How feds determined no nexus to terrorism in Colorado
Century 16 Theater in Aurora. CO where gunman attacked movie goers
July 23rd, 2012
12:01 AM ET

How feds determined no nexus to terrorism in Colorado

By Pam Benson

As soon as counterterrorism and law enforcement officials got word of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, an interagency process to search for a possible terrorism link was set in motion.

Little was known about James Holmes, the suspected shooter. But within hours of the incident, U.S. officials told CNN there appeared to be no nexus to terrorism.

The determination certainly does not stop the public debate over whether the mass shooting should be considered terroacts.  But so far, there is no indication Holmes was on any of the various intelligence or law enforcement agencies' radar screens. But investigators will certainly look at all of his communications and all of his personal electronic devices to see if he was in any way inspired by extremists.

In the post-September 11, whenever an incident like an indiscriminate mass shooting takes place, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the FBI and other government agencies immediately kick into high gear, scrubbing all of their databases to see if there is a terrorism connection.

The suspect's name is run through what is called the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) to see if the person is among the more than 500,000 names of known or suspected terrorists.

The list is a sort of one-stop shopping for government screeners, who have access to the same list of suspected domestic and international terrorists. The database is compiled by the FBI with the help of NCTC.

Federal departments and agencies such as the CIA and the State Department, submit the names of suspected international terrorists for inclusion in the NCTC's Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list.

NCTC analysts review the TIDE data to see if there is sufficient biographical data and supporting information to warrant putting the individual on a watch list before forwarding the names to the Terrorism Screening Center (TSC) overseen by the FBI. The FBI also forwards information relating to domestic terrorists to the TSC. All of the names are further reviewed by center and then put into the TSDB database. The list is not made public.

The database helps support four major government watch systems. Perhaps the best known is the Transportation Security Administration's No-Fly list.

The State Department also uses the database to vet applicants for passports and visas. The Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Enforcement Compliance System is used for border and port entry screening. Additionally, the FBI's National Crime and Information Center's Known or Suspected Terrorist file is based on the database.

But TSDB is only as good as the information it contains.

Although the U.S. had received troubling reports about Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber" who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a U.S. airliner as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, his name never made it to the terrorism database. NCTC was criticized for not doing its primary job of connecting the dots which might have stopped AbdulMutallab.

Information sharing was also a problem in the case of Nidal Hasan, the Army major who allegedly killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. Although the FBI had disturbing information about Hasan's e-mail exchanges with the late radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, it was not disseminated to the Defense Department. Likewise, there was nothing in Hasan's employee file that indicated the concerns some of his military colleagues had about his inflammatory Islamic rhetoric.

A report on the Fort Hood shooting made public Thursday describes FBI policies and procedures that failed to prevent the shooting spree. The FBI acknowledged in a statement the "shortcomings in FBI policy guidance, technology, information review protocols and training," and indicated it had already implemented changes. NCTC - the agency responsible for filling in the gaps - had no access to the Hasan reports and therefore no chance to identify him as a potential lone wolf, someone who is self-radicalized to the point of committing a terrorist act.

There are also more than 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces situated around the country, comprised of FBI and local law enforcement teams. The task forces investigate terrorism cases and are in part supported by 72 state- and locally-run fusion centers that collect and analyze terrorism information, looking for actionable intelligence.

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Filed under: CIA • Intelligence • Terrorism
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    August 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  14. Teame Zazzu

    What is a terrorist anyway? There is no agreed upon definition as it seems that defining an "enemy combatant" or "terrorist" depends not on religion, politics or the act committed, but on avoiding granting any protections or rights when assigning status. Though if you are a drone, a "terrorist" is defined any male between 17-35 who happens to get wasted when you drop a hellfire. Maybe we need a new definition for collatteral damage?

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  16. 2012marandalaw

    I mean..How Funny.."Does Everyone think the "KKK"..Are Today?

    July 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      James Holmes is a TERRORIST, just bc he's not moslem doesnt mean hes not a terrorist

      July 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • //////

      Just because they're hiding under a rock doesn't mean that they've gone away.

      July 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  17. 2012marandalaw

    Here in Northeast,Ohio..Hate Crimes are Happening..As You Speak.The KKK Is getting the "Stupidity'..Out Of Their System..As They have done for years..and Years..And Years.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  18. 2012marandalaw

    Mentioning the Gun Laws..Is a Great Big Waste of Time.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  19. 2012marandalaw

    Reblogged this on Marinchek-Marn and commented:
    Thank You All..Very much.The Ages of the Victims..Are Important.
    6years 51 years old..
    And the Shooter was 24...
    All Totaling 6..

    July 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  20. George Patton

    We have yet to learn what motivated this guy(James Holmes) to do what he did. Now I expect to see a lot of right-wing idiots, including weak minded Tea Partiers try to put the blame on the Muslims as usual. This is another example of just how stupidity rules this country. No wonder Mitt Romney got nominated instead of Ron Paul!!! This is why we'll continue to lavish in our current depression, too!

    July 23, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • BMFP

      You are an idiot

      July 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
      • //////

        Takes one to know one.

        July 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
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    • MyPictureOfMuhammad


      July 23, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
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        Funny this coming from a person that's entire family is posted on every adult site on the internet.

        July 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |

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