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Terrorist Watchlist: Routinely Assessing Impacts of Agency Actions Since the December 25, 2009, Attempted Attack Could Help Inform Future Efforts

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2012
52 pages
This General Accountability Office (GAO) study examined government actions to strengthen the nominations process for the terrorist watchlist in order to address security weaknesses identified from the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 on December 25, 2009; how the composition of the watchlist has changed based on these actions; and how agencies are addressing gaps in screening processes.
The agencies that nominate persons for the terrorist watchlist were found to be sending more information for inclusions in the watchlist since the attack; however, there is concern about the increasing volume of information and related challenges in processing this information. In response, agencies are increasing staffing, technology, and other measures intended to improve management of the watchlist nominations. After the attempted attack, Federal agencies reassessed the threat posed by certain individuals already identified in government databases, either adding them to the watchlist or changing their watchlist status. Screening agencies are addressing gaps in processes exposed by the attempted attack. These actions have impacted agency resources and the traveling public. An interagency policy committee is assessing the outcome and impacts of these security actions, but no details have been provided on these efforts. The GAO recommends that the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism ensure that the outcomes and impacts of agencies' actions to strengthen nominations for the watchlist and screening processes are routinely assessed. Routine assessments could assist decisionmakers and Congress in determining whether the watchlist is achieving its intended outcomes and in formulating plans for improvements. 2 figures and appended objectives, scope, and methodology; overview of the watchlist nominations process; a description of the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight Program and related activities; and information on the redress process for individuals experiencing difficulties during travel-related screening