Terrorist Watchlist Database Case Study

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  • Topic: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Terrorism, Federal government of the United States
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The Terrorist Watch List Database and Screening Center

Terrorist Watch List Database: A Case Study

Don E. Gregory

INFO 531: Management Information Systems

Abstract

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, our nation has been at war with terrorism. We have approached this war on two fronts, one by attacking our enemies in armed combat, and two by enacting preventive measures to eliminate their harmful tactics. One such measure is known as the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List. The TWL is a large database of information on what are known as persons of interest or known terrorist. As with any large database the list has weaknesses and shortcomings, pros and cons, that contribute to its effectiveness and when information gathered is on individuals, leaves itself open to criticism and skepticism. Also as with any compilation of information, the database is ever evolving and changing, making it necessary for quality and audit controls to be in place. This paper discusses all these topics and more.

Terrorist Watch List Database: A Case Study

A data warehouse is a database that stores current and historical data of potential interest to decision makers throughout the company. [1] After the events of September 11, 2001, the US Government determined the need for a comprehensive single source to identify and deter all persons either suspected to engage in terrorist activities against the US. Thus, the Terrorist Watch List and Database were created, bringing together all the information from various government agencies who had previously been maintaining separate lists of persons, into the Watch List in a standard format and available to all. This database is an example of data warehousing.

Why was the list created and what are the benefits?

Purpose and reason for the list

Prior to the existence of the watch list database, multiple government agencies gathered information on individuals entering or dwelling in the US for various national security and other purposes. Once the 9-11 attacks occurred, the US saw that a centralized comprehensive list combining all agencies information collected and than shared with all border and law enforcement agencies needed to be created. Thus, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center was created to meet this need, which is responsible for creating and maintaining the terrorist watch list and database, largely founded on the Department of States Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) terrorist watch list. [2]

Benefits of a consolidated list

Watch List Database shortcomings
As with any large database that has many input factors and inclusion sources/criteria, this database is no exception. Due to its nature of maintaining persons of interest, all criteria for a person to be placed on the list is not available to the public [2], however from public record of occurrences we do know that the information presented to the list is not as accurate as in can be, resulting in what are known as false positives. One reason for this is that the many different agencies that track and submit this information and the names of persons to be added to the list have different criteria within their own agency that justifies a name be added. Another reason for false positives is that persons of interest and known terrorist or those who are suspected of terrorist activity use many aliases, which are kept in the database, and as in the case of one such person, can actually be a real person who does not meet any of the criteria for submission to the list while not placing a known terrorist name on the list, thus allowing them access to transportation infrastructure such as airlines. [3] In order to prevent or eliminate these false positives, the database would have to be capable of 100% accurate identification of individuals, which it is not currently capable of as this would require some sort of biometric index...
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