Monday, May 15, 2006


Surveillance Spreads, Paranoia Strikes Deep

This is a long one, because it's about surveillance and there's a lot of it going on. It's worth the time to read.

One of today’s big stories is that ABC reporters discovered their calls are being monitered; the government is trying to find out who’s been leaking embarrassing stories about CIA spying, the “rendition” of prisoners, secret CIA prisons overseas, and so on. So, since by the government’s paranoid logic, this represents serious security leaks and even helps “America’s enemies,” they have every right to do this—in the name of national security.
See, even though the official line is the government is only checking domestic-overseas calls, because this is serious stuff, they can go ahead and check however they want. Without bothering with warrants. We know they’re doing this within the country and with millions and millions of citizens and residents; maybe nearly everyone who uses a phone. The computers are now big enough.
The catch 22 of all this is that the data-sweeps will pick up suspicious patterns, and then the NSA or FBI or DEA or DIA or INS can look closer—without warrants, of course. It’s for our own good. Only bad guys will be worried. However someone defines “bad guys,” or defines “suspicious patterns.” Everything is vague. The criteria for these secret police powers are whatever they want them to be.
They lie about it, too. Or use “truthiness.” Gonazales did some fancy side-stepping about the search methods. Negroponte flat out lied. So did Bush. The main reason the government is hunting down ABC soures is because the media keeps reporting on the lies: that’s the real crime.
Meanwhile, back in the secret chambers, even more stuff is going on. the Washington Post reports on a plan to collect DNA from the relatives of felons... After all, statistics prove that those related to criminals are often criminals themselves. Jesus!
Friday, May 12, 2006 - 12:00 AM

DNA tests on felons' kin proposed

By Rick Weiss
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Police would solve more crimes if they expanded their use of the nation's DNA fingerprinting system to test close relatives of known criminals, according to a report that raises civil-liberties issues.

The proposed crime-control strategy, in growing use in England, is based on two central facts: Close relatives of criminals are more likely than others to break the law and, because those individuals are related, their DNA "fingerprints" will be similar.

That suggests that if police find a crime-scene specimen with a DNA pattern close to — but not exactly the same as — that of a known lawbreaker, a relative of that known criminal may be the culprit.

In England, where rules governing the use of DNA for crime fighting are more permissive than in most U.S. states, the approach has been used dozens of times and has helped solve several cases, said Frederick Bieber, a Harvard medical geneticist who led the new study with colleague David Lazer and Charles Brenner of the University of California, Berkeley.

In one recent case, for example, a specimen from a 1988 murder scene was found to have a DNA pattern similar to that of a 14-year-old boy whose DNA was on file with the police. Investigators obtained a sample from the boy's uncle, which perfectly matched the crime-scene specimen and led to his conviction.

The new analysis, published Thursday in the online edition of Science, is the first to use sophisticated computer models to predict how useful such familial searches may be.

The computation is based on well-established facts, such as the prevalence of certain DNA variants in the population, and less precise assumptions, such as the odds that a criminal has a close family member whose DNA is already on file.

In the United States, those odds are rather high: A 1999 Justice Department survey found that 46 percent of jail inmates had at least one sibling, parent or child who had been incarcerated at some point.

All states take DNA from all convicted felons, and many get specimens from a wide range of others.

Using conservative assumptions, Bieber and his colleagues calculate that U.S. law-enforcement authorities could increase their "cold-hit" rate (the percentage of DNA searches that result in perfect matches) by 40 percent if they were to check the DNA patterns of criminals' family members when searches generate near-misses.

Bieber is to present the findings Saturday at a meeting of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics in Boston.

The approach raises hackles among many civil libertarians, who note that England does not have a Bill of Rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, U.S. authorities are generally required to show compelling evidence that an individual has committed a crime before demanding a DNA sample.

"If I give up a sample, does that mean I've also committed all my blood relatives to a search?" asked Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. "That's where the technology is moving faster than the law."

Familial testing would also amplify racial inequities in the criminal-justice system, which already focuses disproportionately on blacks, said Troy Duster, a New York University sociologist.

In the United States, where the DNA fingerprints of about 3 million people are stored in a national criminal database, familial testing has only rarely been acknowledged.

Tom Callaghan, custodian of that database, said the FBI does not pursue partial matches.

But no state is precluded by law from using the approach. And at least two — New York and Massachusetts — have statutory language expressly allowing it.

Bieber acknowledged that the strategy could impinge on civil liberties.

