Big Brother FBI Data-Mining Programs Resurrect "Total Information Awareness"

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by Tom Burghardt: Democracy
Going Dark: The Electronic Police State

Like a vampire
rising from it’s grave each night to feed on the privacy rights
of Americans, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is moving forward
with programs that drain the life blood from our constitutional

From the wholesale
use of informants and
to stifle political dissent, to Wi-Fi
and viral
computer spyware
to follow our every move, the FBI has turned
massive data-mining of personal information into a growth industry.
In the process they are building the surveillance state long been
dreamed of by American securocrats.

A chilling
new report
by investigative journalist Ryan Singel provides startling details
of how the FBI’s National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC)
is quietly morphing into the Total Information Awareness (TIA) system
of convicted Iran-Contra felon, Admiral John M. Poindexter. According
to documents
obtained by Wired:

A fast-growing
FBI data-mining system billed as a tool for hunting terrorists
is being used in hacker and domestic criminal investigations,
and now contains tens of thousands of records from private corporate
databases, including car-rental companies, large hotel chains
and at least one national department store. (Ryan Singel, “FBI’s
Data-Mining System Sifts Airline, Hotel, Car-Rental Records,”
Wired, September 23, 2009)

Among the latest
revelations of out-of-control secret state spookery, Wired
disclosed that personal details on customers have been provided
to the Bureau by the Wyndham Worldwide hotel chain “which includes
Ramada Inn, Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson and Hawthorn Suites.”
Additional records were obtained from the Avis rental car company
and Sears department stores.

Singel reports
that the Bureau is planning a massive expansion of NSAC, one that
would enlarge the scope, and mission, of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking
Task Force (FTTTF) and the file-crunching, privacy-killing Investigative
Data Warehouse (IDW).

“Among the
items on its wish list,” Singel writes, “is the database of the
Airlines Reporting Corporation – a company that runs a backend
system for travel agencies and airlines.” If federal snoops should
obtain ARC’s data-sets, the FBI would have unlimited access to “billions
of American’s itineraries, as well as the information they give
to travel agencies, such as date of birth, credit card numbers,
names of friends and family, e-mail addresses, meal preferences
and health information.”

The publication
reports that the system “is both a meta-search engine – querying
many data sources at once – and a tool that performs pattern
and link analysis.” Internal FBI documents reveal that despite growing
criticism of the alleged “science” of data-mining, including a stinging
2008 report
by the prestigious National Research Council, for all intents and
purposes the Bureau will transform NSAC into a low-key version of
Adm. Poindexter’s Information Awareness Office. An internal FBI
document provides a preview of the direction NSAC will take.

to the General Accounting Office (GAO) May 2004 report on federal
data mining efforts, the GAO defined data mining as “the application
of database technology – to uncover hidden patterns and subtle
relationships in data and to infer rules that allow for the prediction
of future results” (GAO-05-866, Data Mining p. 4). There are a
number of security and privacy issues that government and private
industry must address when contemplating the use of technology
and data in these ways. While the current activities and efforts
of the IDW and FTTTF programs do not provide NSB [National Security
Branch] users with the full level of data mining services as defined
above it is the intention of the NSAC to pursue and refine
these capabilities where permitted by statute and policy.
The implementation and responsible utilization of these services
will advance the FBI’s ability to address national security threats
in a timely fashion, uncover previously unknown patterns and trends
and empower agents and analysts to better “hunt between the cases”
to find those persons, places or things of investigative and intelligence
interest. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Fiscal Year (FY)
2008, Internal Planning & Budget Review, Program Narrative
for Enhancements/Increases,” p. 5, emphasis added)

in their quest for increased funding FBI officials failed to mention
that the 2004 GAO report
raised significant and troubling questions glossed over by securocrats.
To wit, GAO investigators averred:

