Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about President Obama’s secret kill list. Yet still we know virtually nothing about its implementation. Despite mild Congressional scrutiny and ACLU lawsuits directed at the shroud of secrecy, some basic questions remain unanswered. How do you get on the list? Am I on the list? Who put me on the list? How do you get off the list? Can you get off the list?
The truth is there are several such lists used to target individuals for different reasons. Some lists are closely kept. Others span multiple intelligence and local law enforcement agencies. There are lists used to kill or capture supposed high value targets. And others are intended to threaten, coerce, or simply monitor a person’s activity. However, all the lists, whether to kill or silence, originate from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment [TIDE] and they are maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center [TSC] at the National Counterterrorism Center.
The existence of TIDE is unclassified. Yet details about how it functions in our government are completely unknown to the public. In August 2013, the database reached a milestone of one million entries. Today it is thousands of entries larger and is growing faster than it has since its inception in 2003. The March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance lays out the broad criteria for nominating someone to the database.
Not only does the Terrorist Screening Center reserve the right to store your name, date of birth, and other basic identifying information, but it also stores your medical records, transcripts, and passport data. Your license plate numbers, email, and cell phone number — along with the phone’s international mobile subscriber identity and international mobile station equipment identity numbers. Your bank account and purchases. And other sensitive information, including DNA and photographs capable of identifying you using facial recognition software.
The National Counterterrorism Center collaborates annually with agencies from the international alliance known as Five Eyes [FVEY] to supplement any information missing from entries already in its database. Or to add more entries. Individual entries in the database are assigned a TIDE Personnel Number (or TPN). From Osama bin Laden (TPN 1063599) to Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (TPN 26350617) — the American son of Anwar al-Awlaki. Anyone who has ever been the target of a covert operation was first assigned a TPN, and closely monitored by all agencies who follow that TPN long before they were eventually put on a separate list and extra-judicially sentenced to death.
When governments begin to tally enormous enemies lists, they run roughshod over our essential checks on power. Especially when they consider their own citizens to be a threat. Of the more than one million entries in the TIDE database, approximately 21,000 are those of American citizens. By leaking this information, I hope to give the public an opportunity to know what kind of activity might lead to their being placed on a list used to monitor their everyday activity. For the first time, the public has an opportunity to gain insight into the criteria that could potentially lead to their own trial by drone strike.
In 2008, I shook hands with Senator Obama when he came through my town on his way to the White House. After his inauguration, he said, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” I firmly believe those principles are crucial to an open society, which is why I was compelled to reveal this information. If this administration lacks the courage to uphold its promises to the people, then I and others like me will do so for them.
—Anonymous Leaker read by Jeremy Scahill
The Government’s Secret War with Drones