For weeks, I have been trying to figure out why the NSA, in a training program it created in August 2009, likened one of its “present abuses” to Project Minaret. What “unauthorized targeting of suspected terrorists in the US” had they been doing, I wondered, that was like “watch-listing U.S. people for evidence of foreign influence.”
Until, in a fit of only marginally related geekdom, I re-read the following passage in Keith Alexander’s declaration accompanying the End-to-End review submitted to the FISA Court on August 19, 2009 (that is, around the same time as the training program).
Between 24 May 2006 and 2 February 2009, NSA Homeland Mission Coordinators (HMCs) or their predecessors concluded that approximately 3,000 domestic telephone identifiers reported to Intelligence Community agencies satisfied the RAS standard and could be used as seed identifiers. However, at the time these domestic telephone identifiers were designated as RAS-approved, NSA’s OGC had not reviewed and approved their use as “seeds” as required by the Court’s Orders. NSA remedied this compliance incident by re-designating all such telephone identifiers as non RAS-approved for use as seed identifiers in early February 2009. NSA verified that although some of the 3,000 domestic identifiers generated alerts as a result of the Telephony Activity Detection Process discussed above, none of those alerts resulted in reports to Intelligence Community agencies. 7
7 The alerts generated by the Telephony Activity Detection Process did not then and does not now, feed the NSA counterterrorism target knowledge database described in Part I.A.3 below. [my emphasis]
As I’ll explain below, this passage means 3,000 US persons were watch-listed without the NSA confirming that they hadn’t been watch-listed because of their speech, religion, or political activity.
Here’s the explanation.