The National Counterterrorism Center Just Declared All of Us Domestic Terrorists

I’m going to have a series of posts on the new National Counterterrorism Center data sharing guidelines. As a reminder, the whole point of these guidelines is to allow the NCTC to obtain information on US persons, dump it into their datamining, and then ultimately pass it on. In this, I’ll show how, by magic of cynical bureaucracy, the government is about to turn non-terrorist data into terrorist data.

Here’s how that trick is accomplished rhetorically. In the Background section (and in one or two other places), the document includes this language to legally justify throwing US person data into big databases to be data mined. It starts by laying out NCTC’s data mandate:

[NCTC] shall “serve as the primary organization in the United States for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States Government pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism, excepting intelligence pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorists and domestic counterterrorism.

It blathers on about how NCTC also has the responsibility to request information and pass it on. This is the legal language they’re going to translate to mean the opposite of what it says.

Jumping ahead a bit, the guidelines acknowledges that NCTC is only supposed to have access, if needed, to domestic terrorism information.

In the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, Congress recognized that NCTC must have access to a broader range of information than it has primary authority to analyze and integrate if it is to achieve its missions. The Act thus provides that NCTC “may, … receive intelligence pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism from any Federal, State, or local government or other source necessary to fulfill its responsibility and retain and disseminate intelligence.” [my emphasis]

See that? It can have all the foreign terrorism information, and then if it needs to, it can have the domestic terrorism information.

Now, going back a few lines, it takes this authority–“pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism”–and uses it to get … everything.

NCTC’s analytic and integration efforts … at times require it to access and review datasets that are identified as including non-terrorism information in order to identify and obtain “terrorism information,” as defined in section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004, as amended. “Non-terrorism information” for purposes of these Guidelines includes information pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism, as well as information maintained by other executive departments and agencies that has not been identified as “terrorism information” as defined by IRTPA. [my emphasis]

Note that bolded section is not a citation from existing law. It is, instead, NCTC turning NCTC’s authority to sometimes get domestic terrorism information into authority to get any dataset maintained by any executive agency that NCTC believes might include some information that might be terrorism information.

Those of us in the US Government’s tax, social security, HHS, immigration, military, and other federal databases? We’ve all, by bureaucratic magic, been turned into domestic terrorists.

Now, NCTC seems to understand what a grasp this is, so it deploys one more rhetorical effort, this time noting that the Director of National Intelligence–to whom NCTC reports–also gets access to all national security intelligence.

[The National Security Act] provides that “[u]nless otherwise directed by the President, the Director of National Intelligence shall have access to all national intelligence and intelligence related to hte national security which is collected by any federal department, agency, or other entity…”

So in addition to all of us in government databases–that is, all of us–being deemed domestic terrorists, the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.

We are all, now, first and foremost potential terrorists now. Only after NCTC destroys our data in five years (if they don’t find some excuse to keep it before then) will we become citizens again.

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.

10 replies
  1. justbetty says:

    I’ve felt for some time as if we were all being considered domestic terrorists- always feel that way when flying. Doesn’t seem to be much hope of that changing any time soon, sorry to say.

  2. ApacheTrout says:

    The five year limit is meaningless, as there’s nothing to stop the NCTC from adding a person back to the database shortly after their information has supposedly been deleted. Once that happens, the NCTC will start to wonder why they don’t have older information to make a “more complete picture”, and then the rule will expand again.

    Also, remember the definition for domestic terrorism:
    (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

    (B) appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

    Note, this does not apply to abortion killings. But it soon will apply to the Occupy movement now that protests on federal grounds have been criminalized under certain circumstances (H.R. 347).

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    @ApacheTrout: Note that this definition includes neither an “and” nor an “or” between the two clauses, which suggests to me that it will be understood as an “or”, thus greatly expanding its range.

    Bob in AZ

  4. lefty665 says:

    Thanks ew.

    Dunno what makes anyone think this day is different from any other day. The vacuum’s been running 24/7/365 for a long time. Guess it’s getting driven home a little harder today. Listen closely and you can hear the pitter patter of the ghosts of keystrokes past.

    Might not hurt to let folks know that going dark today won’t save them. They’ve been had for years. As my dear old white haired mother used to say “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.”

    When you get time for another windmill, we could stand to look at Intel’s Sandybridge and newer cpus. They’ve got phone home, remote triggered hardware disk encryption and a lot of other goodies. The technology’s developed by Intel’s Israeli division. That might include some of the nice folks who made the gear that went in 641a and elsewhere. I’m sure they’ve got our best interests at heart.

    And there’s always software to consider. The Agency’s had its fingers in at least the last 3 iterations of Windows. Ask for a show of hands of all those who believe the hundreds of Windows security updates they’ve been religiously installing were all for their own personal security. To all those cool folks in the Mac community, is going naked beginning to feel a little like being a patsy?

    Point being that it’s not just vacuuming up web and cell traffic, it’s hardware and software exploits too.

    NCTC’s just the camel’s nose. NSA was assigned an expanded mission after 911. Overall it’s a very bright bunch of folks, and they’ve had a decade to chew on it. They’ve had more computing horsepower than anyone else in the world at least since prehistory days when Johnny von Naumann helped them work through the concept of stored programs. They’ve kept a pretty good leg up on the rest of us for a long time.

    Might not hurt to point folks to some of the open literature. Herman Kahn’s “The Codebreakers” and Bamford’s “The Puzzle Palace” for history. Bamford’s “The Shadow Factory” for post 911 developments, and there are others. What’s happening today did not spring full blown upon us, and it helps (I suppose) to know how we got here.

    Them boys got a sense of humor too. Beef Hollow Road indeed. Bring in the drones.

  5. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    I called FEMA to make sure they didn’t want my Katrina money back as there is a limited time to appeal. Before telling me they didn’t want it back they proceeded to pump me for a LOT of information. I did not like it one bit.

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