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GOVERNMENT DATA MINING PROGRAMS

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NSA SPIED ON EVERYONE IN THE UNITED STATES

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Giuliani Firm Made Millions Pushing Data-Mining Program

Revelations about the far-ranging business entanglements of GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani continue to put the former New York mayor on the hot seat.

The latest : As reported by Time Magazine, Giuliani’s private consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, received a $6.5 million windfall for helping a tech company called Seisint Inc. land government contracts for a massive data-mining program — a system the firm said could help fight terror by using supercomputers to store “billions of pieces of information from public records.”

The problem, write Time’s Michael Weiskopf and Massimo Calabresi, is that “the payment of percentages or commissions to ’solicit or secure’ government contracts is prohibited by federal law and laws of some states.”

An unnamed source at Giuliani Partners told the magazine that the firm had never received commissions, however, labeling the money instead as “special bonuses” that wouldn’t run afoul of federal law.

“Meanwhile, Seisint’s premier product–MATRIX–had proved controversial,” continues Time. “The databases it searched contained personal histories of millions of Americans, their relatives, past addresses, property records and credit ratings. Civil-liberties groups said MATRIX would create detailed data profiles of innocent Americans.”

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Data On Americans Mined For Terror Risk

By LARA JAKES JORDAN

Associated Press

 

The FBI is gathering and sorting information about Americans to help search for potential terrorists, insurance cheats and crooked pharmacists, according to a government report obtained Tuesday.

Records about identity thefts, real estate transactions, motor vehicle accidents and complaints about Internet drug companies are being searched for common threads to aid law enforcement officials, the Justice Department said in a report to Congress on the agency's data-mining practices.

In addition, the report disclosed government plans to build a new database to assess the risk posed by people identified as potential or suspected terrorists.

The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the Justice Department said the database was "ripe for abuse." The American Civil Liberties Union immediately derided the quality of the information that could be used to score someone as a terror threat.

The report, sent to Congress this week, marked the department's first public detailing of six of its data-mining tools, which look for patterns to catch criminals. The disclosure was required by lawmakers when they renewed the USA Patriot Act in 2005. It comes as the Justice Department faces sharp criticism from Congress and civil liberties advocates for violating peoples' privacy rights in terror and spy investigations.

Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the databases are strictly regulated to protect privacy rights and civil liberties.

"Each of these initiatives is extremely valuable for investigators, allowing them to analyze and process lawfully acquired information more effectively in order to detect potential criminal activity and focus resources appropriately," Boyd said in a statement.

All but one of the databases — the one to track terrorists — have been up and running for several years, the report showed. The lone exception is the System to Assess Risk, or STAR, program to rate the threat posed by people already identified as suspected terrorists or named on terror watch lists.

The system, still under construction, is designed to help counter terror investigators save time by narrowing the field of people who pose the greatest potential threat and will not label anyone a terrorist, Boyd said.

But it could be based, in part at least, on commercial or public information that might not be accurate  potentially ranking an innocent person as a terror threat. Watch lists, for example, have mistakenly identified people as suspects based on their similar names or birthdates to terrorists.

The Justice report also leaves open the possibility that the STAR program might draw up lists of terror suspects based on information from other sources, including from Data Mart. The reports described Data Mart as a collector of government information, but also travel data from the Airlines Reporting Corp. and other information from private data-aggregators like Choicepoint. Private data aggregators often sell commercial credit records as well as other databases, like voter and vehicle registration.

"When you put bad information into a system and you don't have any mechanism of ensuring the information is of high quality, you're certain to get bad information spit out on the back end," said ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani. "And that has profoundly negative consequences for the individuals who are wrongly identified as potential terrorists."

The five other databases detailed in the report include:

         An identity theft intelligence program, used since 2003, to examine and analyze consumer complaints to identify major identity theft rings in a given geographic area.

         A health care fraud system that looks at billing records in government and private insurance claims databases to identify fraud or over-billing by health care providers. It also has been running since 2003.

