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March 8, 2008 7:50 PM   Subscribe

ACLU Watch List Counter: U.S. Terror List Now Exceeds 900,000 Names. That's an awful lot of terrorists. More Privacy and Surveillance Filter: Bruce Schneier on The Myth of the 'Transparent Society', Glenn Greenwald on The Banality of the Surveillance State, and Stephen Colbert on AT & Treason.

A spokesman for the Terrorist Screening Center had a response to the ACLU in a comment at Threat Level.
posted by homunculus (46 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is precisely why we need to surrender more of our civil liberties, who knows how many more terrorists yet to be discovered live within our borders.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:53 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


But the agency is at a loss to explain why the list includes the "names" homunculus, y2karl, amberglow, madamjujujive...
posted by wendell at 8:07 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


"If there were a million terrorists in this country, our cities would be in ruins"

Yeah. That'd be very close to one in 300 people being a terrorist.

Hm, that would mean the town's high school could contain four terrorists, and the nearby university about 50. At the farmer's market each week, we should be seeing about 6 terrorists. And at our town's annual festival, let's see, about 33. Terrorists everywhere! And the thing is, they look and act just like everybody else. We don't know which of our seemingly innocent neighbors they are. That's why we need more spying and more lists!

Right?
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on March 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why, if the numbers hold, here on MeFi we might have as many as 226.2 terrorists!
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on March 8, 2008


Gitmo meetup!
posted by homunculus at 8:14 PM on March 8, 2008 [12 favorites]


look left, look right, you are all three terrorists
not too worry, Bush vetoed the bill banning torture. the US loves torture. torture is not just for tin pot dictators anymore, or is it?
posted by caddis at 8:17 PM on March 8, 2008


As a non-terrorist, I'm unconcerned. Can't take the heat? Don't be a terrorist.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:28 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here are some excerpts from the "spokesman's response", with some of my added commentary:

It's true, the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) is now the world’s most comprehensive and, importantly, widely-shared list of known and suspected terrorists. The names it includes are there because of credible information developed by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, or those of our foreign partners.

[...]

The government does its best to populate the TSDB with the identities of only those who are known or appropriately suspected of being involved in terrorism. In addition, TSC employees constantly review the database to remove the identities of those who have been cleared of any suspicion of engaging in terrorist activity. During fiscal year 2007 alone, TSC employees removed over 100,000 records from the database of individuals that had been cleared of having any nexus to terrorism.


Okay, so, we can be sure that everyone who is on the list right now is an honest-to-God real-life terrorist (we swear!), however we had to remove 100,000 names last year because it turns out that they weren't terrorists after all. (?!?!?)

Also:

Unfortunately, in a name-based system innocent persons will inevitably be inconvenienced kidnapped and disappeared because their name is similar to that of a person properly included in the TSDB. Those experiencing problems because of a coincidental association with someone properly placed in the TSDB can work with the government to rectify the situation. And by "work with the government", we mean "tell us who your contacts are and we'll go easy on you". The Department of Homeland Security has created an electronic, on-line system – DHS TRIP -- that allows persons to seek redress and have their names placed on a “cleared” list. And by "cleared", we mean "this person is trying to remove themselves from our lists. They must be a terrorist."
posted by Avenger at 8:31 PM on March 8, 2008


A million? Bloody absurd!

This is the same shit as went down with cross-dressing freak during the commie scare. Same shit as went down in East Germany, come to think of it.

You people desperately need to rethink your democracy.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 PM on March 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


In other news, domestic UK flight passengers leaving from Heathrow Terminal 5 will be fingerprinted.
posted by Rumple at 8:34 PM on March 8, 2008


If the American right wing spent half as much energy on fighting this kind of government surveillance as they do fighting gun control..... I mean, I thought the whole idea of the 2nd amendment was to keep the government from running roughshod over freedom?
posted by Rumple at 8:38 PM on March 8, 2008


Can't take the heat? Don't be a terrorist.

Or a five-year-old. Damn kids are a menace.
posted by homunculus at 8:41 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Problem With Dems on FISA
posted by homunculus at 8:45 PM on March 8, 2008


As a non-terrorist, I'm unconcerned.

All those declaring themselves non-terrorist, into the back room for a body cavity search. If they look like they enjoy it, fetch the dogs.
posted by caddis at 9:00 PM on March 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Can't take the heat? Don't be a terrorist.

