The classified documents were prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, the lead agency for tracking individuals with suspected links to international terrorism. Stamped “SECRET” and “NOFORN” (indicating they are not to be shared with foreign governments), they offer the most complete numerical picture of the watchlisting system to date. Among the revelations:
• The second-highest concentration of people designated as “known or suspected terrorists” by the government is in Dearborn, Mich.—a city of 96,000 that has the largest percentage of Arab-American residents in the country.**
• The government adds names to its databases, or adds information on existing subjects, at a rate of 900 records each day.
• The CIA uses a previously unknown program, code-named Hydra, to secretly access databases maintained by foreign countries and extract data to add to the watchlists.
When U.S. officials refer to “the watchlist,” they typically mean the TSDB [Terrorist Screening Database], an unclassified pool of information shared across the intelligence community and the military, as well as local law enforcement, foreign governments, and private contractors. According to the government’s watchlisting guidelines, published by The Intercept last month, officials don’t need “concrete facts” or “irrefutable evidence” to secretly place someone on the list—only a vague and elastic standard of “reasonable suspicion.”
**Dearborn, Mich.; Houston; San Diego; and Chicago. At 96,000 residents, Dearborn is much smaller than the other cities in the top five, suggesting that its significant Muslim population—40 percent of its population is of Arab descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—has been disproportionately targeted for watchlisting. Residents and civil liberties advocates havefrequently argued the Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities in and around Dearborn are unfairly targeted by invasive law enforcement probes, unlawful profiling, and racism.
“To my knowledge, there have been no Muslims in Dearborn who have committed acts of terrorism against our country,” Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Intercept. Walid added that the high concentration of Dearborn residents in the watchlisting system “just confirms the type of engagement the government has with our community—as seeing us as perpetual suspects.”