Bucella: More funding needed for terrorist watch list center

NEW ORLEANS'The interagency Terrorist Screening Center is seeking additional funds to bolster its systems, director Donna A. Bucella said yesterday.

'It costs money,' Bucella said of the task of improving the terrorist watch list center's technology. The 17-month-old center operated its first year with a budget of $29 million and has been running in its second year with funds drawn directly from the FBI budget, Bucella told the Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security today.

"I have been going to the Hill and asking for [more] money," Bucella said of her efforts to finance systems improvements. "I don't think anybody realized how much it could cost."

Frank Doe, the center's CIO, has been evaluating commercial software packages for the third version of the organization's Terrorist Screening Database, according to Bucella. Doe also has been looking to mix a "cocktail" of components to create an advanced system for matching names of terrorists from various lists, she added.

One of the biggest problems center IT officials face has been cleaning up available data on terrorists. Bucella said her IT team had never seen such "dirty data,' with many records fragmentary at best.

One system that provided some of TSC's data did not include the gender of the individuals named, she added, apparently because its designers assumed they would all be male.

Meanwhile, TSC officials have removed about 7,000 names from the various watch lists, according to Bucella. Some data received from foreign governments was inaccurate, at times because it included poison-pen allegations, she said.

"These people are trying us out every day," Bucella said of the terrorists. Some attempt to board flights simply to find out whether the list includes their names.

The center now receives 110 to 120 calls each day from officials inquiring about suspects and generates about 50 matches daily, Bucella said. Many matches do not reach high levels of response, and the center directs the officer simply to gather information about the contact. About half the inquiries come from DHS officials at the borders, Bucella said.

In some cases, officials mine federal terrorist databases to extract more-detailed information about a subject. More than 90 percent of the matches correlate an individual with an FBI investigation, she said.

Bucella said TSC data had never led to an investigation being compromised, but that the majority of FBI agents she had spoken to worried that it could.

In a separate presentation, David Owen, deputy director of the FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, said his organization had activated a system called the Query Tracking Indication Program (QTIP) to act as a federated search capability for about 50 data sources, including government and private-sector databases.

'The QTIP software sends the query to the public companies [such as credit reporting data aggregators] at the same time it queries the [government] databases,' Owen said.

Officials have used it to check for risks represented by helicopter pilots, for example. The system presents FTTF analysts with hits listed in order from the most database hits to the fewest, he said.

The FBI is working to refine the system, streamline the search process and increase the size of its data mart from some 500 million entities to about 4 billion over the next two years, Owen said.

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