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Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2010 09:37:01 -0600
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental
United States Senate
March 10, 2010
The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack:
Watchlisting and Pre-Screening
Statement for the Record
Mr. Russell Travers
Deputy Director for Information Sharing and Knowledge
National Counterterrorism Center
Statement for the Record
March 10, 2010
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack: Watchlisting and Pre-Screening
Chairman Lieberman, Ranking Member Collins, and distinguished Members of the
Committee: Thank you for your invitation to appear before the committee to discuss terrorist
screening procedures in light of the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.
It is my privilege to be accompanied by my colleagues from the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.
Watchlisting Issues Associated with the Incident
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not watchlisted. This statement will explain the
reasons why – addressing the post 9/11 changes in U.S.Government watchlisting practices, the
associated standards that were adopted by the U.S. Government, and the application of those
standards to the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It will also address lessons learned as we
strive to improve the Intelligence Community’s ability to support watchlisting and screening.
Before the September 11 terrorist attacks, intelligence databases and watchlisting systems
were badly disjointed. They were neither interoperable nor broadly accessible and, as a
result, two of the hijackers – although known to parts of the U.S. Government in late-
1999, were not watchlisted until late-August 2001.
To fix that systemic problem, the U.S. Government implemented Homeland Security
Presidential Directive-6 (HSPD-6) in the Fall of 2003. Under the construct of HSPD-6,
all collectors would provide information on known and suspected terrorists (except
purely domestic terrorists) to NCTC which maintains a TOP SECRET database called the
Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). Every night a FOR OFFICIAL USE
ONLY extract of TIDE is provided to the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) to support all
U.S. Government screening operations.
The determination of what information is passed from TIDE to the TSC is
governed by the “reasonable suspicion” standard which describes the minimum
derogatory information for inclusion on the consolidated watchlist.
That criteria, approved by the Deputies Committee in the Fall of 2008, notes that
“individuals described as militants, extremists, jihadists, etc should not be
nominated without particularized derogatory information.”
o The implementing instructions further state “those who only associate with known
or suspected terrorists, but have done nothing to support terrorism” are ineligible
for the No Fly List (NFL) or Selectee List (SL).
Mr. Abdulmutallab was in TIDE, but his name was not passed to the TSC for
watchlisting. This was due to two factors:
The TIDE record that existed on Mr. Abdulmutallab was based primarily on information
provided to the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria on November 20, 2009. The cable
included one general sentence of derogatory information related to his possible
association with Yemeni-based extremists. The entire watchlisting community agrees
that the level of derogatory information contained in the November 20, 2009 cable did
not meet the minimum standard highlighted above and was insufficient for any level of
watchlisting—much less either the No Fly List or Selectee lists.
As a result, Mr. Abdulmutallab was entered into TIDE November 23, 2009, but
his name was not passed to the TSC for watchlisting. Additional biographic
information was added to the record over the course of the next week, but no
additional derogatory information was provided.
In order to provide some context, on any given day hundreds of other names are
added to TIDE and virtually all of them would have far more alerting derogatory
information than Mr. Abdulmutallab’s record.
While the November 20, 2009 cable formed the basis for the TIDE record and the
watchlisting status as of December 25, 2009, we learned after the incident of additional
reporting that—had it been linked to the November 20, 2009 cable—could have
supported a watchlisting nomination.
Had this information been linked to Mr. Abdulmutallab’s record, his name
undoubtedly would have been entered on the visa screening “lookout” list and the
border inspection list.
Whether Mr. Abdulmutallab would have been placed on either the No Fly List or
the Selectee List would have been determined by the strength of the analytic
It is important to note that the linkage of these pieces of information appears far
more apparent in hindsight than it would have at the time. The reporting existed
in daily intelligence holdings that number well into the thousands. Partial names
and different spellings complicated the linkage. To be sure, the Intelligence
Community continues its efforts to improve performance, but linking two pieces
of fragmentary information can be a very difficult analytic problem. The two
cables existed largely “in the noise” and there was simply nothing particularly
alerting about either “dot.”
First of all, it is necessary to dispel two myths:
This situation doesn’t implicate the HSPD-6 watchlisting architecture. The
National Counterterrorism Center continues to believe it is fundamentally sound.
This incident does not raise major information sharing issues. The key derogatory
information was widely shared across the U.S. Counterterrorism Community.
The “dots” simply were not connected.
The incident does highlight the following issues:
The U.S. Government needs to look at overall standards—those required to get on
watchlists in general, and the No Fly List and Selectee List in particular.
The U.S. Government needs to improve its overall ability to piece together partial,
fragmentary information from multiple collectors. This requirement gets beyond
watchlisting support, and is a very complicated challenge involving both numbers
of analysts and the use of technology to correlate vast amounts of information
housed in multiple agencies and systems.
The men and women of the National Counterterrorism Center and the Intelligence
Community are committed to fighting terrorism at home and abroad, and will seek every
opportunity to better our analytical tradecraft, more aggressively pursue those that plan and
perpetrate acts of terrorism, and effectively enhance the criteria used to keep known or suspected
terrorists out of the United States.
NCTC Congressional Testimony: Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Hearing
Wed, 10 Mar 2010 10:00:00 ET
Statement for the Record by National Counterterrorism Center Deputy Director for Information Sharing and Knowledge Development, Mr. Russell Travers – The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack: Watchlisting and Pre-Screening
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