Inside the FBI

On this episode of Inside the FBI, learn about the origins of the TSC and the mission it has pursued over the past 20 years.

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Perry Adams: A few days after the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6—or HSPD-6—directing the U.S. government to consolidate its approach to terrorism screening and watchlisting. As a result, the Terrorist Screening Center, or TSC, was established in 2003. 

On this episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll hear from TSC Director Michael Glasheen about the origins of the center and the mission it has pursued over the past 20 years.  

I’m Perry Adams, and this is Inside the FBI.  

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Adams: Before 9/11, multiple government agencies had their own terrorism watchlists that were specific to their missions, but there was no mechanism in place to bring those lists together and facilitate information sharing between the agencies. 

That became essential in the aftermath of 9/11. HSPD-6 tasked the U.S. attorney general with creating an organization that would centralize terrorism screening within the U.S. government and create one federal terrorism watchlist. 

The TSC began operating in December 2003 as an interagency center staffed by multiple U.S. government entities, including the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the State Department, and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.  

Michael Glasheen: The mission of the Terrorist Screening Center is to consolidate the U.S. government's approach to national security screening and provide for the appropriate and lawful use of identity information and screening processes while protecting privacy and safeguarding civil liberties. 

Adams: That was Michael Glasheen, the current director of the TSC. He was appointed to the position in May 2023.  

Glasheen: I'm privileged and honored to hold the role that I have. And I don't take it lightly. It's an awesome responsibility of being able to work with and lead our interagency partners with the ultimate goal of protecting the American people.  

Partnerships are critical to the success of the Terrorist Screening Center. Nothing is done in a vacuum.

The TSC is truly an interagency entity comprised of the FBI, DHS, members from the Department of State, and the National Counterterrorism Center. We all work together with a common goal of identifying nefarious actors and trying to keep them out of the United States. 

Adams: The FBI supports the TSC’s administrative functions and provides most of its workforce. Glasheen himself has been an FBI special agent since 2001, working international terrorism cases in the field before joining the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters.  

Glasheen: I joined the FBI shortly after 9/11, and I've been working counterterrorism my entire career. 

I'm very fortunate to be in the role that I am, trying to make a difference and trying to add value to protecting the United States of America from terrorist actors.  

Adams: The TSC operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, aggregating information across agencies into the federal terrorism watchlist and providing that information to authorized agencies who are called to respond if a known or suspected terrorist is encountered within the United States, at its borders, or overseas. 

As you heard him say earlier, Glasheen often calls the mission of the TSC an "awesome responsibility."  

Glasheen: What it means to me when I say it's the awesome responsibility is no one else in the United States government does what we do at the TSC. It rests on the shoulders of the individuals that come to work every day at the TSC, and we've got to get it right every day. The people who work at the TSC are truly passionate and prideful about their work.

The TSC was created because of 9/11. In essence, it was a need. I would like to add the American people should want a TSC, knowing what the TSC does. It is the only entity in the United States government that consolidates known suspected terrorism name information and shares them with other U.S. government agencies and foreign partners with the goal of protecting the American people. And just to highlight is something that I hope that the people in the United States of America can appreciate the work that goes on 24/7 at the Terrorist Screening Center to protect them.  

Adams: Though the TSC’s mission and processes are straightforward, there are often misconceptions about both.

For example, Americans who have experienced additional screening at airports have sometimes reported that they’ve been unfairly placed on the watchlist. But enhanced screening can happen for many reasons unrelated to watchlisting. In fact, U.S. persons make up less than 0.5% of all watchlist records, which are based on terrorism activities only. 

Another misperception is that the watchlist is designed to target members of certain communities. Watchlist nominations are not based on race, religion, ethnicity, or any constitutionally protected activities. While Congress—through the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act—mandated greater sharing of terrorist information among federal departments and agencies, it must be done while protecting privacy and civil liberties. 
Glasheen: How do we actually safeguard privacy and civil liberties with respect to oversight?

The U.S. government’s watchlisting processes and procedures are subject to continual internal review by the federal agencies that participate in the watchlisting process. To ensure overall fairness and effectiveness, these agencies' policy personnel, legal counsel, and privacy and civil liberties offices participate in these reviews.  

Adams: In addition to these internal agency reviews, the TSC's watchlisting processes and procedures are regularly evaluated by external authorities, to include the Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, Congress, and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  

Glasheen: As you can tell, there's a lot of external review on our process to protect the privacy and civil rights of the process.  

The TSC is leading the world's efforts to provide early detection of all known threat actors’ travel and entry into the United States. So if you think about that—I talked earlier about the value of partnerships and collaboration—we can't do this alone. We can't do it in a vacuum.  

But we've also engaged over the 20-some years of strong relationships with foreign governments. This is a whole-of-government approach to keeping the United States safe, and the United States—through the TSC—is leading the world's efforts here. We have dialogue with foreign partners and interagency partners every day with the goal of protecting the American people, while also safeguarding and protecting privacy and civil liberties.  

Adams: That mission has not wavered over the past two decades. And the success of the TSC’s interagency approach to terrorism watchlisting has led to additional programs. 

Glasheen: The TSC started out as a result of the horrific acts of September 11, 2001, and to focus on known suspected terrorists. And over the years, the TSC has evolved.  

In August 2015, the attorney general authorized the TSC to establish a program to counter transnational organized criminals and their networks. As a result, the TSC—in coordination with interagency partners—deployed the Transnational Organized Crime Actor Detection Program, and this went into effect in March of 2016.  

These actors are individuals who may pose a threat to the national security because they are reasonably suspected of or known to be engaging in transnational organized crime or to be knowingly aiding, abetting, or conspiring with others engaged in transnational organized crime.

The goal is to identify these individuals and keep them out of the United States.  

Adams: As for the next 20 years, Glasheen expects the TSC will continue to grow in response to changing threat factors. 

Glasheen: The TSC definitely has to evolve. It's evolved from 9/11, and what we want to do is try to stay ahead of the threat. There are challenges with that, whether it be with technology, whether it be with different types of criminals.

So, the TSC is going to evolve, and in order for that to happen, we have to stay connected to our interagency partners and the relationships we have with foreign governments to stay current with the threat that we face.  


Adams: This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or YouTube. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at   

I’m Perry Adams from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for listening. 

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