Phew - in a fever-induced dream state, I momentarily believed the fine folks at Homeland Security had the potential to make mistakes. Thank you kind sir, that tasty morsel of wingnuttia has disabused me of any such silliness.
posted by jalexei at 9:14 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Steve, stop being a fucking asshole.
posted by trondant at 9:39 PM on March 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


To lead a better life
I need the law to be near

Fear
taking each day of the year
changing my life with a wave of a hand
nobody can decide
if there's something there

There
Running your hands through your hair
Each of us thinking that fear never dies
go look in your eyes
and notice it's always there

I see them everywhere
(but) if the law is near me I know I need never care
But to fear them is to see them
Ev'rywhere

None of us willing to share
Each of us thinking how bad it could be
Why are you looking at me
I'm just standing there

We see them everywhere
Even if the law is near we can't help but be scared
'cause to fear them is to see them ev'rywhere
Thinking this could be the one

Teaching the children to look here and there
you never know where
the next one is coming from

fear is here, and ev'rywhere

fear, there, and ev'rywhere
posted by lysdexic at 9:57 PM on March 8, 2008


It would be nice if the average American actually cared about this stuff, but obviously they don't.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 PM on March 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


"If there were a million terrorists in this country, our cities would be in ruins"

Yeah. That'd be very close to one in 300 people being a terrorist.


To put that into perspective, I think I read somewhere that 20,000-30,000 members of Al Quaeda in Iraq in Iraq. I'm not sure how accurate that is, though.
posted by delmoi at 10:30 PM on March 8, 2008


As a non-terrorist, I'm unconcerned.

Signed,

Adel al Hakim
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:47 PM on March 8, 2008


Well, it is true the GAO said this particular list has aided counterterrorism efforts. And that most of the names on the lists are aliases, so one actual terrorist could have 10 to 15 or more names tagged to him, so you are talking only about 200-300 thousand names, and that's world wide, so not so unreasonable.
One of the things that makes the list useful is getting consulates and border folks the latest information. So Joe Terrorist has 12 aka's but as of two days ago the passport he was using was Bill Blowup. But you can't just clear all those aliases. Or rather, you can, but it's a bureaucracy, so...

That said, while I agree in principle that lists and such are just aching to be abused, I disagree with Steinhardt that the lists must be subject to due process, the right to access data and so forth. What's needed is accuracy and precision so that John Smith from Omaha with such and such specifics can clear his name through the system faster and is not mistaken for John Smith from Mexico City. Which I suppose would be the last bit of Steinhardts' assertion, cleansing names from the list.
The requirement there would be for oversight and better coordination, and data gathering.
Which requires human interaction, which is where most bureaucracies break down. And oversight really slows the process down. They may only make the mistake once (Omaha Smith for Mexico City Smith) and it won't ever happen again, but you don't much care for that if you're late to your brother's wedding, say. All you see is the feds getting in the way.

But it's swell, now that we've got the capacity and speed and can deliver data quickly enough that Joe Terrorist can't just swap passports (Y'all have seen Bourne Identity, right?) and pull sneaky stuff going through customs. Most of the reason for it is the lack of data gathered by other countries. Hell of a lot of problems in the world are cause by shitheads crossing boarders pretending their from one region and raising hell in some other guy's backyard. Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, hell, look at Pakistan, leaks like a sieve, they still don't know who the hell capped Bhutto and what's worse theres all kinds of plausible deny ability to spread around because the Base and the Taliban are running roughshod all over the northern part of the country. (Picture if those supremicist groups or militia basically pwned Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas and our government couldn't - or wouldn't - do jack about it. Bit chaotic there)
That chaos forces the need for a tool like this.
And it can be a useful tool, in just the manner "Chad Kolton" outlined.
Of course, my drill is a very useful tool. But I wouldn't trust the Bush administration with that either.
This tool, however, is going to be around. The technology is there, the need is there.
The problem is we get the same old jingoism "This protects Americans" vs. "the evil right wing." If Dennis Kusinich was running this program the way it's run now, would it be any better? (Granting of course the obvious, that this would not be in concert with some of the egregious and aforementioned civil rights abuses going on).

