A newly leaked document from the National Counterterrorism Center is giving the world its first inside peek at how the U.S. government identifies and tracks suspected terrorists in country and abroad.
A copy of the National Counterterroism Center’s Watchlisting Guidance report from March 2013 shows a dramatic expansion in the criteria used to target potential terrorist suspects under the Obama administration — a system which “requires neither ‘concrete facts’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence,'” according to The Intercept.
The list is distributed throughout the intelligence community as a uniform standard for designating suspects, and though it is unclassified, its secrecy has been guarded by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Just last month Attorney General Eric Holder brought the criteria under the state secrets privilege in order to prevent them from being disclosed in a legal challenge against an American placed on the list — a designation that can bar suspects from flying, and leave them open to prosecution for minor offenses.
In his argument, Holder described the list as a “clear roadmap” of the U.S. intelligence terrorist-tracking system, and that reveling the list to the public “could cause significant harm to national security.”
The 166-page document was not cited as belonging to the cache of intelligence documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, but is attributed to “a source within the intelligence community.”
Standards for making the list reportedly fall significantly below average law enforcement criteria necessary for arousing “reasonable suspicion.” Suspected terrorists’ families can be added to the list regardless of a lack of individual suspicion, and any known associates with “a possible nexus” to terrorism can also be watchlisted.
The White House can additionally authorize a “threat-based expedited upgrade” — a loophole around reasonable suspicion that bumps the threat elevation of entire categories of listed suspects onto no-fly lists, and qualify them for increased scrutiny at border crossings and airports for up to a month based on “fragmentary information.”
“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project head Hina Shamsi told the Intercept after reviewing the document. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.”
“These criteria should never have been kept secret.”