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web posted June 3, 2002

Palm Beach Airport won't use face-Scan technology

Palm Beach International Airport officials said face-scanning technology will not become part of their airport's security system.

The airport used the scanning device during an eight-week trial period.

"There's room for improvement in this technology,'' said airport spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda.

Visionics Corp. of New Jersey and ATC Systems Integrators of Miami installed the equipment for a free test at the airport.

The system is supposed to detect terrorists by snapping photos of passengers going through security checkpoints. The photos are then compared with pictures in a database.

The airport tested the system to see if it could detect faces in a database of 15 employees. The system looks for 80 facial features and a match occurs when 14 features are the same. Officials said the test results were mixed. Less than half of test subjects were detected when they should have been.

Visionics' face-scanning cameras were installed two weeks ago at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The American Civil Liberties Union says the technology is ineffective and unnecessarily invasive.

Visionics also tested its system at airports in Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Fresno, Calif.

Republicans find vouchers alternative

House Republican leaders have halted efforts to get private-school vouchers and instead plan to move an education tax-credit proposal they say will increase investment in both public and private schools and allow more parents to send their children to private schools if they choose.

A group of Republicans led by Rep. Bob Schaffer have a draft proposal, which is based on existing state tax systems in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

"This will result in a massive cash infusion to education — period," said Schaffer, Colorado Republican. "It treats public schools on an equal level as private schools. It does not allocate money in any way."

Republicans made it clear that their strategy was to avoid a voucher approach, which has run into considerable opposition in the past.

"We steered far clear of vouchers," Schaffer said. "This is a change in the tax code, not the Department of Education. It bypasses government. It doesn't give government the authority to hand cash back through vouchers."

The Republicans' draft proposal would allow anyone who donates to an organization providing private- or religious-school scholarships to elementary or secondary students to receive half of the money back through a tax credit. It would apply to donations of up to $250 from an individual, $500 from a couple and $50,000 from a corporation.

The same incentives would also apply for those who donate to public schools. Public schools could use donated money however they see fit, including enrichment programs, new computers or band uniforms.

Supporters say this structure avoids criticism over the government handing money directly to parents for private-school education and allows the public to decide where to funnel more money for education.

The proposal would cost $3.5 billion over 5 years — the amount already set aside in the House-passed budget as a place holder for an education tax credit. House Democrats criticized the effort, saying the ultimate goal is the same as voucher proposals.

"They're trying to achieve by a tax credit what they could not achieve by vouchers," said Rep. Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Democrat. "They're trying to move kids from public schools to private."

Terry Holt, spokesman for Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said the education tax-credit proposal is on the House schedule for the summer session, which began after Congress returned from Memorial Day break.

Schaffer said House leaders have suggested a Ways and Means Committee markup in June and House floor consideration in July.

"Our leadership is committed to it. The president is committed to it," said Schaffer. "We're just negotiating final details with the Ways and Means Committee."

Passage of such a proposal in the Democratic-controlled Senate is more uncertain, although Schaffer said it is possible.

"We've had discussions with folks on the Senate side, and I think they're sort of waiting to see how things progress over here," a House Republican aide said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, has introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.

President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget also proposed an education tax credit, which took a slightly more direct approach than the House Republicans' plan. His plan would have provided a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 for parents whose children are in chronically failing public schools, most of which are in impoverished areas. It could be used for private-school tuition, sending children to better-performing public schools or buying books and computers.

'Carnivore' glitches blamed for FBI woes

The FBI mishandled a surveillance operation involving Osama bin Laden's terror network two years ago because of technical problems with the controversial Carnivore e-mail program, part of a "pattern" indicating that the FBI was unable to manage its intelligence wiretaps, according to an internal bureau memorandum released May 28.

An attempt in March 2000 to secretly monitor the e-mail of an unidentified suspect went awry when the Carnivore program retrieved communications from other parties as well, according to the memo, which was obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington-based advocacy group opposed to the technology.

Carnivore, which has been renamed DCS1000, is a computer program that allows investigators to capture e-mails sent to and from criminal and terrorist suspects. But the newly released memo indicates that, in at least one case, the program also retrieved e-mails from innocent people not involved in the investigation.