The flaws can be fixed and that requires (as I mentioned) a better, less bureucratic feedback system. Schneier's points (cameras on police, lawmakers, et.al) are completely obvious and irrefutable and Greenwald is right as well.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:41 PM on March 8, 2008


But the agency is at a loss to explain why the list includes the "names" homunculus, y2karl, amberglow, madamjujujive...

Nor could they explain why the pharse "this will wendell" has become the prefered code phrase to announce an imminent terrorist strike, but they vowed to crack down on anyone who uses it in order to track down the newly identified terrorist mastermind.
posted by homunculus at 12:19 AM on March 9, 2008




Wow. Dr. Steve has officially become a parody of himself.
posted by tehloki at 12:31 AM on March 9, 2008


I thought I was helping.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:58 AM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will the millionth person to make the list get a nice door prize? Maybe a personalized, redacted, copy of the Bill of Rights?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:36 AM on March 9, 2008


Apparently, terrorists use Macbook Airs.
posted by cdmwebs at 6:41 AM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


226.2 terrorists!

I am .2 of a terrorist. Have been known to martyr self by throwing those little gunpowder snappers against my own body.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:29 AM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


SHORTER CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT 1994:

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

HAW HAW HAW! AW HAW HAW HAW HAW! Thassa good one! Yee-haaa!

SHORTER CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT 2005:

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to spy on you and perhaps indefinitely detain you without charges."

That sounds reasonable.

posted by EarBucket at 7:45 AM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


In other news, domestic UK flight passengers leaving from Heathrow Terminal 5 will be fingerprinted.

You know, when it comes to Big-Brother-esque matters, we thank God for the UK just like Alabama does for Mississippi.
posted by oaf at 9:17 AM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


'struth. If one could attach a magneto to poor old Orwell, the UK could solve its energy needs for eternity.

I really don't understand how the British managed to let it happen. Two or three of their great novelists warned of it, yet somehow they've allowed a spy camera on every corner, ASBOs assigned willy-nilly, National ID cards, DNA records of the innocent, and fingerprinting most anywhere. Quite bizarre, quite frightening.

And are they any safer? Hell, no, there are still plenty of terroristic attacks there. The bad people remain bad, and innocents get shot to death by hypervigilante bobbies.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 AM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


five fresh fish, to take your last point first:

And are they any safer? Hell, no, there are still plenty of terroristic attacks there

I'd hardly call four bombs in July 2005 and two loons driving a Jeep into Glasgow airport two years later "plenty" – especially when you put that in the context of an IRA bombing campaign that last 30-odd years (scroll down this list to get an idea, and keep in mind that said list doesn't cover Northern Ireland itself of which there's a basic chronology here).

Two or three of their great novelists warned of it, yet somehow they've allowed a spy camera on every corner, ASBOs assigned willy-nilly, National ID cards, DNA records of the innocent, and fingerprinting most anywhere. Quite bizarre, quite frightening.

It sometimes feels like Britain is in a strange, odd state of flux at the moment, or at least more so than it has been in a couple of generations. I think one of the major parts of that, or maybe one of the reasons for it, has been an unintended consequence of Scottish and Welsh devolution: any idea of a cohesive British identity has pretty much vanished (if it ever really existed in the first place and I'm not entirely convinced it did), and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about English identity, and to get more specific, white working class English identity.

There's currently a bit of a stooshie surrounding a BBC season about this exact identity, with people weighing in and bemoaning the influx of foreign labour and the effect that it's having on working class communities (and mostly ignoring that Thatcher did more to destroy them than any number of Polish builders and Hungarian doctors forced to work as office cleaners ever will), with people feeling that nobody listens to the concerns of the white working classes any more.

In a country whose government is mortally terrified of even appearing to put Rupert Murdoch's nose out of joint by not pandering to the right-wing bigots who put together The Sun – the country's biggest selling newspaper, and about as loud a voice for the more reactionary elements of the white working classes as you'll ever see – this seems to be patent bollocks, and just another chance to kick the latest group of immigrants in the teeth.

At the same time, there's plenty of debate about terrorists, both homegrown and foreign; that the four London bombers were all raised in Yorkshire – three of them were born there; one came from Jamaica at age 5 – led to a lot of talk about disenchanted Muslim youth, radicalisation, "the enemy within" and so on. Combine this with the newspapers' rabid delight in attempting to scare the shit out of the populace with a combination of terror fear, worry about "vanishing" English identity and good old fashioned xenophobia, and you have a situation which can be easily taken advantage of by a government seemingly intent on cataloguing its citizens' behaviour at every step of the way, preferably using the "efficiency" of the private sector to do so.

