John Brennan, The Terrorist Threat Integration Center, and Main Core

In my last post, I pointed out that John Brennan almost certainly had a role overseeing the threat assessment used for George Bush’s illegal surveillance program, for at least a year and possibly two. He probably did so, I explained, in his role as Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Interim Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center.

That’s troublesome not just because one of Obama’s closest national security advisors is complicit with this illegal program. But also because it means the entity doing the Terrorist Watch List has been intimately involved in deciding whom to wiretap.

Here’s WhoRunsGov’s description of what Brennan did at TTIC and NCTC:

In 2004, he accepted a job at the National Counter-Terrorism Center, where he revamped the government’s monitoring of terrorist activity by incorporating information from across agencies. He also increased the number of analysts and compiled one of the most comprehensive reports on terrorism across the world. “We want to make sure that we are looking at it [terrorism] openly and as exhaustively as possible,” Brennan said in 2004. He also created the terrorist watch list, which contains names and data on thousands of suspected terrorists and is accessible to law enforcement officials, during his tenure.

And here’s part of a Frontline interview with Brennan.

… You were involved in creating the terrorist watch list through the NCTC, right? … Does it work?

It works, I think, very well. There [are] still improvements that need to be made. But prior to about two years ago or so in 2004, there were over a dozen databases in about nine different federal departments and agencies that were part of the watch-listing system. It was dysfunctional because they were not interconnected.

No organization, no architect[ure].

Right. And now there is an architecture that’s in place, and the National Counterterrorism Center feeds information to the FBI-administered Terrorist Screening Center [TSC] so that airports and ports of entry and local police have access to the master watch list of all individuals who are known or suspected to be transnational terrorists.

They can call in, or it shows up in airports?

They can do an immediate search. They can just log onto the computer that they have and run the name, and all the variants will come up. It’s a much more effective and efficient system now.

Even though we hear these constant complaints from people who say their name is in there because their name is the same as some other person’s name.

Sure. Early on there were a lot of false positives and a lot of individuals who were pulled aside for secondary questioning, whatever. They’ve worked out a lot of that. There are still false positives. … Sometimes individuals will come across a port of entry with a very similar name, similar date of birth, even similar nationality, and so therefore they are going to be pulled aside for the questioning to determine whether or not they are identifiable as the terrorist. …

Now, this should not be a surprise and to some degree it makes sense, but the point is that the same people making the Terrorist Watch List were also the same people deciding who would get wiretapped domestically. That’s a problem–and not just because the Terrorist Watch List has proven to be almost comically inaccurate. 

By far the most troubling allegation about the domestic surveillance program–one corroborated to very limited degree since–is the suggestion that the Bush Administration was cross-referencing Main Core, a database of people whom, under a Continuity of Government situation, could be rounded up–with their warrantless wiretapping list.

I don’t know about the track record of Christopher Ketcham, the author of this Radar piece explaining the "big thing" that that made Jim Comey object to the warrantless wiretapping program so aggressively in March 2004. But it sounds like a plausible explanation.

Ketcham describes a database of Americans who, in case the government ever implements its Continuity of Government program in a time of national emergency, can be rounded up and jailed.

[snip]

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

[snip]

Ketcham goes on to explain that the Bush Administration was cross-referencing Main Core with its warrantless wiretap program. I’m not entirely clear whether Ketcham is saying BushCo used Main Core to come up with potential targets of warrantless wiretapping, or whether they used the warrantless wiretapping intercepts to add to Main Core–I think, but am not positive–it’s the latter.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used "to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time." Though not specifically familiar with the name Main Core, he adds, "What was being requested of Comey for legal approval was exactly what a Main Core story would be." A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: "Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project."

Now, the news that TTIC and NCTC were instrumental in deciding whom to wiretap makes it more likely that Main Core was being cross-referenced with the warrantless wiretapping program. Which makes the program all the more troubling.

We know the keepers of key databases on potential American threats played a key role in the warrantless wiretapping program. What we don’t know–yet–is how many of their databases were involved in the program. 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Pity that “terrorist” watch list is so corrupted, with more than a million names, many of them wrong, double-counted, dead and no threat at all. Good resume value for a top terrorist adviser, in lieu of Richard Clarke or someone competent and not criminally implicated, don’t you think?

    • alabama says:

      I know we have to live with this, but what, finally, are we living with? Small-minded vengeful bureaucrats throwing their fellow citizens in jail?

  2. behindthefall says:

    8,000,000 of us, huh? That’s a lot of detention centers. Someone might notice if there had been that much construction. Sounds like an area the size of Rhode Island. A lot of drinking water, too, and flushing toilets. Roads.

    Or holes. Lots of holes. With nearby piles of dirt.

    Who do we know in government with tight connections to big companies who build facilities, occasionally in a slipshod manner, and with little oversight? Let me ponder …

    “Continuity of government” my bippy. It would be a continuation of nothing that had gone before.