         A database created in 2005 that looks at consumer complaints to the Food and Drug Administration to identify larger trends about fraud by Internet pharmacies.

         A housing fraud program that analyzes public data on real estate transactions to identify fraudulent housing purchases, including so-called property flipping. The database was built in 1999.

         A system that compares National Insurance Crime Bureau information against other data to crack down on fake car accident insurance claims and identify major offenders.

The 38-page report was four months late in being sent to Congress for required oversight. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said it "raises more questions than it answers."

"Unfortunately, the Congress and the American public know very little about these and other data mining programs, making them ripe for abuse," said Leahy, D-Vt.

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New Profiling Program Raises Privacy Concerns
By Ellen Nakashima and Alec Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; D03
 
The Department of Homeland Security is testing a data-mining program that would attempt to spot terrorists by combing vast amounts of information about average Americans, such as flight and hotel reservations. Similar to a Pentagon program killed by Congress in 2003 over concerns about civil liberties, the new program could take effect as soon as next year.
 
But researchers testing the system are likely to already have violated privacy laws by reviewing real information, instead of fake data, according to a source familiar with a congressional investigation into the $42.5 million program.
 
Bearing the unwieldy name Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), the program is on the cutting edge of analytical technology that applies mathematical algorithms to uncover hidden relationships in data.
 
The idea is to troll a vast sea of information, including audio and visual, and extract suspicious people, places and other elements based on their links and behavioral patterns.
 
The privacy violation, described in a Government Accountability Office report that is due out soon, was one of three by separate government data mining programs, according to the GAO. "Undoubtedly there are likely to be more," GAO Comptroller David M. Walker said in a recent congressional hearing.
 
The violations involved the government's use of citizens' private information without proper notification to the public and using the data for a purpose different than originally envisioned, said the source, who declined to be identified because the report is not yet public.
 
The issue lies at the heart of the debate over whether pattern-based data mining -- or searching for bad guys without a known suspect -- can succeed without invading people's privacy and violating their civil liberties.
 
DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie said officials had not yet read the GAO report and could not comment.
 
Another DHS official who helped develop ADVISE said that the program was tested on only "synthetic" data, which he described as "real data" made anonymous so it could not be traced back to people.
 
The system has been tested in four DHS pilot programs, including one at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, to help analysts more effectively sift through mounds of intelligence reports and documents.
 
In another pilot at a government laboratory in Livermore, Calif., that assessed foreign and domestic terror groups' ability to develop weapons of mass destruction, ADVISE tools were found "worthy of further development," DHS spokesman Christopher Kelly said.
 
The DHS is completing reports on the privacy implications of all four pilot programs. Such assessments are required on any government technology program that collects people's personally identifiable information, according to DHS guidelines.
 
The DHS official who worked on ADVISE said it can be used for a range of purposes. An analyst might want, say, to study the patterns of behavior of the Washington area sniper and look for similar patterns elsewhere, he said.
 
The bottom line is to help make analysts more effective at detecting terrorist intent.
 
ADVISE has progressed further than the program killed by Congress in 2003, Total Information Awareness, which was being developed at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Yet it was partly ADVISE's resemblance to Total Information Awareness that led lawmakers last year to request that the GAO review the program.
 
Though Total Information Awareness never got beyond an early research phase, unspecified subcomponents of the program were allowed to be funded under the Pentagon's classified budget, which deal largely with foreigners' data.
 
The Disruptive Technology Office, a research arm of the intelligence community, is working on another program that would sift through massive amounts of data, such as intelligence reports and communications records, to detect hidden patterns. The program focuses on foreigners. Officials declined to elaborate because it is classified.
 
Officials at the office of the director of national intelligence stressed that pattern analysis research remains largely theoretical. They said the more effective approach is link analysis, or looking for bad guys based on associations with known suspects. They said that they seek to guard Americans' privacy, focusing on synthetic and foreigners' data. Information on Americans must be relevant to the mission, they said.
 
