Big Brother

Data-Mining Programs Resurrect "Total Information Awareness"

by Tom Burghardt

[] 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 provocateurs to stifle political dissent, to Wi-Fi hacking 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

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).

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."

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.

According 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)

Unsurprisingly, 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:

The NSAC 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?

CIFA 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 counterintelligence."

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

According 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.

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

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."

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.

TIA, IDW, 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.

Information 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.

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 FBI.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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

Caving-in 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."

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.

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.

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 it’s 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

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

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.

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

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

Tom Burghardt is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by Tom Burghardt