“Here is a chilling and potentially lethal fact of life,” this morning’s New York Times asserted, “A person on the F.B.I.’s terrorist watch list is barred from boarding an airplane yet is quite free to buy high-power firearms and ammunition at any American gun shop.” The Gray Lady lent its full support to efforts by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) to stop citizens on the list from purchasing guns and ammo. If you’re looking for a federal plot to deny law-abiding Americans their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, well, here it is . . .
The correct name for the Terrorist Watch List is the Terrorist Screening Database. I know this sounds crazy, but are you on the list? fbi.gov feels your anxiety.
Can I find out if I am in the TSDB?
The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed. If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.
If they told you, they’d have to kill you. Just kidding. Ish. Hundreds if not thousands of people on the TSDB first learned of their inclusion when they were denied permission to board a flight to . . . anywhere. That’s a good thing, right?
Who gets included in the TSDB?
Per HSPD-6 [Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6], only individuals who are known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.
Vague much? Here’s as good as it gets from the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center, Timothy J. Healy, from his statement before the House Judiciary Committee on March 24, 2010 (after the “shoe bomber” fiasco):
TSC accepts nominations [for the TSDB] when they satisfy two requirements.
First, the biographic information associated with a nomination must contain sufficient identifying data so that a person being screened can be matched to or disassociated from a watchlisted terrorist. Second, the facts and circumstances pertaining to the nomination must meet the reasonable suspicion standard of review established by terrorist screening Presidential Directives.
Reasonable suspicion requires articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant the determination that an individual “is known or suspected to be or has been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of or related to terrorism and terrorist activities.”
The reasonable suspicion standard is based on the totality of the circumstances in order to account for the sometimes fragmentary nature of terrorist information. Due weight must be given to the reasonable inferences that a person can draw from the available facts. Mere guesses or inarticulate “hunches” are not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion.
Reassured? Assuming you’re not a terrorist, if a bill to “close the terrorist loophole” passes, a failed NICS [FBI background] check would be the first notice that you’d somehow fallen afoul of the TSDB. But don’t worry. Even if you’re on the list, you may not be on it.
I have been told that I am on a terrorist watchlist by an airline employee and I frequently have difficulty when I fly. Does this mean I am in the TSDB?
No; however, an individual may be a “misidentified person.” A misidentified person is someone who is experiencing a delay during screening because they have a similar name to a person in the TSDB. Misidentified persons are sometimes delayed while the government works to distinguish them from the terrorist in the TSDB.
Because these delays are frustrating and inconvenient, there are several initiatives in progress to help streamline the clearance process for misidentified persons. If an individual believes he/she is having a misidentification problem, he/she should contact the screening agency’s redress office for assistance.
Remember: if the government stops you from purchasing firearms because you’re on the TSDB they’re not going to tell you that. You’ll just have to suspect that you’re a suspect. And if you’ve been misidentified, the onus is on you to prove that you are not a terrorist. Not the same John Abdul Smith on the FBI list.
Now what? According to the FBI’s TSC [Terrorist Screening Center] Redress Procedures page, people who feel they’re on the TSDB in error must contact the Department of Homeland Security’s DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). The DHS then forwards the appeal to the TSC, who use “inter-agency protocols” to
to ensure a fair, timely, and independent review of an individual’s complaint. The redress process also ensures that information on the watchlist and related U.S. government information systems will be reviewed for accuracy and that, where warranted, errors are corrected. Since 2005, TSC’s independent Redress Unit has successfully resolved over 90 percent of the complaints referred by federal inter-agency partners.
A spokesman for the TSC told TTAG that there are now 460k names on the TSDB list. In 2009, usatoday.com reported the feds had removed some 51k people from the list at their request. There is no mandatory timeline on the redress procedure.
The whole Terrorist Watch List thing is enormously expensive and more than a little silly. If you suspect someone’s a terrorist, do you really want to rely on a database to prevent them from gaining access to weapons? At the same time, how do you justify removing an American’s constitutional rights because of suspicions? Shouldn’t the Feds have to justify denying an American citizen their right to keep and bear arms in a court of law?
Now, what are the odds that Congress or the agencies in charge of enforcing the “closed terrorist loophole” would move beyond prohibiting people on the TSDB from purchasing to actual confiscation?
That depends on how you define terrorist, or a terrorist organization, or someone who supports a terrorist organization. When the Tea Party first hit the scene, the political left (and the media supporting it, including the New York Times) mounted a determined campaign to characterize the movement as armed insurrectionists. Proto-terrorists.
While that hysteria seems to have cooled, it highlighted the potential for “misidentifying” legitimate gun-owning Americans who oppose Uncle Sam’s rapacious ways as terrorists. Lest we forget, the “Tea Party as the enemy within” smear campaign included the NRA.
Does the FBI want to grab your guns? The FBI wants to be the FBI. They do what they’re told to do. If Congress and the Obama administration tells them stop a group of people from buying guns, they do it. (The ATF would definitely want in on that action.) If the Powers That Be tell them to take guns away from these people, that’s exactly what it will do. Gladly.
According to American gun control advocates, their desire to “close the terrorist” loophole is no ’cause for concern. They would have us adopt a distinctly British attitude: “If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about.” And that’s how rights are lost: by allowing the government to encroach on individual liberty in the name of protecting freedom.
George Orwell knew the score. Hopefully, so do American gun owners.