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Monday, October 15, 2007

Data mining at the CIA

Interesting story I stumbled across from 2003:

By Bill Powell
October 13, 2003
FORTUNE Magazine

In the DO, Tenet eliminated old rules constraining agents from recruiting "unsavory" characters. Meanwhile, some internal walls have tumbled down. Jami Miscik now boasts about how many analysts from her directorate work in tandem with DO and sci-tech agents abroad, including several currently in Iraq. Increasingly, those analysts in the field can access data that used to be available only at headquarters. The CIA also laid so much broadband fiber in Iraq during the war, says Bobby Brady, deputy chief information officer, that videoconferencing is easier there than in Virginia.

In October the Agency will start using a data-mining program called Quantum Leap that's "so powerful it's scary," says Brady. It enables an analyst to get quick access to all the information available--classified and unclassified--about virtually anyone. Civil libertarians, not surprisingly, are unhappy, and even Brady says that in the wrong hands, "This could be Big Brother."

But Quantum Leap will be an extremely useful tool at the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center run by John Brennan, a 23-year CIA veteran. TTIC went into business just four months after President Bush announced its formation last February. It draws on personnel from the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security in the hope that next time, the government will be able to "connect the dots."

Here's another interesting story from October 2003:

According to Congressional testimony and news reports, The Matrix (which stands for ""Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange"") creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans' activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, Matrix workers comb through the millions of files in a search for ""anomalies"" that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver's license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates.

Raising even more issues, the Matrix is operated by a private company, Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida. Ironically, the company's founder was forced to resign after information about his own past came to light: according to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted multiple planeloads of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S.