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How to tell if the government thinks you're a terrorist

If someone reading this is a terrorist, shame on you.

I suspect that most of my listeners aren't actually terrorists. What a report leaked by The Intercept reveals, however, is that the government has developed new and sketchy ways to "identify" American citizens as terrorists.

The report is based on a 166-page document titled Watchlisting Guidance. The document was a joint effort between the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and FBI. We've learned that the criteria for being listed as a terrorist is much easier than anyone could have expected.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

What's most disconcerting about the report is that almost all of the Watchlisting Guideline measures are preventative. That means that the government can make presumptions about what you might do in the future. Here are a few of the confusing reasons that the government can cite when they want to consider you a terrorist.

  1. Destruction of railroad property
  2. Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities
  3. Arson or bombing of government property
  4. Damaging a protected computer used in interstate commerce
  5. Harboring terrorists

The list goes on. What confused me about these five, however, was how general they sounded. Could a teenager be permanently branded as a terrorist for vandalizing an airport bathroom?

but here's what to watch out for. Anyone who has, at some point in their life, known a terrorist is at risk to be added to government watch lists. A shadowy group of government officials decide who ends up on a watchlist, known as "originators," "aggregators," "screeners," and "encountering agencies."

These groups have the power to add someone to a no-fly list, and the crimes that you may have committed don't have to be actual acts of terror.

This document is, once again, a rulebook for how the government decides whether or not someone is a terrorist. Terms like "upgrade" and "nominators" expose the fact that it's possible to be placed on a government watch list almost arbitrarily. All it takes is a "nominator" say the word.

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