Earlier that day, The Intercept published a new article based off of disclosures provided to them by an unnamed source pertaining to the US government’s use of watchlists to monitor known and suspected terrorists.
Previously, The Intercept has worked closely with top-secret National Security Agency documents admittedly provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA. Tuesday’s leak, however, is of a document dated August 2013 — weeks after Snowden chose to identify himself as the source of the NSA leak and had already arrived in Moscow where he later received asylum and remains today.
“An August 2013 slide from the National Counterterrorism Center called ‘TIDE By The Numbers’ lays out the scope of the Obama administration’s watchlisting system, and those it is targeting,” Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux wrote for The Intercept. “The documents, obtained from a source in the intelligence community, also reveal that the Obama administration has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the terrorist screening system.”
Tuesday’s Intercept article came one day after the agency reported on previously unpublished NSA documents, but also barely two weeks after Scahill and Devereaux wrote of another NCC document provided to them by “a source within the intelligence community.”
In the 14 months since Snowden’s documents first began to surface online, the US intelligence community has time and time again condemned the leaking of classified information, charging the ex-contractor with espionage and reportedly going to great lengths to prevent another major breach on par with the NSA disclosures, or the release of documents a few years earlier by WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning. In less than three weeks’ time, however, The Intercept has managed to obtain government documents without authorization from most presumably another source.
Sources asides, the latest documents prepared by the NCC and leaked to The Intercept cast a rare light on the US government’s use of ever-expanding federal watchlists by making public the information about the Uncle Sam-sanctioned rosters of suspected terrorists that have previously not been disclosed to wide audiences.
On their part, Scahill and Devereaux wrote that the leak provides “the most complete numerical picture of the watchlisting system to date.”
According to the journalists’ report, more than 40 percent of the 680,000 individuals listed in the US Terrorist Screening Database shared with local police agencies, contractors and governments around the globe — or around 280,000 people — have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”
Additionally, the documents reveal that the number of people barred from flying in the US — entrees on the infamous “no-fly list” — has increased by 10-times since President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009 to a total of around 47,000.
“You might as well have a blue wand and just pretend there’s magic in it, because that’s what we’re doing with this—pretending that it works,” former FBI agent Michael German, now a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told The Intercept. “These agencies see terrorism as a winning card for them. They get more resources. They know that they can wave that card around and the American public will be very afraid and Congress and the courts will allow them to get away with whatever they’re doing under the national security umbrella.”
Tuesday’s Intercept story contains a trove of previously unreported details concerning the administering of federal watchlists and its massive expansion under the Obama administration. As of 2013, the website reported, the main terrorism database operated by the US contains more than 860,000 biometric files on 144,000 people, who are but a sliver of the 680,000 individuals on the lists.
“When US officials refer to ‘the watchlist,’ they typically mean the TSDB [Terrorist Screening Database], an unclassified pool of information shared across the intelligence community and the military, as well as local law enforcement, foreign governments and private contractors,” The Intercept reported. Furthermore, watchlisting guidelines published by The Intercept last month revealed that officials don’t need ‘concrete facts’ or ‘irrefutable evidence’ to place someone on the list, but rather “only a vague and elastic standard of ‘reasonable suspicion.’”