WASHINGTON – Police and other government workers in the U.S. have come in contact with terrorists or people suspected of foreign terror ties more than 6,000 times in the past 28 months, the director of the federal Terrorist Screening Center said Tuesday.
The encounters in traffic stops, applications for permits and other situations have resulted in fewer than 60 arrests, said Donna Bucella, whose agency maintains a list of 200,000 people known or suspected to be terrorists. The list contains an additional 150,000 records that have only partial names, Bucella said.
The vast majority of people on the list are not in this country, and many have only tenuous or inconclusive ties to terrorism, Bucella said at a briefing for reporters at FBI headquarters.
As an example, she cited a truck driver whose work requires him to regularly cross the U.S.-Canada border. He may be under suspicion, but is still allowed to enter the country because there is insufficient evidence linking him to terrorism, she said.
The TSC list, conceived after the intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, combines about a dozen databases from nine agencies that any government official — from a Customs agent to a state trooper — can use to check the name of someone who has been screened or stopped.
When there is a possible match, the screening center verifies the information is accurate and advises what steps to take. In most of the more than 6,000 incidents Bucella described, officials collected additional information and let the person go.
There have been about 28,000 matches worldwide, many of those from U.S. diplomatic outposts that screen applicants for visas to enter the United States, Bucella said.
Her agency acts as a sort of guide for law enforcement, facilitating the sharing of information and alerting investigators to suspects' movements, she said. "Those calls happen every single day," she said.
Bucella spoke only in general terms, saying the database last year identified a number of people on the watch list who were flying into the same metropolitan area at the same time. She said their purpose was not innocent, but declined to say whether they were arrested or what they intended to do.
National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte last year said New York City police were led to a possible Al Qaeda associate after they consulted the watch list during a routine search on a parking violation.