In this heady brew of uncertainty, easy answers – which is to say, stupid, kneejerk and almost entirely wrong answers – are an easy sell for the government and an apparently sweet deal for a population scrabbling about to find reassuring and quickly understandable solutions to a series of knotted, thorny and subtle problems. So ASBOs to restrain "out of control" violent teenagers, CCTV cameras to monitor the allegedly increasingly violent town centres of "binge drink Britain", and a desire to feel protected from all them brown terrorists with Leeds and Bradford accents leads to an endless series of ludicrous, over the top measures.

The DNA records stuff is troubling – there's a story in today's Observer about the huge number of kids being added to the system, which makes me think they're getting them used to the idea as early as possible – but the ID cards proposal is absolutely terrifying, and I sincerely think that it's going to be fought against harder than anything in this country since the poll tax.

At least, I hope so – if not, then we're all fucked.

On preview: Jesus, got a bit carried away there, I didn't mean to ramble on at such length.
posted by Len at 11:19 AM on March 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


delmoi said: It would be nice if the average American actually cared about this stuff, but obviously they don't.

Care, hell. It'd be nice if the average American even *KNEW* about it. Seriously, I recently made expensive travel plans, and as a precaution I purchased trip insurance. (As ya do.)

When I was reviewing what was covered under my policy with the salesperson, I asked if being detained by Homeland Security because of No Fly List problems was covered by the policy. The woman I was talking to had no idea what the No Fly List was. I was astounded. I mean, how could you not know about it? Even if you didn't know the details, how could you be completely ignorant of the entire nightmare....especially if you work in the travel industry?

I was boggled. I had to go up two levels of management to get my answer. (As it turns out, the insurance *does* cover security gate delays if you can prove that you got to the airport two hours before your flight.)

The whole thing is just bloody insane.
posted by dejah420 at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2008


As a non-terrorist, I'm unconcerned. Can't take the heat? Don't be a terrorist.

Well, I'm going to pretend that you meant that as a serious counterpoint in the conversation, and take you at face value. The problem with this assertion is that, if you end up on the watch list, it's almost impossible to get off, and the process for vetting names is secret. It's a Kafkaesque nightmare if you get snared in it - no way to know how you got on there, no way to reliably get your name off. Imagine you have kids, people depending on you, and you have to travel for business. Really, Steve, no matter how conservative you are, it's lunacy to think there are close to a million terrorists living in the US. If that's true, then we're definitely screwed, no matter what we do, but there's no basis for it.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:44 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a non-terrorist, I'm unconcerned. Can't take the heat? Don't be a terrorist.

I'm sorry, I haven't really been around for all that long. Is this guy for real? I mean, does he really believe this shit, or does he just really like to make posts that parody what the dumbest blackshirt thug might say? Is he like Metafilter's version of the Colbert Report? He must be. Because that's the dumbest possible response and I've never even heard things like that said outside of parody.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:54 PM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I mean, does he really believe this shit, or does he just really like to make posts that parody what the dumbest blackshirt thug might say?

Some of each; comments seem chosen for maximized reaction. There's a word for that ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:01 PM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dr. Steve is dios, right?
posted by EarBucket at 6:02 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am on the list. I also have a clearance for my job at DHS. Having a name the same as someone on this list means very little and it certainly doesn't mean, as the ACLU article puts it, that you are a terrorist. For me, it means that I can't use automatic check in machines even when I fly on official business for the government, which unfortunately is fairly often.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:12 PM on March 9, 2008


Pollo, it may mean somewhat more for those without a clearance.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:02 AM on March 10, 2008


900,000?? I say we ship them off to the KBR built detention centers and start waterboarding the truth out of these people. It is the only way we will ever be safe.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:02 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]






“It'd be nice if the average American even *KNEW* about it.”

I talked to a friend of a friend the other day about bottled water. I mentioned that it was pretty much a waste of money. She said she just liked the bottles, the convenience. So I said we live next to the largest body of fresh water in the world (the Great Lakes) and have perhaps the best tap water in the country.
She said “You’re not supposed to refill the bottles.”

Where the hell do you go from there?

Same deal with stuff like this. Where do you even start?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:42 PM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]








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