifests of those flights.
A short history of Administration promises on this issue:
· In his National Strategy for Homeland Security published in July 2002, President Bush said: “We will build and continually update a fully integrated, fully accessible terrorist watch list.”
· In April 2003, Ridge told the Senate his department was “accelerating consolidation of watch lists.”
· In September, the President issued an executive order.
· In December, the FBI announced that TSC was “operational.”
· Ridge told the Governmental Affairs Committee February 9, 2004, that merger of the watch lists would be completed by the end of the summer.
Since February 2003, Lieberman has been advocating the prompt consolidation of the lists.