    • acquarius74 says:

      They’ve already been built; and yes by KBR. And some nuthatch representative has introduced H.R.645 which, if passed, would authorize that certain “undesirable elements” would be detained there.

      As for Cheney/Wolfewitz/Rummy’s Continuity of Government (COG) they began working on it back in the 1980’s, mapping out hidden bunkers in alternate locations, written rules as to who would be “saved”, etc. These faithful 3 held practice sessions all through the years whether in or out of gov.

      Oh, and guess whut, there’s to be no Congress in the gov that emerges from the bunker when the ‘Horrific Terror Attack’ occurs. So, congress best get off their duffs and look homeward and cage these madmen they’ve bowed down to all these years of insanity.

      Just Google: video, FEMA CAMPS and make your own choices. Here is a link to one of the contracts to KBR.

      I’ll get links to COG if anyone is interested.

      Here’s link to story where Halliburton confirms that the FEMA camps have already been constructed, and other breathtaking stuff.

      The reason they’ve gotten away with this madness is because it’s unbelievable. Do this test: after doing your research, just try telling it to someone.

      • behindthefall says:

        Well, if that PDF isn’t a forgery, then the people who brought you Buchenwald would have to admit they’ve been outdone. “Endgame” “Fnal Solution” Why do such clowns always think that eliminating The Other is the be-all and end-all of civilization?

      • acquarius74 says:

        Man, that Endgame is a beaut! Period of time is 2003-2012

        I’ve been ranting about the program by the Bureau of Land Management to “zero-out” the wild horses and burros from the public lands where they are supposed to be protected by law (1971). In my study of the BLM documents, repeatedly I see the word “removal” (the word ‘kill’ is never used); finally came a sheet on ‘methods of removal’ one of which was a bullet to the brain.

        So I think we can read kill in this endgame document wherever we see the word ‘removal’.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This choice of staffing and assignments suggest the White House has institutionalized Dick Cheney’s hatred of oversight and accountability. With no checks or balances, only the compiler of the list gets to determine whether it’s accurate, useful and cost-effective. By the way, I believe there is still no mechanism for determining the list’s accuracy or a mechanism for even the most obviously inappropriately named people to get off it.

    Do we really want to apply the corrupt self-referential standards typical of insider-specified defense contracts to the whole executive branch?

    Mr. Obama seems to like driving his new car; pity he doesn’t care that half its parts were stolen and a quarter of them are rusted through.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Detention centers and “continuity of government” procedures? Newspeak, surely, to take a valid function of government out of all appropriate, restrained context.

    It’s reminiscent of Star Trek’s, A Piece of the Action. We are building a society on the equivalent of a single book. Not one left by God, but one left behind by an interstellar traveler after spending a penny in the loo. Why does it have to be P.D. James’ Children of Men?

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    We don’t have to live with it. Obama is choosing to live with it because he agrees with it or because he’s taking the easiest political path open to him.

    • alabama says:

      “It,” for me, means the technology (I should have made the point). Genies don’t jump back into bottles, or crawl back in, either.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    Apparently, among those to be rounded up was Senator Edward Kennedy and some other elected officials.

  7. esseff44 says:

    There certainly does seem to be continuity between his government jobs and his private company. In fact, his company was running some of the programs for them. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T…..orporation

    Set up a program that needs a certain architecture, leave government and set up the architecture and get the contract, go back into government to make sure it goes as planned. Now there’s a business plan.

  8. bobschacht says:

    First of all, is this program even legal?

    Second, if it is legal, 8,000,000 baddies is way too many. They’re concerned not just with the generals of the movement, but with the Captains, the lieutenants, the sergeants, and even the corporals. If they are any good at all with their threat analysis, the list of baddies should be less than 1,000, maybe even less than 100.

    So this is a program that is WAY out of control. Did anyone even think of the resources it would take to arrest and incarcerate 8,000,000 people?

    But I don’t think they want to go there, operationally. Want they want is an excuse to arrest YOU, whenever they want to. If they want to arrest YOU, all they have to do is look you up on the list. Never mind about the other 7,999,999.

    This is about massive intimidation.

    Seems to have worked pretty well on the Dems.

    Bob in HI

    • malcontent says:

      It is all that. If we assume that this technolgy is reasonably functional then it continues to compile: call records, financial transactions, email, blog comments, google searches, and the location of your cellphone 24-7-365. The billions we spend annually on black budget operations would indicate some level of return on investment and can be “randomly” tested on demand.

      Model the behavior of your targets in your synthetic environment lab and evaluate the ongoing reactions of your 8 million targets for precision and accuracy. Soothe them or incite them at will by managing your messaging via mass media. See how far you can push the public without blowing the party.

      You own it so ride it like you stole it. Add enhancements like Nexidia and Narus just for fun. You have the power of the US government to back you up.

      Welcome to the machine.

  9. HanTran says:

    Look if they have 8 million names its the dame problem with the wiretapping, too much noise.

    The idea of rounding up 8 million is a bit absurd don’t you think? Who is capable and available to carry out such a task?