Barack Obama with (now former) NCTC Director Michael Leiter, center right, leadership and analysts in the secure video teleconference room at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va, Oct. 6, 2009. (Image credit: White House/Samantha Appleton)
The American Big Brother surveillance state has grown exponentially over recent years and it does not look like it is going to be slowing down any time soon with the new guidelines which allow private data on Americans to be held when there is no suspicion of them being tied to terrorism for a whopping five years.
Now the NCTC is getting even more power from the Obama administration, something akin to the George W. Bush-era “Total Information Awareness” program which was supposedly partially shut down by Congress.
For those who are unaware, the NCTC was established by Presidential Executive Order 13354 in 2004 and later actually codified by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. They are in an interesting position given that they report directly to the President and to the Director of National Intelligence, while following the policy dictated by the President and the National and Homeland Security Councils.
Their primary focus is the collection and sharing of information, supposedly related to terrorism, but thanks to the new guidelines, they really don’t need to even pretend it is about terrorism anymore.
Their information sharing reach goes far and wide, including the intelligence community and “State, Local, Tribal, and Private partners – in coordination with DHS, FBI, and other members of the ITACG Advisory Council,” according to the official website.
Anyone who has been following these issues likely realizes that the federal government just repackaged the Total Information Awareness program.
Now it exists as a much more distributed network of data harvesting and analysis systems involving both private and public entities.
Much of the raw data mining work has been taken up by Silicon Valley giants and the technology sector, but now the NCTC will be better able to openly utilize this information against Americans who have absolutely no links to terrorism whatsoever.
While the guidelines are public, I seriously doubt that the public document is the true, complete guide for their operations.
These new guidelines are expected to result in the NCTC cloning entire databases of personal information on Americans, which they then will data mine using highly complex algorithms which supposedly can search for patterns that might indicate a possible, potential threat.
According to unnamed intelligence officials cited by the New York Times, these new guidelines have been under development for some 18 months.
They claim that they came in the wake of the designed-to-fail “underwear bomber” attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
They claim that after the fact, they discovered that they had intercepted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) communications and a report from the United States Consulate in Nigeria which could have identified Abdulmutallab before he was shuffled on to a plane by a U.S. government agent, according to eyewitness and practicing attorney Kurt Haskell.
These changes will supposedly allow analysts to identify suspected terrorists more quickly, yet Abdulmutallab’s father attempted to warn both the United States and Nigeria about what his son was doing.
Haskell’s testimony is interesting to say the least.
Dutch counterterrorism officials claimed that Abdulmutallab had a valid Nigerian passport when he boarded the flight, also citing security footage which did not show any accomplices.
When Haskell encouraged them to put out the video to prove him wrong, U.S. officials then claimed that they were trying to identify and find the well-dressed man with the American accent that ushered Abdulmutallab on to the plane, adding that they believed he was there to make sure Abdulmutallab “did not get cold feet.”
“There is a genuine operational need to try to get us into a position where we can make the maximum use of the information the government already has to protect people,” said Robert S. Litt, the general counsel in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the National Counterterrorism Center.
This is the typical justification evoked by those who would love to see nothing more than every single last one of our rights stripped away from us in the name of safety.
“We have to manage to do that in a way that provides protection to people’s civil liberties and privacy. And I really think this has been a good-faith and reasonably successful effort to do that,” Litt added.
These new guidelines were also signed by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.
The previous guidelines issued in 2008 outlined three ways for the NCTC to gather information on Americans collected by another agency.
These options were: conducting a “limited” search for the target data on their own, asking another agency to perform the search, or by copying the entire database and analyzing the information at the NCTC.
If the NCTC asks an agency to conduct a search, I seriously doubt that the NCTC would have to ask twice, and it is likely the case that the agency would just hand over the entire database.
After all, our tyrannical federal government has been making a concerted effort to break down any and all barriers (many of which are highly beneficial to the rights, privacy and safety of Americans) through such centers as the NCTC and the nationwide Fusion Centers.
While the new NCTC guidelines will keep these three methods in place, they are placing a strong emphasis on the third option, likely because they want to collect and analyze as much private information on Americans as humanly possible.
Handling data of this magnitude will be quite a bit easier when the NSA’s new data center is finished. Remember, all of these agencies work hand in hand.
The new guidelines allow for private information on Americans with no suspected ties to terrorism to be held for five years, although I suspect in actuality it will be much longer.
This is because the previous guidelines instructed the NCTC to delete data on innocent Americas promptly, which they somehow decided was 180 days if no ties to terrorism were detected.
Furthermore, the first two options do not allow the “pattern analysis” techniques the NCTC loves so much, but there are no restrictions on cloned databases.
The executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has raised concerns about how these new guidelines could come into play with the many proposals to give the government increased access to a wide range of information and networks under the guise of protecting critical infrastructure.
These new guidelines do not mention how data mined from commercial sources — such as credit card records, travel records, etc — will be used, but the NCTC’s partnership with the private sector is far from reassuring.
Furthermore, back in 2009 Wired’s Threat Level got their hands on a list of the databases which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) acquired.
As noted above, the FBI is one of the NCTC’s many government partners when it comes to sharing information, which means we can assume that the NCTC has all of the databases the FBI has obtained.
These databases included almost 200 million records of private information belonging to Americans which was obtained through private so-called “data brokers” like ChoicePoint. They also included some 55,000 records from Wyndham hotels and this was only what was obtained from a single agency a single time in 2009.
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