More than a decade into the program, Americans are finally getting a look at how the government designates and tracks suspected terrorists. The Intercept has published The National Counterterrorism Center's Watchlisting Guidance report from March of 2013, distributed throughout the intelligence community as a roadmap to how the government tracks suspected terrorists and their associates.
Anyone with "a possible nexus" to terrorism can be added
The report is unclassified, but its secrecy has been fiercely guarded before now, and the Attorney General has said that its disclosure "could cause significant harm to national security." It does not appear that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was involved in the leak; the article credits the document simply to "a source within the intelligence community."
Appearing on the watchlist can have serious consequences — individuals can be prevented from traveling or enthusiastically prosecuted for minor offenses — but the standard for placing someone on the list is much less rigorous than conventional law enforcement. The immediate family of suspected terrorists may be watchlisted without any additional suspicion, along with associates and anyone with "a possible nexus" to terrorism. Through a "threat-based expedited upgrade," a White House official can also temporarily elevate entire categories of people onto the no-fly or selectee lists for as long as a month, a loophole that skirts the traditional standard of reasonable suspicion.