The incident joined a rapidly growing list of alleged FBI mistakes made before Sept. 11, including evidence that FBI headquarters bungled the quest for a search warrant in the Zacarias Moussaoui case and ignored pointed warnings from an Arizona field agent about terrorists in flight training. It also invited fresh criticism of Carnivore, a program already derided by civil libertarians, and cast doubt on repeated FBI assurances that the program provides a "surgical" ability to grab targeted e-mails out of cyberspace.

"Carnivore is a powerful but clumsy tool that endangers the privacy of innocent American citizens," said David Sobel, general counsel for EPIC, which obtained the memo through a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act. "We have now learned that its imprecision can also jeopardize important investigations, including those involving terrorism."

FBI spokesman John Collingwood said that the case was a rare mistake that resulted from technical problems encountered by an Internet service provider, not by the FBI.

"This is an uncommon instance where a surveillance tool, despite being tested and employed with the assistance of a service provider, did not collect information as intended," Collingwood said.

The one-page memo at issue, dated April 5, 2000, and sent via e-mail, was intended to outline the problems that had arisen in a Denver terrorism case for Marion "Spike" Bowman, the FBI's associate general counsel for national security. Bowman declined to comment and authorities declined to identify the memo's author or provide further details about the case.

The probe involved the FBI team that investigates suspected operatives of the al Qaeda network. It is known as the Usama bin Laden, or UBL, unit for the agency's spelling of the al Qaeda leader's name. The same unit has come under congressional scrutiny in recent weeks over its role in shelving a July 2001 memo from Phoenix FBI agent Kenneth Williams, who had suggested that al Qaeda members might be infiltrating aviation schools and requested that the FBI canvass them for Middle Easterners.

In the latest case to come to light, the UBL unit acquired in March 2000 a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for use against a suspect in an investigation based in Denver, according to the memo.

The names of the suspect and all others in the memo, except for Bowman's, were redacted from the copy provided to EPIC.

The memo says that on March 16, 2000, the Carnivore "software was turned on and did not work properly," capturing e-mails involving both the target and others unconnected to the case.

The memo goes on to say that "the FBI technical person was apparently so upset that he destroyed all the E-Mail take, including the take" from the target. Collingwood, the FBI spokesman, said that the memo is incorrect and that the e-mails gathered in the operation were kept and remain under seal in the court that administers secret wiretaps.

The memo makes clear that the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees FISA warrants, was enraged by the blunders in the case, in part because the Justice Department office was allegedly not told that Carnivore was considered experimental at the time.

Referring to an official at OIPR, the memo's author says: "[To] state that she is unhappy with [the International Terrorism Operations Section] and the UBL Unit would be an understatement of incredible proportions."

The memo also refers to an electronic communication outlining other "FISA mistakes" and alleges "a pattern of occurrences which indicate to OIPR an inability on the part of the FBI to manage its FISAs."

One law enforcement official said that the passage may be referring to the ongoing problems with the affidavits submitted by the FBI to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves surveillance requests. The court barred one FBI agent from submitting affidavits in late 2000 because of misrepresentations, and a broad review found similar problems in other cases, sources said.

The FBI has been using the Carnivore system for almost three years, subject to court authorization, to tap into Internet communications, to identify e-mail writers online and to record the contents of messages. It does so by capturing "packets" of information containing those details.

Civil liberties advocates and some lawmakers have expressed concerns because the system could scan private communication on the legal activities of people other than those under investigation. But agency officials have said repeatedly in response to criticism that the system poses no threat to privacy because it can take narrow, targeted slices of communication.

That's what FBI officials told Congress in the summer of 2000, only a few months after the botched surveillance effort in the Denver case.

Shortly before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an FBI spokesman said the agency rarely used Carnivore because Internet service providers had become so adept at meeting the technical demands of approved surveillance of suspects' Internet traffic. The agency said it had used Carnivore only twice from January through mid-August.

Since then, the agency has repeatedly declined to discuss the number of times the system has been used in recent months, saying that the records of Carnivore's use are exempt from disclosure laws.

FBI 'admits' terror warning failure

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has acknowledged that investigators might have been able to uncover part of the plot that led to the terror attacks of September 11.

Mueller: Oopps!
Mueller: Oopps!

In what is believed to be the first time a US official has admitted this, Robert Mueller said on May 2if all the clues had been put together, "who is to say" what could have been discovered.

Mueller was speaking after announcing measures to restructure the FBI following criticism of its handling of intelligence reports prior to last year's attacks.

The shake-up - one of the most far-reaching in the history of the bureau - is intended to shift the focus of the FBI away from fighting everyday crime to combating terrorism.

