Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Was Abu G Outsourcing Big Brother?

Our heroine, R. J. Hillhouse, claims to have an exclusive on this, but I don't see where she's reporting anything unique beyond her own analysis. Maybe that's what she means. In any case, it sounds like good analysis to me.
At the heart of the Constitutional dispute over domestic spying between current Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft is corporate America. Almost all of the government data mining has been outsourced to corporations. The data mining controversy isn’t about the US government spying on Americans. It’s about the government using big corporations as a Constitutional workarounds to spy on Americans. It’s not the government that actually sifts through our emails and phone records but companies such as Lockheed Marin, Raytheon, SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton and their subcontractors.
Comrade Joshua and The Mighty Atrios have both written recently about the curious difference in the accounts of Abu G and FBI Director Robert Mueller for what Abu G went to the dread Count Ashcroft's hospital bed to rattle him about. Was it the TerroristSurveillanceProgram™ (whatever that might officially be called)? Or was it "other intelligence activities" that had half the DOJ ready to resign?

Ms. Hillhouse seems to think the nut of this ambiguity is that the real story is about how the major hostility in DOJ was to the outsourcing of the data mining and surveillance operations to private contractors without even the appearance of an oversight process. For my part, I don't have any trouble at all imagining that happening. She says 70% of the intelligence budget is going to pay independent contractors— companies that can potentially use the same tools the government gives them for building target lists and doing traffic pattern analysis on them to serve their own interests and the interests of their private non-government clients. (She doesn't say it, but the question hangs in the air: is the RNC on the client list?)

Now would be a good time to remind our meager audience that the problem with using data mining and traffic pattern analysis to identify potential terrorists is that false positives will statistically outweigh false negatives by several orders of magnitude in frequency. In English, that means they're a waste of money and they're guaranteed to bring many more civil rights abuses than successful thwarts of terrorist efforts. They are, however, reasonably good at giving over-represented and oppressive minorities the tools they need to tip the balance of democracy and retain power they would otherwise lose in a fair and open society.

Draw your own conclusions about what's been going on for the last five to ten years.

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