And it just got worse. As a meager restriction on its assault on the Fourth Amendment, the NCTC, was previously supposed to immediately destroy intelligence information about Americans when there were no clear ties to terrorism. But now, the Obama administration – without any public debate or transparency with Congress – has granted new powers to the NCTC.
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.
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.
How does the Obama administration justify this radical Orwellian approach to domestic surveillance? With a promise and a kiss. The President seems to think any government measure, no matter how unconstitutional, is perfectly acceptable so long as this meaningless stipulation is uttered along with it: “Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data,” the WSJ reports. “The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes,” says Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In other words: we promise we’ll be good.