A new report highlights the lack of oversight and exponential growth in the number of Americans placed on domestic intelligence watchlists.
A new analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union and a clinic at the Yale Law School is calling attention to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been placed on a variety of domestic terror watchlists. The report, “Trapped in a Black Box: Growing Terrorist Watchlisting in Everyday Policing,” details how the ACLU and the clinic at Yale Law School view this expansion of domestic watchlists as a potential threat to privacy and liberty.
The researchers reviewed 13,000 pages of information, including pages released from the Federal Bureau of Investigations via a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit by the ACLU and the Civil Liberties and the Civil Liberties and National Security Clinic at the law school. The team also studied information obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the government’s Watchlisting Guidance.
They found that there were less than 10,000 entries in 2003 as part of the Violent Gangs and Terrorist Organizations File, but by 2008 that number grown to 272,198 individuals under a successor category, the Known or Suspected Terrorist File. The report states that the KST list, “is part of a vast system of domestic surveillance of people whom law enforcement labels suspect based on vague and loose criteria, with serious constitutional and privacy implications for those who are included in the file.”
“Such individuals may be stigmatized as potential terrorists and are vulnerable to increased law enforcement scrutiny, often without knowing that they are on a secret watchlist, and without a meaningful way to confirm or contest their inclusion,” the report said.
Alice Wang, a third-year Yale Law School student and an author of the report, said the report highlights the shift made by the FBI from law enforcement to domestic intelligence gathering. Wang said although it may be appropriate to have a file of people with arrest warrants, she said those numbers only make up a small portion of the list.
Wang told the NH Register that the authors were not taking a position on the watchlists in general, but rather focusing on the due process rights of individuals on the list. The report does state there is a lack of oversight and the list “utilizes a low ‘reasonable suspicion’ evidentiary standard” in adding a name to the list. The report concludes that the primary purpose of the list is “the surveillance and tracking of individuals for indefinite periods.”
Dave S. Joly, terrorist screening center spokesman in Washington, D.C., told the NH Register that, “The Terrorist Screening Center does not publicly confirm nor deny whether any individual may be included in the U.S. Government’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) or a subset list.”
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The expansion of domestic terror watchlists has received scant media attention in the past. Even the two leaks (one, two) related to government watchlists were mostly ignored by the corporate media during the summer of 2014. The first leak 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 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 terrorists 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.
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.
As the government continues to operate these lists in the cover of dark, the American people are left to wonder if they are yet another number being observed by the watchful eyes of Big Brother. Only by exposing the public to this information and choosing to speak boldly and courageously will we ensure that America does not succumb to tyranny.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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