Trump’s Secret New Watchlist Lets His Administration Track Americans Without Needing a Warrant


The Trump administration has created a new and expansive national security watchlist that, for the first time since 9/11, includes Americans who have no connection to terrorism. The new watchlist, authorized through a classified Attorney General order and launched in 2017, is expected to grow to well over one million names. It also allows the government to track and monitor Americans without a warrant, even when there is no evidence they’re breaking the law.

And while two separate laws require the government to announce new systems of data collection of Americans, there has been no acknowledgement of the expanded watchlist.

The criteria to be placed on the new watchlist demands that an individual be associated with “transnational” criminal organizations, including front organizations that are actually foreign government entities. Transnational criminal organizations include not just drug cartels, crime syndicates and gangs, but also political groups such as nationalist parties and information activists. Individuals can be watchlisted when they are suspected of corruption, money laundering, computer hacking, stock market manipulation, health care fraud, even wildlife trafficking.

Government officials familiar with the new watchlist say that it will eventually include tens of thousands of Americans, reaching into more than a hundred cities across the United States.

The new Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) watchlist is modeled after the Terrorist Screening Database, which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks as a single repository of terrorist suspects. Over the years, that watchlist has grown to include 1.2 million people, among whom are roughly 6,000 Americans that the FBI associates with domestic terrorism.

Like the terrorist watchlist, the new TOC watchlist authorizes agencies to collect information even when there is no evidence of a crime or intent to commit a crime. This authority circumvents criminal justice requirements for due process, equal protection under the law, and freedom of association under the Constitution.

National security officials say that though the government is still debating the full scope of the new watchlist, they are concerned that applying the terrorism standard imperils Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights.

“When we put Americans on that list, there damn well better be a good reason investigatively that they committed a criminal act. Otherwise, I think that’s unconstitutional,” says Frank Taylor, a retired Air Force Brig. General and career law enforcement professional. Taylor held senior leadership positions under both the Bush and Obama administrations, most recently as head of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security.

Newsweek’s investigation into the TOC watchlist is based on an extensive review of hundreds of pages of government documents spanning a decade and interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior intelligence and national security officials. Few people know about the TOC watchlist or its expansive scope, even at some of the highest levels of the national security establishment. Half a dozen senior officials across multiple departments were unaware that a TOC watchlist existed at all until Newsweek contacted them. The FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to answer questions about the new system.

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