Lost amid the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary slaughter was an article in the Wall Street Journal concerning the White House’s authorization of the NCTC (National Counterterrorism Center) to pull and retain data on any and all Americans, regardless of complicity (or lack thereof) in any past, present or future illegal activities.
Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens…even people suspected of no crime.
Not everyone was on board. This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public, Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.
A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency – how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored, and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.
The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.
Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited. Data about Americans reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information may be permanently retained.
Should the Mayans turn out to be miserable calendarists and the world does not end Friday, I will upon that occasion mark the start of my seventh decade of life…or something remarkably like it. Which means I’m old enough to remember when “my freedoms” were unfettered.
That is to say, I once took for granted my right to peacefully assemble wherever the hell I wished; to speak my opinion without fear of censorship, imprisonment or worse; to know that my personal records were safe from prying eyes, that even the federal government had to justify its need (with a bare minimum of probable cause) and only then obtain a warrant to ransack my private life.
Quaint, I know, but I appreciated it. Ever the more so since many other nations scoffed at these “freedoms.”
Times change: now we trust foreign countries with that exact same info 1:
The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.
“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.
I know the current Congress is made up almost entirely of buffoons, corporate lackeys and sycophants but pu-leeze – they sat on their thumbs and twirled while the White House issued these orders? Without consulting them? Seriously? The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body is so ensnared in “protecting” the 2nd Amendment they’ve just plain overlooked the 4th Amendment?!
I mean, these guys are dumb, but are they that dumb? 2