Privacy concerns
about mined or analyzed personal data also include concerns about
the quality and accuracy of the mined data; the use of the data
for other than the original purpose for which the data were collected
without the consent of the individual; the protection of the data
against unauthorized access, modification, or disclosure; and
the right of individuals to know about the collection of personal
information, how to access that information, and how to request
a correction of inaccurate information. (General Accounting Office,
Data Mining: Federal Efforts Cover a Wide Range of Uses, GAO-04-548,
May 2004)

Despite these
concerns, an FBI budget document
released to Wired baldly states:

will provide subject-based “link analysis” through utilization
of the FBI’s collection data sets, combined with public records
on predicated subjects. Link analysis uses these data sets to
find links between subjects, suspects, and addresses or other
pieces of relevant information, and other persons, places, and
things. This technique is currently being used on a limited basis
by the FBI; the NSAC will provide improved processes and greater
access to this technique to all NSB components. The NSAC will
also pursue “pattern analysis” as part of its service to the NSB.
“Pattern analysis” queries take a predictive model or pattern
of behavior and search for that pattern in data sets. The FBI’s
efforts to define predictive models and patterns of behavior should
improve efforts to identify “sleeper cells.” Information produced
through data exploitation will be processed by analysts who are
experts in the use of this information and used to produce products
that comply with requirements for the proper handling of the information.
(Federal Bureau of Investigation, “National Security Branch Analytical
Capabilities,” November 12, 2008)

Four years after
the GAO report cited the potential for abuse inherent in such techniques,
The National Research Council’s exhaustive study criticized the alleged
ability of data-miners to discover hidden “patterns” and “trends”
among disparate data-sets “precisely because so little is known about
what patterns indicate terrorist activity; as a result, they are likely
to generate huge numbers of false leads.”

False leads
that may very well land an innocent person on a terrorist watch-list
or as a subject of a wide-ranging and unwarranted national security
investigation. But as with all things relating to “counterterrorism,”
the guilt or innocence of the average citizen is a trifling matter
while moves to “empower agents” to “find those persons, places or
things of investigative and intelligence interest,” is the paramount
goal. “Justice” under such a system becomes another preemptive “tool”
subject to the whims of our political masters.

The use of
federal dollars for such a dubious and questionable enterprise has
already had real-world consequences for political activists. Just
ask RNC Welcoming Committee activists currently under indictment
in Minnesota for their role in organizing legal protests against
the far-right Republican National Convention last year in St. Paul.

As Antifascist
Calling revealed
earlier this year, one private security outfit, the now-defunct
Highway Watch which worked closely with the FBI, used “social network
theory” and “link analysis,” and cited the group’s legal political
organizing, including “increased membership via the internet” and
“public appearances at various locations across the US,” as a significant
factor that rendered the group a “legitimate” target for heightened
surveillance and COINTELPRO-style disruption.

Singel also
disclosed that NSAC shared data “with the Pentagon’s controversial
Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office, a secretive domestic-spying
unit which collected data on peace groups, including the Quakers,
until it was shut down in 2008. But the FBI told lawmakers it would
be careful in its interactions with that group.”

As journalists
and congressional investigators subsequently revealed however, CIFA’s
dark heart – the office’s mammoth databases – were off-loaded
to other secret state security agencies, including the FBI.

CIFA: Closed
Down or Farmed Out?

ran aground after a series of media disclosures beginning in 2004,
some critics believed that was the end of that. “From the beginning
of its existence,” investigative journalist Tim Shorrock revealed
in Spies
For Hire
, “CIFA had extensive authority to conduct domestic

Indeed, one
CIFA official “was the deputy director of the FBI’s multiagency
Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,” Shorrock wrote, “and other
CIFA officials were assigned to more than one hundred regional Joint
Terrorism Task Forces where they served with other personnel from
the Pentagon, as well as the FBI, state and local police, and the
Department of Homeland Security.”

Several investigative
reports in Antifascist Calling have documented the close interconnections
among Pentagon spy agencies, the FBI, DHS, private contractors,
local and state police in what have come to be known as fusion centers,
which rely heavily on extensive data-mining operations.

