ASHINGTON, Sept. 16 — The Bush administration
announced the creation of a new counterterrorism center today
intended to develop a master "watch list" of more than 100,000
terrorism suspects and avoid the communication breakdowns that
plagued the federal government before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The move comes in response to repeated calls from members of
Congress for law enforcement and intelligence officials to develop
an integrated list to replace the piecemeal approach now in place.
Federal agencies now maintain at least a dozen watch lists to
determine such things as who can enter the country and who can board
an airplane. But a report in April from the General Accounting
Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that some agencies
had no policies for sharing information, while those that did were
hindered by turf battles and outdated technology that made it
difficult to transfer information about suspects.
The plan announced today would create a new screening center, to
be led by the F.B.I. in conjunction with the C.I.A., the Justice
Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the State
Department. Officials said they expected the center to be operating
by December. It will track, they said, not only suspected foreign
terrorists but also Americans tied to domestic events like violence
at abortion clinics.
Civil rights advocates said they worried that the new process
would give the government greater power to track and compile
information on Americans and others who may have no clear links to
terrorism. Law enforcement officials pledged to respect privacy and
civil rights while improving national security.
The center, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "will provide
one-stop shopping so that every federal antiterrorist screener is
working off the same page — whether it's an airport screener, an
embassy official issuing visas overseas or an F.B.I. agent on the
The master list will probably assemble more than 100,000 names,
said John Brennan, who heads a separate terrorist threat assessment
center run by the C.I.A. that was created by the Bush administration
earlier this year.
Officials said a working group was still developing details about
how the center would operate, but they said they expected that even
private-sector groups, like airlines and energy plants, would have
access to some information from the list.
A power plant, for instance, could research a prospective
employee "to make sure they're not hiring someone who is part of a
terrorist organization," said Bill Parrish, an acting assistant
secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
Officials said the coordination should also help to minimize the
communication errors that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks. In one
glaring breakdown, two Sept. 11 hijackers were allowed to enter the
country and live in San Diego even though the C.I.A. suspected that
they were terrorists. Other agencies later complained that the
C.I.A. did not seek to put the men on domestic watch lists until
weeks before the attacks.
Lawmakers said they welcomed the administration's plan, though it
struck several as belated. "Today's announcement finally begins to
implement this critical recommendation to enhance our homeland
security," said Representative Jane Harman of California, the
ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Securities
Studies, a civil rights group, said the job of integrating the watch
lists should have been left to Congress, not law enforcement and
"There needs to be some public discussion about what criteria are
going to be used to determine who is really considered a terrorism
suspect," Ms. Martin said. "This proposal has no safeguards built