Number of Names on U.S. Counter-Terrorism Database Jumps

The number of names on the U.S. central database used to track potential terrorists has grown to 875,000 from 540,000 only five years ago.

The list of a highly classified U.S. database has significantly increased in past five years, a U.S. official told on the condition of anonymity. Photo: JamezSA/Flickr

The list of the suspended terrorists included Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose name was added in 2011. The increase in names can be explained by the failed 2009 attack on a plane by “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Detroit.

The “Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment” is a database used by agencies to create other catalogs of possible terrorists, like the “no-fly” list which prevents people who feature on it from boarding airplanes.

According to Reuters, the official familiar with the latest data revealed to reporters that even though the number of the TIDE entries has grown, this does not mean that the it has become unmanageable as intelligence agencies have gotten better at figuring how to extract information from the oceans of data.

However, Karen Greenberg, an expert in counter-terrorism policy at Fordham University, doubted whether the growth in the database’s size made it easier for officials to find real threats before they materialize.

“What you want is more focus, not less focus. It can’t be just about quantity. It has to be about specificity,” she said.

The vast size of the U.S. central database came into the spotlight in the wake of the last month’s bombing of the Boston Marathon. The issue took on renewed interest after disclosure that Russian authorities also listed his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, as a religious zealot.

Mother and son got into the list in 2011. Both moved to Boston from the Dagestan region of Russia ten years ago, but maintained ties to radical Islamic groups there, according to the warnings.

The elder Tsarnaevs returned to live in Russia last year but their two sons decided to stay in Boston. Dzhokhar, 19, became a naturalized U.S. citizen last September.

The FBI revealed to the media that it conducted an inquiry into the elder Tsarnaev’s background, including interviewing him, and determined he was not a terrorist threat.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tamerlan attended religious services at an extremist mosque in Chechnya when he stayed in Russia. He added that the mosque espoused doctrines inspired by the terrorist organization al Qaeda.

“Enough was not done in order to monitor the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” said Royce. “Especially given the fact that it wasn’t one heads-up we were given (by the Russians) but several.”

The mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told a British-based television network, that the FBI watched her son when she lived with him in a Boston area. She said she began practicing a “pure” form of Islam four years ago when living in the U.S.

“They were monitoring him and I know that because I used to talk to them,” she said. “They used to come to our house, like two, three times.”

The mother revealed to the media that she “wanted to die” because of the accusations that her sons perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings.

“What happened (in Boston) was a terrible thing,” she said. “But I know that my kids have nothing to do with this. I know it. I am mother. I know my kids.”

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