Part 1 of our Conversation with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston and Her Experiences at the Terrorist Scree
On today'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.
Shelton: Dina Temple-Raston spoke to us from the NPR Studios in Washington D.C. She began by describing the center itself.
Temple-Raston: The Terrorist Screening Center is in a top secret place. No one is allowed to know its location. When I was invited to visit I had to park several blocks away from the center. I had to walk around the block several times before I was allowed to go inside. Once I made my way into the center, I noticed stations set up with people working with two flat screen monitors. These screens are used to tap into confidential and classified databases across the intelligence community. The databases determine if someone who is tagged or pulled over by a police officer is a terrorist or someone they are watching.
Shelton: Do people on the list know that they are being watched? In your report, you said that they won't confirm whether or not you're actually on the list.
Temple-Raston: It's unclear if people on the list actually know that they are being watched. If you're on the list and for example, you keep getting pulled aside in an airport you can talk about the problem but they will never tell you if you actually have made it off the list.
Shelton: What might a person do, or what would cause someone to possibly be added to the list?
Temple-Raston: That's a great question. I wish I had the answer to that. The names that go on the watch list are based on people who meet certain criteria. However, since the criteria are classified there is no way of knowing why people get pulled over. It's anyone's guess on what they use as their criteria. It's known that they track calls and if you call someone who is known to be a terrorist then that could be a factor. However, this is speculation since they don't give out a sheet that explains the criteria.
Shelton: I know some people are going to hear all this information and think this sounds like "Big Brother Central." Did you have that feeling or sense while you were there?
Temple-Raston: I was a little astounded at how things have changed since September 11th. There was a story about one of the 9/11 hijackers being pulled over in Maryland for speeding. He was given a ticket and let go. Today this would never happen because of how the terrorist watch list and the Terrorist Screening Center work. A cop would call in a person's name and driver's license and the information would be sent to the Terrorist Screening Center.
Shelton: I'll continue my conversation with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston tomorrow during Morning Edition. We'll find out how she became the first and only journalist allowed inside the center. If you missed her report on the Terrorist Screening Center, we have a link to that report on our website: www.ksmu.org