Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux have an in-depth report on government spying operations including those on American citizens. As a civil libertarian and a comic book geek, I find the report alarming.
First, more than half of the people the government is watching have no link to any terrorist organization.
Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.
Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That category—280,000 people—dwarfs the number of watchlisted people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined.
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. Since taking office, Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000—surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush.
“If everything is terrorism, then nothing is terrorism,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent. The watchlisting system, he adds, is “revving out of control.”The CIA meanwhile has chosen to side with Marvel Comics bad guys HYDRA:
The CIA uses a previously unknown program, code-named Hydra, to secretly access databases maintained by foreign countries and extract data to add to the watchlists.The CIA shares this information with other surveillance agencies.
The DTI [Directorate of Terrorist Identities] also harvests information from CIA sources, including a secret database called CINEMA— short for CIA Information Needs Management—and a secret CIA program called “Hydra,” which utilizes “clandestinely acquired foreign government information” to enhance the quality of “select populations” in TIDE [Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a database].
In 2013, DTI and the CIA ran a “proof of concept” for Hydra, using Pakistan as a guinea pig. The DTI provided the CIA with a list of 555 Pakistanis in the TIDE database. After inputting the names into Hydra, the CIA “vetted these names against Pakistani Passports” and provided biographic and biometric identifiers to the DTI.I would suggest that America spy agencies ought not name a program after a collection of evil scientists in comic books. Such naming would seem to create an image problem. However, this time the name might be appropriate. In Greek mythology, the hydra was a beast that began with 9 heads and grew two new heads every time one head was cut off. The national security state seems to operate in a similar fashion. It produces two new assaults on civil liberties for every one we learn about.