NSA

How Much Longer Until the Government Thinks Everybody Is a Terrorist?

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The Intercept

The latest document leak from The Intercept (that's Glenn Greenwald's new web publication) comes not from Edward Snowden, it seems. Instead, an unidentified source within the intelligence community has provided The Intercept with the secret 166-page document that explains how, exactly, the government puts people on terrorist watch lists and what happens with that information.

Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill, along with journalist Ryan Devereaux, scoured the documents to break down the details for readers. There is a lot to examine. Looking it over, I see three major take-aways:

The standard for getting on the watch list is low. "Reasonable suspicion" is enough. The Intercept notes:

The document's definition of "terrorist" activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is "dangerous" to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

"If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it's a slippery slope we're sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything," says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. "Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn't make you a terrorist. That's the kind of information that gets put in there."

And The Intercept notes, the names on the watch list show up when local law enforcement agencies interact with the listed folks, so somebody on the list is going to be treated with even more suspicion if he or she gets pulled over for speeding (for example) and might not even know why.

This isn't a small list, by the way. The Associated Press earlier in the month noted that the federal government has added more than 1.5 million names to the watch list over the past five years, though many have also been subsequently removed.

Yes, there is profiling. There is a mechanism to elevate entire "categories of people," who are on the watch list to add to "no fly" lists, again without any evidence the individuals are actually plotting any sort of acts of terrorism:

The rulebook does not indicate what "categories of people" have been subjected to threat-based upgrades. It is not clear, for example, whether a category might be as broad as military-age males from Yemen. The guidelines do make clear that American citizens and green card holders are subject to such upgrades, though government officials are required to review their status in an "expedited" procedure. Upgrades can remain in effect for 72 hours before being reviewed by a small committee of senior officials. If approved, they can remain in place for 30 days before a renewal is required, and can continue "until the threat no longer exists."

"In a set of watchlisting criteria riddled with exceptions that swallow rules, this exception is perhaps the most expansive and certainly one of the most troubling," [Hina] Shamsi, the ACLU attorney, says. "It's reminiscent of the Bush administration's heavily criticized color-coded threat alerts, except that here, bureaucrats can exercise virtually standard-less authority in secret with specific negative consequences for entire categories of people."

If you're on the list, all your stuff gets picked over. If the federal government thinks you might be a terrorist, they are instructed to get as much information about you as they can when they yank you aside at airports or border crossings:

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, "any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards)," cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any "pocket litter," scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—"e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened." Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as "anything with an account number" and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even "animal information"—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

Read the entire Intercept story here. They've also posted a PDF of the full "Watchlisting Guidance" report here.

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  1. They don’t already?

    1. Not “officially.”

    2. If I am reading this correctly, the totality of circumstances necessary to determine whether or not you should be subjected to repeated examinations with a fine-toothed anal probe can only be ascertained by means of subjecting you to repeated examinations with a fine-toothed anal probe.

      Therefore, whether you are a terrorist or a suspected terrorist or a non-terrorist is beside the point – everybody gets the same treatment. Sort of like how they determined whether or not you were a witch by tying a large rock around your neck and throwing you in a river – if you survived you were a witch and would be executed whereas if you drowned then obviously you weren’t a witch and would face no punishment.

      1. I guess that’s what I get for being heavier than a duck.

        1. She’s a witch!

          Burn her! Burn her with FIRE!

        2. Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?

        3. Do what I do: Always fill your pockets with very small rocks.

  2. Gee, a threat to put you on the list wouldn’t be significant at all. There’s no way some disgruntled bureaucrat would ever do something like that.

  3. We’re bleaching flags left and right. If that isn’t terrorism then I don’t know what is. No redress of grievances petitioning for terrorists, either.

    1. Remember when dissent was the highest form of patriotism?

      1. Psshh. That is so last decade.

        1. Last century.

  4. Upgrades can remain in effect for 72 hours before being reviewed by a small committee of senior officials. If approved, they can remain in place for 30 days before a renewal is required, and can continue “until the threat no longer exists.”

    What, like, by drone?

  5. Those last two paragraphs are fucking absurd. Conference materials? Grocery cards? Book conditions? How the hell is that supposed to help them identify if someone is a threat?

    “Fuck guys, John bought 4 buckets of hummus and Persian berries yesterday.”

    “Looks like he also owns an Afghan hound”

    Alright, call in the drone strike now!”

  6. How do you refer to a negative period of time?

    1. Depression?

    2. The Obama Years

    3. I call it ex-wife number 1 and ex-wife number 2.

      1. Last night when I got blacked-out drunk.

  7. Law enforcemnet, regardless whether it is the Police, the FBI, the Bouncer at the local bar, George Zimmerman and other security guards, etc. all want to do their job without being questioned. They don’t want to be question whether they are enforcing petty patters. And, when they are accused of misconduct, they question on aregular basis if the complaint is petty.

    And, most importantly, yes, law enforcement thinks everyone is a crook.

    1. And, most importantly, yes, law enforcement thinks everyone is a crook.

      Projection.

    2. Kinda like how cops can only search your car if you voluntarily give assent or if they have a reasonable suspicion. Failure to voluntarily give assent constitutes reasonable suspicion.

      Or how the CIA only conducts drone strikes in countries that give them permission to conduct drone strikes or in countries where they are unable to secure permission to conduct drone strikes.

      1. Kinda like how cops can only search your car if you voluntarily give assent or if they have a reasonable suspicion. Failure to voluntarily give assent constitutes reasonable suspicion.

        If they ask why not, just tell them that if they had probable cause to search your vehicle they wouldn’t have asked you to let them do it.

      2. They are supposed to have probable cause to search your car. Reasonable suspicion is the standard for stopping and harassing you.

  8. How Much Longer Until the Government Thinks Everybody Is a Terrorist?

    I hate to break it to you, Scott, but for quite some time now they already do.

    1. Anyone not in government is the enemy?

      1. Except for the occasional mailman.

  9. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

    So, public sector unions?

  10. How Much Longer Until the Government Thinks Everybody Is a Terrorist?

    I’m pretty sure only a terrorist would think of this question.

    1. +1 waterboarding

  11. The sheer number of agency logos on the cover should give one pause.

  12. If you criticize the “anti-terror” infrastructure, you’re a deluded ignoramus who doesn’t believe terrorists exist.

    1. If you criticize the “anti-terror” infrastructure, you’re a deluded ignoramus who doesn’t believe terrorists exist terrorist.

  13. Are they recruiting schoolchildren to spy on and report their parents and neighbors to the authorities, yet?

    1. It’s the grannies you have to watch out for.

      https://www.nypdshield.org/public/howcanihelp.aspx

      The Blockwatchers Program trains community residents on the skills needed to be the “eyes and ears” of the Police Department. Civilian volunteers are given training in observation and then assigned a confidential Blockwatchers number which they use to report crime and dangerous conditions in their neighborhood. Many members of this vital crime prevention program are elderly or disabled and make their observations without venturing far from their homes. Contact your local precient for more information.

      1. Who knew Rear Window was a training film?

        1. +1 Sexy Exhibitionist Nympho!

  14. “an unidentified source within the intelligence community”

    The more the better. Shine the flashlight into the cabinet under the sink and watch all the roaches scatter!

  15. As a self described terrorist, I’m offended to be lumped in with the common rabble!

  16. Are we safe yet?

    Has everybody had enough?

    1. Is it safe?

      1. Yes…it’s, very safe…

  17. I thought they already did if you didn’t have a “D” after your name.

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