Still, privacy advocates raise concerns about programs based on sheer statistical analysis because of the potential that people can be wrongly accused. "They will turn up hundreds of soccer teams, family reunions and civil war re-enactors whose patterns of behavior happen to be the same as the terrorist network," said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute.
 
But Robert Popp, former DARPA deputy office director who founded National Security Innovations, a Boston firm working on technologies for intelligence agencies, said that research anecdotally shows that pattern analysis has merit.
 
In 2003, he said, DARPA researchers using the technique helped interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, assess which detainees posed the biggest threats. Popp said that analysts told him that "detainees classified as 'likely a terrorist' were in fact terrorists, and in no cases were detainees who were not terrorists classified as 'likely a terrorist.' "
 
Some lawmakers are demanding greater program disclosure. A bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) would require the Bush administration to report to Congress the extent of its data-mining programs.
Staff researchers Richard Drezen and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
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INTELLIGENCE -- TOTAL INFORMATION AWARENESS (TIA)  'CLOSED IN NAME ONLY':

The National Journal yesterday published an exposť on Total Information Awareness, the controversial data mining program that Congress voted to terminate in 2003.

Earlier this month, Newsweek reported that "very quietly, the core of TIA survives with a new codename of Topsail."

The National Journal adds several new details to the picture. The core components of TIA have been moved to the Advanced Research and Development Activity, housed at NSA headquarters.

According to the Journal, "The names of key projects were changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained intact, often under the same contracts."

Emails written by subcontractors working to design those components show that the program continues under the codename "Basketball."

Also notable is testimony given earlier this month by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. As ThinkProgress pointed out at the time, Negroponte responded, "I don’t know the answer to that question," when asked whether TIA was still operational.

The National Journal report suggests that answer was misleading at best. Not only does it appear that Negroponte was aware of the ongoing activities, his office will soon control them.

"ARDA now is undergoing some changes of its own. The outfit is being taken out of the NSA, placed under the control of Negroponte’s office, and given a new name. … Officials with the intelligence director’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story."

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Total Information Awareness (TIA)

 

Program Objective: 

The Total Information Awareness (TIA) program is a FY03 new-start program. The goal of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program is to revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists and decipher their plans and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts.  To that end, the TIA program objective is to create a counter-terrorism information system that: (1) increases information coverage by an order of magnitude, and affords easy future scaling; (2) provides focused warnings within an hour after a triggering event occurs or an evidence threshold is passed; (3) can automatically queue analysts based on partial pattern matches and has patterns that cover 90% of all previously known foreign terrorist attacks; and, (4) supports collaboration, analytical reasoning and information sharing so that analysts can hypothesize, test and propose theories and mitigating strategies about possible futures, so decision-makers can effectively evaluate the impact of current or future policies and prospective courses of action.

Program Strategy:  

The TIA program strategy is to integrate technologies developed by DARPA (and elsewhere as appropriate) into a series of increasingly powerful prototype systems that can be stress-tested in operationally relevant environments, using real-time feedback to refine concepts of operation and performance requirements down to the component level.  The TIA program will develop and integrate information technologies into fully functional, leave-behind prototypes that are reliable, easy to install, and packaged with documentation and source code (though not necessarily complete in terms of desired features) that will enable the intelligence community to evaluate new technologies through experimentation, and rapidly transition it to operational use, as appropriate.  Accordingly, the TIA program will work in close collaboration with one or more U.S. intelligence agencies that will provide operational guidance and technology evaluation, and act as TIA system transition partners.  

Technically, the TIA program is focusing on the development of: 1) architectures for a large-scale counter-terrorism database, for system elements associated with database population, and for integrating algorithms and mixed-initiative analytical tools; 2) novel methods for populating the database from existing sources, create innovative new sources, and invent new algorithms for mining, combining, and refining information for subsequent inclusion into the database; and, 3) revolutionary new models, algorithms, methods, tools, and techniques for analyzing and correlating information in the database to derive actionable intelligence.  

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Shutting Down the Snoops

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