Remember the "Disposition Matrix"? The plan to institutionalize the Obama extrajudicial assassination program "to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones"? Do you remember that the "matrix" operation to fuse all the various government kill lists is based at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)? And that the Obama administration last year drafted and approved plans to turn the NCTC into a Total Information Awareness style data mining center, targeting US persons?
If you didn't believe the ACLU when we warned you about the Obama administration's plans for the NCTC, maybe you'll believe former the former top privacy official at DHS, who we now learn was also outraged about the plan and spoke out against it in the back rooms of Washington DC and in fiery emails with administration officials.
A muckraking piece by Julia Angwin at the Wall Street Journal, chock full of previously unknown insights from FOIA'd government emails and documents, reveals that former DHS chief privacy officer Mary Callahan fought against the Obama NCTC plan tooth and nail. Needless to say, she (and we) lost.
In "U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens," Angwin writes [emphasis below is mine]:
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.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.
Under the new rules issued in March, the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is "reasonably believed" to contain "terrorism information." The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.Previous government proposals to scrutinize massive amounts of data about innocent people have caused an uproar. In 2002, the Pentagon's research arm proposed a program called Total Information Awareness that sought to analyze both public and private databases for terror clues. It would have been far broader than the NCTC's current program, examining many nongovernmental pools of data as well."If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures," the program's promoter, Admiral John Poindexter, said at the time. "We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise."Adm. Poindexter's plans drew fire from across the political spectrum over the privacy implications of sorting through every single document available about U.S. citizens. Conservative columnist William Safire called the plan a "supersnoop's dream." Liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested it could be akin to fascism. Congress eventually defunded the program.The National Counterterrorism Center's ideas faced no similar public resistance. For one thing, the debate happened behind closed doors. In addition, unlike the Pentagon, the NCTC was created in 2004 specifically to use data to connect the dots in the fight against terrorism.
Ms. Callahan and colleague Margo Schlanger, who headed the 100-person Homeland Security office for civil rights and civil liberties, were concerned about the implications of turning over vast troves of data to the counterterrorism center, these people said.They and Ms. Libin at the Justice Department argued that the failure to catch Mr. Abdulmutallab wasn't caused by the lack of a suspect—he had already been flagged—but by a failure to investigate him fully. So amassing more data about innocent people wasn't necessarily the right solution.