Their role
as clearinghouses for domestic intelligence will expand even further
under President Obama’s purported “change” administration.

Federal Computer
Week revealed
September 30, that DHS “is establishing a new office to coordinate
its intelligence-sharing efforts in state and local intelligence
fusion centers.”

to the publication, a “new Joint Fusion Center Program Management
Office will be part of DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis,
[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs Committee. Napolitano said she strongly
supports the centers.”

Though little
reported by the corporate media, domestic spying had become big
business with some very powerful constituencies.

Take CIFA,
for example. Ostensibly a Defense Department agency, the secretive
office which once had a multi-billion dollar budget at its disposal,
was a veritable cash cow for enterprising security grifters. Much
has been made of the corrupt contracts forged by disgraced Pentagon
contractor Mitchell Wade and his MZM corporation, caught up in the
“Duke” Cunningham scandal that landed the San Diego Republican congressman
an eight-year federal prison term in 2006. Untouched however, by
the outcry over domestic Pentagon spying were top-flight defense
and security firms who lent their considerable resources –
at a steep price – to the office.

Among the
corporations who contracted out analysts and operatives to CIFA
were heavy hitters such as Lockheed Martin, Carlyle Group subsidiary
U.S. Investigations Services, Analex, Inc., an intelligence contractor
owned by the U.K.’s QinetiQ, ManTech International, the Harris Corporation,
SRA International, as well as General Dynamics, CACI International
and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). All
told, these corporations reap tens of billions of dollars annually
in federal largesse.

As Shorrock
revealed, by 2006 CIFA “had four hundred full-time employees and
eight hundred to nine hundred contractors working for it.” Many
were military intelligence and security analysts who jumped ship
to land lucrative six-figure contracts in the burgeoning homeland
security market, as the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks
revealed in July when they published
a massive 1525-page file on just one fusion center.

illegally obtained on American citizens by CIFA came to reside in
the office’s Threat And Local Observation Notice (TALON) system
and a related database known as CORNERSTONE.

In 2007, the
National Security Archive published Pentagon documents
outlining U.S. Northern Command’s (USNORTHCOM) extensive surveillance
activities that targeted legal political protests organized by antiwar
activists. In April 2007, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence,
Lt. General James Clapper, “reviewed the results of the TALON program”
and concluded “he did not believe they merit continuing the program
as currently constituted.”

Despite revelations
that CIFA and USNORTHCOM had illegally conducted prohibited activities
in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts the military
from carrying out domestic law enforcement, not a single operative
or program manager was brought to book. According to The National
Security Archive:

In June 2007,
the Department of Defense Inspector General released the results
of his review of the TALON reporting program. Its findings included
the observation that CIFA and the Northern Command “legally gathered
and maintained U.S. person information on individuals or organizations
involved in domestic protests and demonstrations against DOD”
– information gathered for law enforcement and force protection
purposes as permitted by Defense Department directive (5200.27)
on the “Acquisition of Information Concerning Persons and Organizations
Not Affiliated with the Department of Defense.” However, CIFA
did not comply with the 90-day retention review policy specified
by that directive and the CORNERSTONE database did not have the
capability to identify TALON reports with U.S. person information,
to identify reports requiring a 90-day retention review, or allow
analysts to edit or delete the TALON reports.

In August
the Defense Department announced that it would shut down the CORNERSTONE
database on September 17, with information subsequently collected
on potential terror or security threats to Defense Department
facilities or personnel being sent to an FBI data base known as
GUARDIAN. A department spokesman said the database was being terminated
because “the analytical value had declined,” not due to public
criticism, and that the Pentagon was hoping to establish a new
system – not necessarily a database – to “streamline”
threat reporting, according to a statement released by the Department’s
public affairs office. (Jeffrey Richelson, “The Pentagon’s Counterspies:
The Counterintelligence Field Activity,” The National Security
Archive, September 17, 2007)

Last year
Antifascist Calling reported
that when CIFA was shut down, that organization’s TALON database
was off-loaded to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Counterintelligence
and Human Intelligence Center and the FBI’s GUARDIAN database that
resides in the Bureau’s Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW).

