In my case, there’s no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them. You should never learn about it; no one at the Times should ever learn about these things.
– Russell Tice, Former NSA SIGINT Officer
I’m going to provide a one paragraph summary, just to make sure that the implications of this are clear to everyone:
The U.S. Government has, almost certainly, established a database and tracking system for something like eight million Americans who have been designated as threats to national security. The system is called MAIN CORE and it is being run under the auspices of highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) operations. MAIN CORE uses a variety of intelligence sources as inputs, including your email, web activity, telephone and private financial information. In the event of a major national security crisis, it is alleged that Americans listed in the MAIN CORE database, “Could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”
The Last Roundup, by Christopher Ketcham, appeared in the May/June 2008 issue of Radar Magazine. (Full text here and here.)
Below are some excerpts from The Last Roundup. I have provided explicit pointers to the related materials on Cryptogon:
According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, “There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” [See: AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance]
He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.
In the days after our hypothetical terror attack, events might play out like this: With the population gripped by fear and anger, authorities undertake unprecedented actions in the name of public safety. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security begin actively scrutinizing people who-for a tremendously broad set of reasons-have been flagged in Main Core as potential domestic threats. Some of these individuals might receive a letter or a phone call, others a request to register with local authorities. Still others might hear a knock on the door and find police or armed soldiers outside. In some instances, the authorities might just ask a few questions. Other suspects might be arrested and escorted to federal holding facilities, where they could be detained without counsel until the state of emergency is no longer in effect.
Another well-informed source-a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community-says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools. [See: Synthetic Environments for Analysis and Simulation]
“The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help,” he says. “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets.” An intelligence expert who has been briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security confirms that a database of this sort exists, but adds that “it is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time.”
A host of publicly disclosed programs, sources say, now supply data to Main Core. Most notable are the NSA domestic surveillance programs, initiated in the wake of 9/11, typically referred to in press reports as “warrantless wiretapping.” [See: NSA, AT&T and the NarusInsight Intercept Suite]
In March, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal shed further light onto the extraordinarily invasive scope of the NSA efforts: According to the Journal, the government can now electronically monitor “huge volumes of records of domestic e-mails and Internet searches, as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel, and telephone records.” Authorities employ “sophisticated software programs” to sift through the data, searching for “suspicious patterns.” In effect, the program is a mass catalog of the private lives of Americans. And it’s notable that the article hints at the possibility of programs like Main Core. “The [NSA] effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called black programs whose existence is undisclosed,” the Journal reported, quoting unnamed officials. “Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach.”
The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.
Main Core also allegedly draws on four smaller databases that, in turn, cull from federal, state, and local “intelligence” reports; print and broadcast media; financial records; “commercial databases”; and unidentified “private sector entities.” Additional information comes from a database known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which generates watch lists from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for use by airlines, law enforcement, and border posts. According to the Washington Post, the Terrorist Identities list has quadrupled in size between 2003 and 2007 to include about 435,000 names. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center border crossing list, which listed 755,000 persons as of fall 2007, grows by 200,000 names a year. A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor anti-war protestors and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.
If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protestors, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.
A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” Though not specifically familiar with the name Main Core, he adds, “What was being requested of Comey for legal approval was exactly what a Main Core story would be.” A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”
If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home. “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”-the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws-“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons-quite likely, including the two of us.”
May 18th, 2008
1 thought on “The Last Roundup: MAIN CORE”