As of March 2012, the National Counterterrorism centre (NCTC) can copy and examine entire government databases to predict possible criminal behaviour of any U.S. citizen, Julia Angwin of The Wall Street Journal reports.Previously the agency didn’t have the authority to keep data about unsuspected Americans or to analyse it for suspicious patterns of behaviour.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials resisted the enactment of what amounts to an unprecedented domestic surveillance dragnet, but in the end the overarching desire to combat terrorism won out over the privacy of U.S. citizens.
Angwin details how Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the DHS, argued to the White House that the NCTC new authority would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked is now: “Are they a terrorist?”
The report confirms a July report by Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that the NCTC performs “massive, secretive data collection and mining of trillions of points of data” about U.S. citizens, which carries extra significance since the NCTC also handles the government “kill lists” by analysing information about suspected terrorists in its “disposition matrix.”
What this means, Glenn Greenwald explained, is that “the NCTC — now vested with the power to determine the proper “disposition” of terrorist suspects — is the same agency that is at the centre of the ubiquitous, unaccountable surveillance state aimed at American citizens.”
Calabrese noted that “literally anything the government collects is fair game,” which implies that the NCTC can obtain conventional government records — law enforcement investigations, health information, employment history, travel and student records — as well as unconventional government intel such as electronic activities collected by the National Security Agency’s domestic spying apparatus and biometric data collected by the CIA-linked surveillance network TrapWire.
Furthermore, the NCTC can choose to share U.S. civilian information with federal, state, local, or foreign entities for analysis of possible criminal behaviour, even if there is no reason to suspect them.
It should be noted that the NCTC was reportedly given this unprecedented snooping authority in the wake of the botched Christmas Day underwear bombing in 2009, the authenticity of which has been called into question.