Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment

The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) is the US Government’s (USG) central repository of information on international terrorist identities as established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. TIDE supports the USG’s various terrorist screening systems or “watchlists” and the US Intelligence Community’s overall counterterrorism mission. The Terrorist Identities Group (TIG), located in the National Counterterrorism Center’s Information Sharing & Knowledge Development Directorate (ISKD), is responsible for building and maintaining TIDE.1

According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the TIDE database includes, to the extent permitted by law, all information the U.S. government possesses related to the identities of individuals known or appropriately suspected to be or have been involved in activities constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, with the exception of Purely Domestic Terrorism information.  As of January 2009, TIDE contained more than 564,000 names, but only about 500,000 separate “identities” because of the use of aliases and name variants. U.S. Persons (including both citizens and legal permanent residents) make up less than five percent of the listings.  Federal agencies nominate individuals for inclusion in TIDE based on evaluations of intelligence and law enforcement terrorism information.

Each day analysts create and enhance TIDE records based on their review of nominations received. Every evening, TIDE analysts export a sensitive but unclassified subset of the data containing the terrorist identifiers to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) for use in the USG’s consolidated watchlist. This consolidated watchlist, which is a critical tool for homeland security, supports screening processes to detect and interdict known and suspected terrorists at home and abroad – for example, the Transportation Security Administration’s “No Fly” list and the Department of State’s visa database, among others. 2

TIDE Entry Criteria

A non-exclusive list of types of conduct that will warrant both entry into TIDE and terrorist screening nomination includes persons who:
· Commit international terrorist activity;
· Prepare or plan international terrorist activity;
· Gather information on potential targets for international terrorist activity;
· Solicit funds or other things of value for international terrorist activity or a terrorist organization;
· Solicit membership in an international terrorist organization;
· Provide material support, i.e. safe house, transportation, communications, funds, transfer of funds or other material financial benefit, false documentation or identification, weapons, explosives, or training;
· Are members of or represent a foreign terrorist organization.3

Both TIDE and many of the end user screening systems are names based, which means that people with names similar to those in the database may be stopped for additional screening by TSA or at a port of entry. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS Trip) was launched in February 2007.  In 2008 more than 27,000 names were removed from TIDE when it was determined that they no longer met the criteria for inclusion.

Failures in TIDE System

Following the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2010, it was discovered that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with the bombing attempt, avoided detection and bypassed airport security despite being listed in the TIDE system.  This prompted the Obama administration to conduct an investigation into the effectiveness of terrorist watchlists:

“We are going to go back and really do a minute-by-minute, day-by-day scrub” of any information on Abdulmutallab, including concerns expressed by his father, a prominent Nigerian banker, who alerted the U.S. about a month ago about his son’s potential extremist views, Napolitano said.

An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Abdulmutallab was added in November of 2009 to the government’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, a list of more than 550,000 people with suspected terrorist ties.

The official declined to say what information prompted the inclusion of Abdulmutallab’s name on the list.

“When he presented himself to fly, he was on a TIDE list,” Napolitano said, which meant “his name had come up somewhere, somehow.”

Inclusion on the TIDE list doesn’t prevent someone from flying or prompt additional security screening. Abdulmutallab’s name was neither among 14,000 of those on the TIDE list who have been highlighted for additional screening, nor on the “no-fly” list of 4,000 people, the official said.4

According to Wired’s Threat Level blog, this investigation led to more leniant criteria for placing people on the “No-Fly List”, which is a subset within the TIDE System.

The action will result in more people being grounded from flights or undergoing secondary screening at airports. Officials wouldn’t indicate how many people might be affected.

The terrorist watch list has about 400,000 names on it, according to the most recent figures reported by the government. Most of them are non-U.S. citizens, and the list includes those suspected of providing financial assistance or aid to terrorists.

The “no fly” list, a subset of the watch list, contains about 3,400 names, of which about 170 are U.S. citizens or residents.

In addition to being used by airport security personnel to single out some travelers for extra screening or interrogation, the watchlist is used for, among other things, screening U.S. visa applicants and gun buyers as well as suspects stopped by local police.

In the wake of the attempted Christmas Day attack on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the government is re-evaluating why would-be bomber Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab wasn’t on its no-fly list — despite government and intelligence agencies receiving suspicious reports about him.

Although the attacker’s father reported concerns about his son to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria, the government determined the information did not meet the standard for placing him on a no-fly list or for revoking his U.S. visa. His father had reported that AbdulMutallab had been expressing radical opinions, had broken ties with the family and might have visited Yemen.

The National Security Agency had also obtained communication intercepts that suggested a Nigerian national might be planning an attack against the United States. But because the dots were never connected, AbdulMutallab was able to slip through airport security.

The government won’t describe the new criteria it’s using for the watch list and no-fly list, other than to say it might involve an evaluation of how much information has been collected on an individual and how reliable the source is.

“It will involve an assessment of risk, the perception of risk and our tolerance of risk,” a senior government official told CNN.

The intelligence community has already used the new criteria to scour the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database of more than 500,000 suspects, resulting in new names being added to watch lists and no-fly lists.5

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Source notes:

  1. TIDE Fact Sheet.  National Counterterrorism Center.  http://www.nctc.gov/docs/Tide_Fact_Sheet.pdf []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Roger Runningen and Jonathan Salant. Obama Orders Review of Terrorist Detection Methods.  Bloomberg.  December 27, 2009. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aMxjidjkMATg []
  5. Kim Zetter.  Threshold for Getting Onto No-Fly List Lowered.  Wired.  January 6, 2010.   http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/01/no-fly-list/ []