Just when you thought you knew what the government's spy state was up to - thanks to Ed Snowden's heroics - along comes the National Security Analysis Cneter (NSAC). As PhaseZero exposes, they are not who you think they are. They are not the NSA or the CIA. The NSAC is an obscure element of the Justice Department that has grown from its creation in 2008 into a sprawling 400-person, $150 million-a-year multi-agency organization employing almost 300 analysts "for the purpose of monitoring the electronic footprints of terrorists and their supporters, identifying their behaviors, and providing actionable intelligence." Read that again "and their supporters." As PhaseZero concludes, this shadow government agency is considerably scarier than the NSA.
If you have a telephone number that has ever been called by an inmate in a federal prison, registered a change of address with the Postal Service, rented a car from Avis, used a corporate or Sears credit card, applied for nonprofit status with the IRS, or obtained non-driver’s legal identification from a private company, they have you on file.
They are not who you think they are. As Gawker's Phase Zero reports, they are not the NSA or the CIA. They are the National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), an obscure element of the Justice Department that has grown from its creation in 2008 into a sprawling 400-person, $150 million-a-year multi-agency organization employing almost 300 analysts, the majority of whom are corporate contractors.
The Center has its roots in the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF), a small cell established in October 2001 to look for additional 9/11-like terrorists who might have entered the United States. But with the emergence of significant “homegrown” threats in the late aughts, the Task Force’s focus was thought to be too narrow.
NSAC was created to focus scrutiny on new threat, specifically on Americans, particularly Muslims, who might pose a hidden threat (the Task Force became a unit within NSAC’s bureaucratic umbrella). As Americans began traveling abroad to join al-Shabaab and then ISIS, the Center’s dragnet expanded to catch the vast pool of “youth” who also might fit a profile of either radicalism or law-breaking. Its mission runs the full gamut of “national security threats...to the United States and its interests,” according to a partially declassified Justice Department Inspector General report. That includes everything from terrorism to counter-narcotics, nuclear proliferation, and espionage.
NSAC not only has a focus beyond foreign investigations or terrorists, but in the past year-and-a-half, according to documents obtained by Phase Zero and extensive interviews with contractors and government officials who have worked with the Center and the Task Force, it has also aggressively built up a partnership with the military, taking on deep background investigations of foreign-born and foreign-connected soldiers, civilians, and contractors working for the government. Its investigations go far beyond traditional security “vetting”; NSAC scours certain select government employees, contractors and their affiliates, examining multiple layers of connected relatives and associates. And the Center hosts dozens of additional “liaison” officers from other government agencies, providing those agencies with frictionless access to private information about U.S. residents that they would otherwise not have.
Today, through a series of high-level classified authorities and commercial relationships, the Center has access to over 130 databases and datasets of information comprising some two billion records, over half of which are unique and not contained in any other government information warehouse. The Center is, in fact, according to interviews with government officials, the sole organization in the U.S. government with the authority to delve deeply into the activities and associations of foreigners and Americans alike.
The Center’s powerful perch—and its virtually unlimited reach—brings the federal government closer than ever to the Holy Grail of connecting every dot, a dream that has been pursued by terrorist hunters since the failures that permitted the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago.
The data access and analytic methods it uses grew out of a retrospective analysis of the vast reams of data about the 19 hijackers that law enforcement and intelligence agencies had indicators off, but never acted on. The Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (originally called “F-tri-F” by insiders) meticulously reconstructed the actions of the 19 hijackers and other known law-breakers—how they lived their day-to-day lives and what they did to avoid intelligence detection—to find patterns and triggers of potential wrongdoing. They created thousands of pages of chronologies covering the 19 hijackers from the moment they entered the United States, trying to recreate what each did every day they were here.
Those patterns then became profiles that could be applied to vast amounts of disparate and unstructured data to sniff out similar attributes. Those attributes, once applied to individuals, became the legal predicate for collection and retention of data. If someone fit the profile, they were worthy of a second look. They were worthy of a second look if they might fit the profile.
The American people have repeatedly rejected the notion of a domestic intelligence agency operating within our borders. Yet NSAC has become the real-world equivalent. Along the way in its development though, the Center has rarely been discussed in the federal budget or in congressional oversight hearings available to the public. And being neither solely a part of the intelligence community (IC) nor solely a law enforcement agency (and yet both), it skirts limitations that exist in each community, allowing it to collect and examine information on people who are not otherwise accused of or suspected of any crime.
The Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force was always meant to be a proactive lookout, using data mining and the full gamut of public and private information to identify hidden operatives based upon their associations, movements or transactions.
An internal document provided to Phase Zero describes the Task Force as organizing “data from many divergent public, government and international sources for the purpose of monitoring the electronic footprints of terrorists and their supporters, identifying their behaviors, and providing actionable intelligence to appropriate law enforcement, government agencies, and the intelligence community.”
And their supporters. And their supporters. And their supporters. How many mouseclicks away is your name?
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