The IDW is
a massive repository for data-mining. As I reported
in May, citing the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s revelations,
the IDW possesses something on the order of 1.5 billion searchable
files. In comparison, the entire Library of Congress contains 138
million unique documents.

EFF has called
the IDW “the FBI’s single largest repository of operational and
intelligence information.”

In 2005, FBI
Section Chief Michael Morehart said that “IDW is a centralized,
web-enabled, closed system repository for intelligence and investigative
data.” Unidentified FBI agents have described it as “one-stop shopping”
for FBI agents and an “uber-Google.” According to the Bureau, “[t]he
IDW system provides data storage, database management, search, information
presentation, and security services.”

As the Wired
investigation reveals, NSAC intends to expand these data-mining
capabilities. Currently, NSAC employs “103 full-time employees and
contractors, and the FBI was seeking budget approval for another
71 employees, plus more than $8 million for outside contractors
to help analyze its growing pool of private and public data.” Long-term,
according to a planning document, the FBI “wants to expand the center
to 439 people.”

While John
Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program may have disappeared
along with the Bush administration, it’s toxic heart lives on in
the National Security Branch Analysis Center.

NSAC: What’s in an Acronym? Plenty!

When the Pentagon’s
Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)
stood up the Information Awareness Office in 2002, the office’s
stated mission was to gather as much information on American citizens
as possible and store it in a centralized, meta-database for perusal
by secret state agencies.

included in the massive data-sets by IAO included internet activity,
credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases and travel
itineraries, rental car records, medical histories, educational
transcripts, driver’s licenses, social security numbers, utility
bills, tax returns, indeed any searchable record imaginable.

As Wired reported,
these are the data-sets that NSAC plans to exploit.

When Congress
killed the DARPA program in 2004, most critics believed that was
the end of the Pentagon’s leap back into domestic intelligence.
However, as we have since learned, the data-mining portion of the
program was farmed out to a host of state agencies, including the
National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the

Needless to
say, private sector involvement – and lucrative contracts –
for TIA projects included usual suspects such as Booz Allen Hamilton,
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, The Analysis Group and SAIC, as well
as a number of low-key firms such as 21st Century Technologies,
Inc., Evolving Logic, Global InfoTech, Inc., and the Orwellian-sounding
Fund For Peace.

These firms,
and many more, are current NSAC contractors; to all intents and
purposes TIA now resides deep inside the Bureau’s Investigative
Data Warehouse and NSAC’s Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force.

While the
FBI claims that unlike TIA, NSAC is not “open-ended” and that a
“mission is usually begun with a list of names or personal identifiers
that have arisen during a threat assessment, preliminary or full
investigation,” Wired reports that “the FBI’s pre-crime intentions
are much wider that the bureau acknowledged.”

This will
inevitably change – and not for the better – as NSAC expands
its brief and secures an ever-growing mountain of data at an exponential
rate. In this endeavor, they will be aided by the U.S. Senate.

With three
provisions of the draconian Patriot Act set to expire at years’
end, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy
(D-VI) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the committee
and chairwoman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, stripped-away
privacy protections to proposed legislation that would extend the

to pressure from the FBI which claims that protecting Americans’
privacy rights from out-of-control spooks would jeopardize “ongoing”
terror investigations, Leahy gutted the safeguards he had espoused
just last week!

Claiming that
his own proposal might hinder open-ended “terror” investigations
Leahy said at the hearing, “I’m trying to introduce balances on
both sides.” The original amendment would have curtailed Bureau
fishing expeditions and would have required an actual connection
of investigated parties to terrorism or foreign espionage.

Leahy was
referring to Section 215 of the Patriot Act that allows the secretive
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to authorize broad
warrants for nearly any type of record, including those held by
banks, libraries, internet service providers, credit card companies,
even doctors of “persons of interest.”

