[FoRK] Are you a potential terrorist?
Contempt for Meatheads
jbone at place.org
Fri May 21 07:21:35 PDT 2004
From the everything-evil-in-America-comes-from-Texas-Florida-or-DC
Are You a Potential Terrorist?
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/conflict/0,2100,63535,00.html
10:20 AM May. 20, 2004 PT
Before helping to launch the criminal information project known as
Matrix, a database contractor gave U.S. and Florida authorities the
names of 120,000 people who showed a statistical likelihood of being
terrorists — sparking some investigations and arrests.
The "high terrorism factor" scoring system also became a key selling
point for the involvement of the database company, Seisint Inc., in the
Public records obtained by The Associated Press from several states
show that Justice Department officials cited the scoring technology in
appointing Seisint sole contractor on the federally funded, $12 million
Seisint and the law enforcement officials who oversee Matrix insist
that the terrorism scoring system ultimately was kept out of the
project, largely because of privacy concerns.
However, new details about Seisint's development of the "terrorism
quotient," including the revelation that authorities apparently acted
on the list of 120,000, are renewing privacy activists' suspicions
about Matrix's potential power.
"Assuming they have in fact abandoned the terrorist quotient, there's
nothing that stops them from bringing it back," said Barry Steinhardt,
director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil
Liberties Union, which learned about the list of 120,000 through its
own records request in Utah.
Matrix — short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange —
combines state records and data culled by Seisint to give investigators
quick access to information on crime and terrorism suspects. It was
launched in 2002.
Because the system includes information on people with no criminal
record as well as known criminals, Matrix has drawn objections from
both liberal and conservative privacy groups. Utah and at least eight
other states have pulled out, leaving Florida, Connecticut, Ohio,
Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The AP has received thousands of pages of Matrix documents in records
requests this year, including meeting minutes and presentation
materials that discuss the project in detail.
Not one indicates that Matrix planners decided against using the
statistical method of determining an individual's propensity for
When the AP specifically requested documents indicating the scoring
system was scrapped, the general counsel's office for Florida state
police said it could not uncover any.
Even so, people involved with Matrix pledge that the statistical method
was removed from the final product.
"I'll put my 26 years of law enforcement experience on the line. It is
not in there," said Mark Zadra, chief investigator for the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement. He said Matrix, which has 4 billion
records, merely speeds access to material that police have always been
able to get from disparate sources, and does not automatically or
proactively finger suspects.
Bill Shrewsbury, a Seisint executive and former federal drug agent,
said the terrorism scoring algorithm that produced the list of 120,000
names was "put on the shelf" after it was demonstrated immediately
following Sept. 11, 2001.
He said the scoring system requires intelligence data that was fed into
the software for the initial demonstration but is not commonly
available. "Nor are we interested in pursuing that," he said.
The Utah documents included a Seisint presentation saying the scoring
system was developed by the company and law enforcement officials by
reverse engineering an unnamed "terrorist handbook" that reveals how
terrorists "penetrate and in live our society."
The scoring incorporated such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, credit
history, "investigational data," information about pilot and driver
licenses, and connections to "dirty" addresses known to have been used
by other suspects.
According to Seisint's presentation, dated January 2003 and marked
confidential, the 120,000 names with the highest scores were given to
the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI, Secret Service and
Florida state police. (Later, those agencies would help craft the
software that queries Matrix.)
Of the people with the 80 highest scores, five were among the Sept. 11
hijackers, Seisint's presentation said. Forty-five were identified as
being or possibly being under existing investigations, while 30 others
"were unknown to FBI."
"Investigations were triggered and arrests were made by INS and other
agencies," the presentation added. Two bullet points stated: "Several
arrests within one week" and "Scores of other arrests." It does not
provide details of when and where the investigations and arrests took
Phil Ramer, who heads Florida state police's intelligence division,
said his agency found the list a useful starting point for some
investigations, though he said he could not recall how many. He
stressed that the list was not used as the sole evidence to make
"What we did with the list is we went back and found out how they got
on the list," Ramer said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a
descendant of INS in the Department of Homeland Security, said he could
not confirm that INS used or was given the list.
Although Seisint says it shelved the scoring system — known as high
terrorist factor, or HTF — after the original demonstrations in the
wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the algorithm was touted well into 2003.
A records request by the AP in Florida turned up "briefing points,"
dated January 2003, for a presentation on Matrix to Vice President Dick
Cheney and other top federal officials delivered jointly by Seisint,
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida's top police official.
One of the items on Seisint's agenda: "Demonstrate HTF with mapping."
Matrix meeting minutes from February 2003 say Cheney was briefed along
with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert
In May 2003, the Justice Department approved Seisint as sole data
contractor on the project, citing the company's "technical
qualifications," including software "applying the 'terrorism quotient'
in all cases."
"The quotient identifies a set of criteria which accurately singled out
characteristics related to the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks and
other terrorist events," said a memo from an Office of Justice Programs
policy adviser, Bruce Edwards. "This process produced a scoring
mechanism (that), when applied to the general criminal population,
yields other people that may have similar motives."
A spokeswoman for the Office of Justice Programs declined to comment.
Ramer, the Florida agent, said the scoring system was scrapped because
it was "really specific to 9/11," and not applicable for everyday use.
Also, he said, "we didn't want anybody abusing it."
Seisint is a Boca Raton, Fla., company founded by a millionaire, Hank
Asher, who stepped down from its board of directors last year after
revelations of past ties to drug smugglers.
End of story
More information about the FoRK