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This is the second part of a conversation between KSMU's Missy Shelton and NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. On Thursday's Morning Edition, we heard a report from NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, the first journalist allowed inside the Terrorist Screening Center, the place where the US government maintains the Terrorist Watch List. In addition to the watch list, the FBI-operated center is responsible for tracking suspected terrorists in the U.S. KSMU's Missy Shelton got the story behind the story when she spoke with Dina Temple-Raston about her experiences inside the Terrorist Screening Center or TSC.
Shelton: Your piece mentions that when the TSC opened in 2004, there were 5400 hits of suspected terrorists and this year, it's expected there will be 22,000 hits logged. Now, that doesn't mean there are 22,000 terrorists in the country.
Temple-Raston: No. But it does mean that they will have gotten 22,000 phone calls from police or law enforcement officials worried there could be a terrorist sitting before them.
Shelton: I imagine there are groups out there that are very concerned about having members of their groups on the list. What did you learn about those concerns as you did this report?
Temple-Raston: They don't know if they're on the list. If you talk to these groups, it's all speculation. If you talk to Muslim groups, they'll tell you they're disproportionately on the list but they don't know. If you ask the FBI, what kinds of people on the list, they're vague. The big flare that gets sent up has to do with phone calls. If you're calling someone who's thought to be a terrorist, that's the kind of thing thought to put you on the list. We know of Senator Ed Kennedy getting stopped because his name was similar to someone else's on the list. That's something they're trying to address. They'll be announcing a memorandum of understanding that basically is signed by the entire intelligence community that says high ranking people will be responsible for trying to resolve these redress issues. That's amazing that this has been going on for three years and there hasn't been that kind of community-wide belief you should have a redress system.
Shelton: That's an opportunity for redress but is there oversight of this process in the first place?
Temple-Raston: That's unclear too. They say there's oversight but we're not sure who's doing it. That's what's worrying civil liberties advocates that there just isn't very much transparency with this list. People could make a good case they shouldn't be on it and they'll never really know if they've been stripped from the list.
Shelton: I want to talk about you being the first journalist allowed into this center. Why was this opportunity extended to you.
Temple-Raston: Ask and ye shall receive. I was very interested in seeing how this all worked. We went through quite a bit of negotiation in order to do this, more than I've ever done in terms of security to get into a place...I'm not allowed to say where it is. I wasn't allowed to record in a lot of different areas there. When I was done, they needed to listen to the recording to make sure I hadn't accidentally in trying to get sound in the center recorded something classified. I think no other journalist had been there perhaps because they're so edgy about this idea of having anybody know where they are and what they're doing.
Shelton: Generally, journalists don't like to make those concessions. Was it difficult for you as a journalist to say, "Ok. We will agree to these terms."
Temple-Raston: Yes. There was a lot of negotiating going back and forth. As you know, journalists hate those kinds of concessions were actually quite small given that it would give people for the first time, an idea of how it goes from your traffic stop to the Terrorist Screening Center and back again. I don't think people realized for example that there were flashing dots on a giant US map that shows where terrorists or suspected terrorists are in this country. That's fairly amazing.
Shelton: When you described that in your piece, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought, "Wow! If I could just get a glimpse of the part of the map where I live" because we like to think we're safe.
Temple-Raston: Or in my case, I just hoped that I could get a glimpse of the map itself to have an idea. Apparently, there are hundreds of dots on this.
I've been speaking with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, the first journalist allowed inside the Terrorist Screening Center.