One of the main criticisms levelled against the FBI came from a field agent in Minneapolis who complained that FBI headquarters in Washington ignored information about Zacarias Moussaoui, who is alleged to have been involved in planning the September 11 attacks.

In her criticism, Coleen Rowley said that agents in Minneapolis unsuccessfully appealed for a search warrant for Moussaoui's computer after he was arrested at a local flying school.

The FBI is also under fire for its failure to act on information from field agents in Phoenix, which might have given clues about the terrorist attacks.

Acknowledging the FBI's failure to make the connection, Mueller said: "I can't say for sure that there wasn't the possibility that we would have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers."

The FBI head said: "It is of critical importance that we have that connection of dots to prevent another attack."

The revamped FBI is to take on an extra 1,600 agents and develop closer ties with its overseas counterpart - the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

US Attorney General John Ashcroft has described the plans as "shifting the FBI's structure, culture and mission to one of preventing terrorism".

FBI given more latitude

New Justice Department guidelines unveiled May 30 will give FBI agents latitude to monitor Internet sites, libraries and religious institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity, officials said yesterday.

The changes, part of the Justice Department's effort to mount a proactive war on terror, will mark a significant change for the FBI. While agents have been permitted in the past to conduct such surveillance if they had specific information, they have been loath to do so because of confusion about what was actually permitted, law enforcement officials said.

Justice Department and FBI officials said the guidelines will remove serious barriers to the prevention of terrorism.

"The concern is when we're confronted with people like [Zacarias] Moussaoui, or even some of the hijackers, who are known to spend substantial periods of time in mosques or other similar situations, it is very difficult to find out what they're up to," said one senior law enforcement official.

Terrorist organizations operating in this country have sometimes used mosques as recruiting grounds and gathering places. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric now imprisoned for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, built a radical following with links to al Qaeda while preaching at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City, for example.

But as word of the new guidelines circulated, some civil liberties groups expressed fears of a Big Brother government monitoring its citizens.

"The FBI is now telling the American people, 'You no longer have to do anything unlawful in order to get that knock on the door,' " said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office. "You can be doing a prefectly legal activity like worshiping or talking in a chat room, they can spy on you anyway."

The new guidelines state simply that FBI agents may enter public places and forums, including publicly accessible Internet sites, to observe, develop leads and investigate. The guidelines do not specifically mention religious institutions, but a senior Justice Department official said last night that the impact of the changes will be dramatic in allowing the FBI to open a window on extremist activity in mosques.

"These are open places," he said. Now, "just because they are FBI agents, they don't have to turn a blind eye to activities visible to other people."

Under guidelines that have been in place for several decades, the FBI has not been permitted to send investigators into religious settings unless the agents can establish they are following a lead, or conducting an investigation or preliminary inquiry. As a practical matter, the Justice Department official said, "agents mistakenly think they have to stop at the church door."

In a written description of the guideline changes, Attorney General John Ashcroft stated that the department needs to be able to "proactively draw on available sources of information to identify terrorist threats and activities." In the past, he said, the FBI has been a reactive body, and the guidelines "generally barred the FBI from taking the initiative unless leads as to possible criminal activity or even more substantial evidence of crimes happened to come to the FBI from external sources."

The new rules will allow agents to surf the Internet for Web sites that might give hints to terrorist activity, according to the description. The new guidelines will allow investigators to seek out and "identify sites and forums in which bomb-making instructions, preparations for cyberterrorism, child pornography, and stolen credit card information are openly traded and disseminated."

Under the existing policy, agents could pursue online searches only when they could characterize them as checking leads or otherwise furthering an ongoing investigation.

"Pure surfing or searching for the purpose of initially developing leads was not allowed, even in relation to publicly available information that anyone else is free to access and observe," according to the new policy statement.

Agents will also be permitted to do topical research not directly related to a specific crime under the new guidelines, such as research on a biological agent.

Several other aspects of the new guidelines, disclosed earlier last week week, will move some decision-making authority from FBI headquarters to field offices around the country. Under the new guidelines, field office directors will be allowed to launch terrorism investigations and undercover probes without clearance from headquarters.

The guidelines are an outgrowth of privacy laws that prohibit the government from collecting information except for law enforcement purposes. In the past, the government developed information on specific cases but now needs broader intelligence to prevent terrorist acts.

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