New Details on Government Watchlists Released by Second Leaker

Last week reported on the latest intelligence leaks from The Intercept, asking Americans to consider the question, Are You on a Government Watchlist? This week we take a look at a new document that offers a more detailed look at how the government operates watchlists.

The previous leaks dealt with a 2013 document from the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) which details the rules for placing individuals on terrorism watchlists, including the no fly list. The 166-page document covers two lists: the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), and the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). Chapters of the document include information on what triggers placement on the lists, and what type of information officials are to collect when encountering suspected individuals.

While that document details the vague and broad language used to ensnare individuals as possible terrorists, the latest leak covers another document from the NCTC: the Directorate of Terrorist Identities (DTI) Strategic Accomplishments 2013. DTI is a counterterrorism unit within the NCTC responsible for maintaining the TIDE. The document is essentially a highlight of what the NCTC deems as accomplishments by the DTI in their pursuit of counterterrorism goals.

As CNN has noted, the document could not have come from whistleblower Edward Snowden, as it is dated August 2013, after Snowden left for Russia. This indicates a second whistleblower. The Intercept referred to the leaker only as “a source in the intelligence community”.

Despite the fact that the process for placement on terrorism watchlists is notoriously ambiguous and subject to the governments discretion, the NCTC counts the addition of “one million persons” as a milestone. The document states:

“On June 28 2013, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) passed a milestone of one million persons in TIDE. While NCTC’s  Directorate of Terrorist Identities (DTI) seeks to create only as many person records as are necessary for our nation’s counterterrorism mission, this number is a testament to DTI’s hard work over the past 2.5 years.”

Although the U.S. government would like the American public to believe there is a strict process for placing individuals on TIDE and the TSDB, and that only the worst offenders are placed under such scrutiny, the leaked document says otherwise.

As the Intercept notes, at the time of the document the TSDB listed 680,000 “known or suspected terrorists”. However, a whopping 280,000 are described as “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” The groups listed alongside “no recognized terrorist group affiliation” include more well known groups deemed terrorist by the U.S. government. Namely, Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. The documents show that under the Obama administration the number of people placed on the no fly list has grown more than ten times.

Other important highlights revealed by the leaks include the fact that the government is adding new names or additional information on existing subjects around 900 times each day. A U.S. counterterrorism official told The Intecept that by November 2013 there were around 700,000 people in the TSDB. According to the document, in August 2013 there were 5,000 Americans on the TSDB and another 15,800 on the TIDE.

The leading agencies behind placing individuals on the watchlists include the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The document also lists five cities where “known or suspected terrorists” are reportedly in large numbers. These include New York; Dearborn, Mich.; Houston; San Diego; and Chicago. The focus on Dearborn – with 40 percent of its population of Arab descent, indicates that the U.S. government continues to target Muslim Americans.

Another important facet of the document details how the government gathers biometric information and what information it seeks. Within the DIT operates another group that focuses on obtaining biometric data from driver’s license records around the United States. Launched in 2013, the Biometric Analysis Branch (BAB) collects “non-traditional” biometric data such as handwriting samples, signatures, scare, marks and tattoos, and DNA samples. The document states that in 2013 the database included over 860,000 biometric files on around 144,000 people.

The issue of Americans being indiscriminately labeled “terrorists” and then placed on one of the watchlists or no fly list becomes all the more precarious when you take into account the fact that these growing files are being shared and cross-referenced with foreign governments, private contractors, and local law enforcement around the nation. Combined with the militarization of local police it paints a dramatic picture of a federal government working to justify the global War on Terror while cataloging all citizens who question the status-quo.