President Obama has presided over a massive increase in the size and scope of the country's "no-fly" list, which bars individuals suspected of having terrorist ties from flying on airlines.
Forty-seven thousand people were on the no-fly list in 2013, marking an all-time high that dwarfs the amount ever included during George W. Bush's presidency, according to an analysis of newly released classified documents published Tuesday by The Intercept. In addition, a "selectee list" used to pull out travelers for heightened scrutiny at airports and border crossings has grown larger than 16,000 people, including 1,200 Americans.
The classified documents also show that 680,000 people are listed in a much larger Terrorist Screening Database that federal authorities share with local law enforcement, private contractors, and foreign governments. Though designed as a watch list for "known or suspected terrorists," 40 percent of the database contains individuals who are described as possessing "no recognized terrorist affiliation," and 5,000 are listed as American.
Last month, The Intercept published guidelines developed by the National Counterterrorism Center in 2013 revealing broad and opaque standards for being placed on the government's terrorist roster, such as any activity deemed "dangerous" to property or government policy. The 166-page report revealed an expanded rationale for adding someone to a watch list under the Obama administration and how difficult it can be to have a name scrubbed—even if that person is deceased.
Also disclosed are the five cities with the most residents listed in the screening database: New York, Chicago, Houston, San Diego, and Dearborn, Mich. While the first four are among the largest cities in the country, Dearborn has a population of fewer than 100,000 residents, 40 percent of whom are of Arab descent. According to The Intercept, Dearborn's inclusion suggests its "significant Muslim population … has been disproportionately targeted for watchlisting."
The size of the no-fly list has ebbed over time, and its growth has not been linear. In 2006, a copy of the list contained 44,000 names, including Bolivian President Evo Morales, according to CBS News. Under scrutiny, the government shrunk the list drastically to just 4,000 names by the end of 2009.
But Obama relaxed the standards for adding individuals to the no-fly list after the 2009 Christmas Day "underwear bomber" incident that occurred on a passenger flight heading to Detroit. This ushered in another wave of growth to the list and the larger terrorism watch list databases.
The Intercept was launched by journalist Glenn Greenwald earlier this year, and it frequently publishes secret documents from Edward Snowden. Tuesday's story makes no mention of Snowden as a source, however.