An amendment
offered by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) to repeal the Leahy-Feinstein
amendment was defeated in committee by a 4–15 vote. As the
Senator from the FBI, Feinstein said that the Bureau did not support
Durbin’s amendment. “It would end several classified and critical
investigations,” she said. Or perhaps Durbin’s amendment would have
lowered the boom on a host of illegal programs across the 16-agency
U.S. “Intelligence Community.”

As Antifascist
Calling reported
in July, a 38-page declassified report
by inspectors general of the CIA, NSA, Department of Justice, Department
of Defense and the Office of National Intelligence collectively
called the acknowledged “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and cross-agency
top secret “Other Intelligence Activities” the “President’s Surveillance
Program,” PSP.

The IG’s report
failed to disclose what these programs actually did, and probably
still do today under the Obama administration. Shrouded beneath
impenetrable layers of secrecy and deceit, these undisclosed programs
lie at the dark heart of the state’s war against the American people.

The Department
of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) described FBI participation
in the PSP as that of a passive “recipient of intelligence collected
under the program” and efforts by the Bureau “to improve cooperation
with the NSA to enhance the usefulness of PSP-derived information
to FBI agents.”

The OIG goes
on to state that “further details about these topics are classified
and therefore cannot be discussed here.” As The New York Times revealed
earlier this year in April
and June,
the NSA’s STELLAR WIND and PINWALE internet and email text intercept
programs are giant data-mining meta-databases that sift emails,
faxes, and text messages of millions of people in the United States.

Far from being
mere passive spectators, the FBI’s Investigative Data Warehouse
continues to be a major recipient of NSA’s STELLAR WIND and PINWALE
programs. As Marc Ambinder reported
in The Atlantic PINWALE is “an unclassified proprietary term used
to refer to advanced data-mining software that the government uses.
Contractors who do SIGINT mining work often include a familiarity
with Pinwale as a prerequisite for certain jobs.”

As the Electronic
Frontier Foundation’s report on the IDW revealed, the FBI closely
worked with SAIC, Convera and Chiliad to develop the project. Indeed,
as EFF discovered “The FBI set up an Information Sharing Policy
Group (ISPG), chaired by the Executive Assistant Directors of Administration
and Intelligence, to review requests to ingest additional datasets
into the IDW, in response to Congressional ‘privacy concerns that
may arise from FBI engaging in ‘data mining.’ In February 2005,
the Counterterrorism Division asked for 8
more data sources
.” The names of the data sources were redacted
in three of the eight datasets reviewed by EFF while three came
from the Department of Homeland Security.

All of which
begs the question: what is the FBI hiding behind its reorganization
of the FTTTF and IDW into the National Security Branch Analysis
Center? What role does the National Security Agency and private
contractors play in standing-up NSAC? And why, as EFF disclosed,
is the Bureau fearful of including Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs)
that might raise “congressional consciousness levels and expectations”
in the context of Bureau “national security systems”?

Indeed, as
the American Civil Liberties Union stated,
“once again, the FBI has been found to be using invasive ‘counterterrorism’
tools to collect personal information about innocent Americans,”
and it “appears that the FBI has continued its habit of gathering
bulk amounts of personal information with little or no oversight.”

Not that congressional
grifters and their corporate cronies, who have much to gain from
billions of federal dollars pumped into these intrusive programs,
actually care to explore what becomes of data illegally collected
on innocent Americans by NSAC.

The civil
liberties watchdog concludes they have “long suspected that the
congressional dissent over and public demise of the Pentagon’s TIA
program would result in a concealed and more invasive version of
the program.”

Plus a change,
plus c’est la mme chose. Somewhere near Washington Admiral Poindexter
is leaning back in his chair, filling his pipe and smiling…

This article
originally appeared on

12, 2009

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San
Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action
Quarterly and Global Research,
an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists
and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read on
Dissident Voice,
The Intelligence Daily,
Pacific Free Press
and the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.
He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military “Civil
Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK

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