WASHINGTON -- The Intercept on Wednesday published the U.S. government's 166-page rulebook that guides the creation of its famous internal "terrorist watchlist."
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have resisted spelling out how individuals, including its own citizens, wind up on the list, or how they can be removed. The registry supplies the names for the no-fly list that has grounded many a confused traveler, and includes thousands of names of those who are merely suspected of possibly having ties to others who may themselves be suspected of ties to terrorism.
The Intercept obtained the report, which can be read here, from an intelligence source.
The "March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance" was produced with the input of 19 agencies, including the CIA, Pentagon, NSA and FBI, and is officially unclassified. But as The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill reports, Attorney General Eric Holder has warned it is a "'clear roadmap' to the government's terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: 'The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed ... could cause significant harm to national security.'"
In order to make the watchlist, neither "concrete facts" nor "irrefutable evidence" are required, and a wide loophole exists that allows a single White House official to add entire "categories" of people unilaterally. Once a person is on the list, government agents are required to collect detailed information from them during encounters at the airport or elsewhere:
In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, "any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards)," multiple cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.
Screeners are also instructed to collect any "pocket litter," scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition -- "e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened." Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as "anything with an account number" and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even "animal information" -- data about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips -- is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.
Scahill said that The Intercept decided to publish the guidance despite the government's warning of threats to national security because the "system makes a mockery of the idea of due process," and that the public has a right to know about "what amounts to a shadow legal system."
"This is a secret system that uses dubious levels of 'evidence' -- or, in some cases, no actual evidence -- to designate people as terrorists, including American citizens," Scahill said in an email to HuffPost. "The watchlisting apparatus, which has no meaningful outside oversight, gives the White House sweeping, secret powers that no democratic government should have. This system makes a mockery of the idea of due process and the right to face your accuser. The government will not tell you if you are on the list, but it will share its labeling of you as a 'known or suspected terrorist' with foreign governments and private contractors. These policies make it nearly impossible to challenge your secret designation. The American public has a right to understand the policies of what amounts to a shadow legal system.”