"It's a balancing act," he said. "But I think we are duty-bound to explore the potential."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
Here’s a Greg Palast column on the connections between databases—like your phone calls and medical records and, say, petitions you might have signed, websites you regularly visit. Yes, and your DNA records, too.

The Times and USA Today have Missed the Bigger Story -- Again

Friday, May 12, 2006
by Greg Palast
I know you're shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that George Bush is listening in on all your phone calls. Without a warrant. That's nothing. And it's not news.

This is: the snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI -- though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.

The leader in the field of what is called "data mining," is a company called, "ChoicePoint, Inc," which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.

Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration. Five years ago, I discovered that ChoicePoint had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans -- and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.

They are paid to keep an eye on you -- because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.) But ChoicePoint can collect it for "commercial" purchases -- and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act -- our domestic spying apparatchiks can then BUY the info from ChoicePoint.

Who ARE these guys selling George Bush a piece of you?

ChoicePoint's board has more Republicans than a Palm Beach country club. It was funded, and its board stocked, by such Republican sugar daddies as billionaires Bernie Marcus and Ken Langone -- even after Langone was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission with abuse of inside information.

I first ran across these guys in 2000 in Florida when our Guardian/BBC team discovered the list of 94,000 "felons" that Katherine Harris had ordered removed from Florida's voter rolls before the election. Virtually every voter purged was innocent of any crime except, in most cases, Voting While Black. Who came up with this electoral hit list that gave Bush the White House? ChoicePoint, Inc.

And worse, they KNEW the racially-tainted list of felons was bogus. And when we caught them, they lied about it. While they've since apologized to the NAACP, ChoicePoint's ethnic cleansing of voter rolls has been amply rewarded by the man the company elected.

And now ChoicePoint and George Bush want your blood. Forget your phone bill. ChoicePoint, a sickened executive of the company told us in confidence, "hope[s] to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States ...linked to all the other information held by CP [ChoicePoint]" from medical to voting records.

And ChoicePoint lied about that too. The company publicly denied they gave DNA to the Feds -- but then told our investigator, pretending to seek work, that ChoicePoint was "the number one" provider of DNA info to the FBI.

"And that scares the hell out of me," said the executive (who has since left the company), because ChoicePoint gets it WRONG so often. We are not contracting out our Homeland Security to James Bond here. It's more like Austin Powers, Inc. Besides the 97% error rate in finding Florida "felons," Illinois State Police fired the company after discovering ChoicePoint had produced test "results" on rape case evidence ... that didn't exist. And ChoicePoint just got hit with the largest fine in Federal Trade Commission history for letting identity thieves purchase 145,000 credit card records.

But it won't stop, despite Republican senators shedding big crocodile tears about "surveillance" of innocent Americans. That's because FEAR is a lucrative business -- not just for ChoicePoint, but for firms such as Syntech, Sybase and Lockheed-Martin -- each of which has provided lucrative posts or profits to connected Republicans including former Total Information Awareness chief John Poindexter (Syntech), Marvin Bush (Sybase) and Lynn Cheney (Lockheed-Martin).

But how can they get Americans to give up our personal files, our phone logs, our DNA and our rights? Easy. Fear sells better than sex -- and they want you to be afraid. Back to today's New York Times, page 28: "Wider Use of DNA Lists is Urged in Fighting Crime." And who is providing the technology? It comes, says the Times, from the work done on using DNA fragments to identity victims of the September 11 attack. And who did that job (for $12 million, no bid)? ChoicePoint, Inc. Which is NOT mentioned by the Times.

"Genetic surveillance would thus shift from the individual [the alleged criminal] to the family," says the Times -- which will require, of course, a national DNA database of NON-criminals.

It doesn't end there. Turn to the same newspaper, page 23, with a story about a weird new law passed by the state of Georgia to fight illegal immigration. Every single employer and government agency will be required to match citizen or worker data against national databases to affirm citizenship. It won't stop illegal border crossing, but hey, someone's going to make big bucks on selling data. And guess what local boy owns the data mine? ChoicePoint, Inc., of Alpharetta, Georgia.

The knuckleheads at the Times don't put the three stories together because the real players aren't in the press releases their reporters re-write.

But that's the Fear Industry for you. You aren't safer from terrorists or criminals or "felon" voters. But the national wallet is several billion dollars lighter and the Bill of Rights is a couple amendments shorter.

And that's their program. They get the data mine -- and we get the shaft.

Greg Palast is author of Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War, out June 6. You can order it now.

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