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Profile: National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) maintains a watch list of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects, a number that has more than quadrupled since the the list was created in 2003 by merging other watch lists together. NCTC officials estimate that, due to aliases, some 200,000 individuals are represented on the list. The main US watch list at the time of 9/11 had 60,000 names on it (see December 11, 1999). An administration official says, “The vast majority are non-US persons and do not live in the US.” However, officials refuse to state how many on the list are US citizens and how many names on the list were obtained through the controversial wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). Civil liberties and privacy advocates claim that the scale of the list heightens their concerns that watch lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he cannot discuss specifics but says, “Information is collected, information is retained, and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans.” A September 2003 presidential directive instructs agencies to supply data for the list only about people who are “known or appropriately suspected to be… engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the scope of the NCTC list highlights the “false positive” problem, in which innocent people have been stopped from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects’ names. “If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn’t be there. But how are they ever going to get off?” [Washington Post, 2/15/2006] Numerous problems with the list will be found in 2006 (see March 2006).
The FBI terrorist watch list now includes over half a million names, which civil liberties advocates say limits its usefulness. Although the actual content of the list is classified, the FBI’s 2008 budget request refers to “the entire watch list of 509,000 names,” which is utilized by its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. It is common for many names on the list to be associated with one individual. The FBI foreign and domestic terror watch list, combined with the interagency National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) list of suspected international terrorists, comprise the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists. The NCTC refuses to reveal how many US citizens are on the list (see February 15, 2006). ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani says the FBI watch list “grows seemingly without control or limitation. If we have 509,000 names on that list, the watch list is virtually useless.” Internal reviews of the list by the US Terrorist Screening Center have previously found the list to be incomplete and inaccurate (see June 14, 2005). Reviews of versions of the list reveal the names of US lawmakers; former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, imprisoned at the time of review; al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui, also imprisoned; and 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, all deceased (see March 2006). [ABC News (The Blotter), 6/13/2007]
John Kringen. [Source: CIA]A new threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” is presented to a House committee and then leaked to some reporters. It concludes that al-Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself. CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Kringen says that al-Qaeda appears “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” adding: “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2007] While the assessment remains classified, another official tells a reporter that it concludes al-Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago,” “has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” and has managed to create “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives.” A different official concludes that the group is “showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.” [Salon, 3/27/2008]
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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