New Guidelines Define NCTC Access to Non-Terror Databases

01.16.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, may obtain access to federal databases containing non-terrorism-related information in order to acquire information needed for authorized counterterrorism purposes, pursuant to a recent memorandum of agreement (pdf) between the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General.

“NCTC will access information in such datasets identified as containing non-terrorism information… only to determine if the dataset [also] contains terrorism information,” the memorandum states.

“NCTC is not otherwise permitted under these guidelines to query, use, or exploit such datasets (e.g., analysts may not ‘browse’ through records in the dataset that do not match a query with terrorism datapoints, or conduct ‘pattern-based’ queries or analyses without terrorism datapoints),” the memo directs.

The seven-page Memorandum of Agreement has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  It took effect on November 4, 2008.

“Most of the terrorists arrested in the U.S. have supported themselves with common criminal activities” and therefore NCTC would have a legitimate need for access to related law enforcement information, a senior intelligence official from another agency told Secrecy News.

The new memo “regularizes the process by which NCTC can access information not originally collected for intelligence purposes,” the official said.  It also “inserts the ODNI Civil Liberties Protection Officer into the process with an affirmative role for the first time — I think.”

The memorandum makes the ODNI Civil Liberties Protection Officer responsible for ensuring that NCTC complies with privacy guidelines when accessing non-terrorism-related databases.