According to the ACLU, in September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 – and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month. According to the most recent numbers, the list size is now approaching 3 million people, many of whom are US citizens.
While this list is nefarious for many reasons — namely because it is secret as to how your name gets on it, and the government will never release those names — it is reportedly used to combat terrorism. People on this list, according to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, have alleged ties to terrorism.
There is another list, however, that is far more iniquitous in nature. The administration of President Donald Trump — who reportedly found himself subject to warrantless surveillance during the election — has created a new list, that for the first time since 9/11, includes American citizens with no connections to terrorism.
Like the FBI’s list, this new watchlist — dubbed the Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) watchlist — authorized through a classified Attorney General order and launched in 2017, is expected to grow to well over one million names.
According to an in depth Newsweek investigation, it also allows the government to track and monitor Americans without a warrant, even when there is no evidence they’re breaking the law.
If you need to do so, read that above sentence again and let that sink in. Law enforcement in America can now reportedly track and monitor Americans who have not been accused of a crime and do so without first obtaining a warrant. As Newsweek reports:
Like the terrorist watchlist, the new TOC watchlist authorizes agencies to collect information even when there is no evidence of a crime or intent to commit a crime. This authority circumvents criminal justice requirements for due process, equal protection under the law, and freedom of association under the Constitution.
This is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, yet Trump’s supporters, who claim to support the Constitution, are remaining silent in regard to this act.
Perhaps once they realize that they may soon be placed on that list for their political actions, they may choose to reconsider said silence. According to Newsweek:
The criteria to be placed on the new watchlist demands that an individual be associated with “transnational” criminal organizations, including front organizations that are actually foreign government entities. Transnational criminal organizations include not just drug cartels, crime syndicates and gangs, but also political groups such as nationalist parties and information activists. Individuals can be watchlisted when they are suspected of corruption, money laundering, computer hacking, stock market manipulation, health care fraud, even wildlife trafficking.
The idea that belonging to a certain political group, or a proponent of information can get you spied on by the state without a warrant should shock the conscience.
What’s more, “Insider threats” make up yet another category of individuals who can be targeted under this madness. Leakers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, or corporate scientists and university professors researching sensitive areas like weapons or biotechnology who give information to reporters, may find themselves having their every move tracked by the state before being whisked away to some black site prison and never heard from again.
This list should also help to expose just how similar Trump is to his predecessor, Barack Obama, when it comes to trampling the rights of Americans and growing the police state. Since Trump took office, TFTP has been highlighting how a new president does not mean that new policies will come, especially when concerning civil liberties. It is a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” situation every, single, time.
As Newsweek’s extensive investigation found, the TOC watchlist can trace its origins to a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that TOCs were “loose, amorphous, highly adaptable” networks.
These “loose, amorphous, highly adaptable” networks were not directly tied to terrorist organizations, so the Obama administration claimed they needed broader powers to go after “emerging” threats like gangs. Apparently, however, those threats also involve issues like political activists who may disagree with the government, or those who advocate and publish information that may be damning to the state.
A pilot of the program was quietly launched in 2016 under Obama’s reign, with 8,000 names on it. Fast-forward to 2020, and Trump’s administration has expanded it even further. This is the nature of all government, not some political party. The only difference is that when the left is in power, their constituents support the tyranny while the right opposes it, and vice versa.
If you think you have nothing to worry about because you don’t do anything wrong, think again. As Newsweek reports, government officials familiar with the new watchlist say that it will eventually include tens of thousands of Americans, reaching into more than a hundred cities across the United States. As of right now, anyone from local and tribal police to state and federal agencies, and even some allied foreign governments, can nominate people to the list.
As for the implications of such a policy and police state tracking scenario, we would do well to heed the advice of someone who was inside this system for years, retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeff Danik, who spent most of his 28-year career tracking terrorist activity, including several years inside the classified watchlisting hub.
“Once you’re on the watchlist, the government has the ability to collect tremendous amounts of information,” Danik said. “This data is a bomb. You should have great respect for the damage that it can do.”