Lawmaker decries delay of watch list merger

Rep. Jim Turner today condemned delays in creating a unified terrorist watch list, ascribing them to 'a lack of leadership' on the part of the Bush administration.

'The technology is available to solve this problem,' said Turner (D-Texas), ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. 'I believe what we have seen is a lack of leadership and going through the policy decisions of who should have access to what information.'

Turner said he would urge the committee's chairman, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), to hold hearings on the watch list issue when Congress reconvenes later this month.

Turner and other Democrats on the committee jointly issued a report in the fall that outlined the requirements for a merged watch list and reported that the administration has shifted responsibility for the task among the White House, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department a total of four times since September 11th. (Click to link to GCN story)

Last month, Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge said the Terrorist Screening Center, under the FBI's aegis, would field a unified list this year. (Click to link to GCN story)

'The FBI has said the Terrorist Screening Center is operational. But without a comprehensive unified watch list, its effectiveness is limited and its promise to the American people is not fulfilled,' Turner said.

According to a statement Turner released, fewer than 20 percent of terrorist records'from only a few of the government's 12 watch lists'have been integrated into the screening center's test system.

Turner released a letter that he received last month from the FBI's Congressional Affairs Office in response to his request for information about the screening center. The FBI told Turner that 'the Terrorist Screening Data Base (TSDB) will provide the TSC with the flexibility to conduct advanced algorithmic searches on vast amounts of data.'

The FBI added that it had established a 'nomination process' to add individuals to the database; a review process for accepting or rejecting nominations; procedures for modifying or deleting watch list records; a data correction process; and the creation of ombudsman positions to manage misidentification of persons listed in the database.

Turner said he doesn't believe that agencies' rivalries and foot-dragging are to blame for the list merger delay. 'I don't blame ill motives on the part of agency employees. I think it is a leadership problem,' he said. 'If the president called in the agency heads in and said 'I want this done,' it would be done.'

The lack of a unified watch list, Turner said, hampers the effectiveness of other homeland security programs, such as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System and the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II program for checking air travelers in advance of airliner flights.

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