NCTC Was Slated For Deep Budget Cuts

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The highly touted intelligence fusion center at the heart of the nation's counterterrorism establishment was preparing for deep budget cuts across 2010, senior intelligence officials said. According to one official, who asked not to be identified because intelligence budget matters are classified, the administration and Congress slashed the budget for the National Counterterrorism Center by at least $25 million. Those affected, the official said, included employees responsible for maintaining the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) system, which contains the list of about 550,000 known or suspected terrorists.

TIDE contains highly classified information provided by the entire intelligence community. Each day, what the NCTC calls an "unclassified extract" is forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Terrorist Screening Center, which in turn sends it to the Transportation Security Agency, the State Department's Visa and Passport Database, the Customs and Border Patrol's entry database, and the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC.)

Both the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, and the head of the NCTC, Mike Leiter, pressed to have the funding restored well before the Christmas Day attack exposed potential problems.

"Without question, recent events will cause those proposals to be re-considered," an intelligence official said.

In a statement last week, Leiter said that NCTC's "most sacred responsibility is to be focused on our mission -- detecting and preventing terrorist attacks from happening on our soil and against US interests," Leiter said.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's name was in the database, officials have said, along with biographical information and the warning provided by his father, who told the CIA's chief of station in Nigeria that Abdulmutallab had fallen in with terrorists. Why Abdulmutallab's name was not forwarded to the State Department or the FBI for further review, especially in light of warnings about Nigerians preparing to attack the United States, is the focus of an intense investigation. Datamarts like TIDES are only as good as the info that goes in and only as good as the common format it is compared against.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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