"How DC police use citizens as spies: Al Jazeera investigates shadowy surveillance technology revealed in correspondence between law enforcement and TrapWire"
2013-12-17 by Jason Leopold for "Al Jazeera" [http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/17/exclusive-how-dcpoliceusecitizensasspies.html]:
Read the entire set of more than 2,000 pages from the Metropolitan Police Department: Part 1 [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/901905-batch1.html] | Part 2 [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/901907-batch2.html].
Of the dozens of private intelligence corporations that have emerged in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, one firm has been singled out for particular scrutiny: TrapWire [https://www.trapwire.com/].
The Virginia-based spy outfit founded by several former CIA employees a decade ago developed, it says, surveillance software that can root out terrorist attacks while they are in the planning stage.
The company, formerly known as Abraxas Corp., markets its technology to local law enforcement, federal agencies and private corporations. TrapWire has been installed in 65 locations around the United States, according to the company’s website, including Washington, D.C., where it is being used by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
But TrapWire has become a lightning rod for civil libertarian groups and other critics who see its technology — and law enforcement’s hunger for it — as a symptom of a creeping surveillance state in the age of the so-called war on terrorism. That feeling has only been strengthened in the wake of the leaks by Edward Snowden, the former contractor with the National Security Agency who revealed details of mass data trawling by U.S. spy agencies and those of other countries.
Now Al Jazeera has obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents from the MPD in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the department that casts a rare spotlight into how TrapWire’s technology has been used by law enforcement (read the original contract [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/901903-trapwire-contract.html]) and the sorts of activities that are being picked up by the system.
The revelations are likely to reinforce many critics’ concerns that it represents an encroachment on civil liberties. Though most of the documents simply show a log of reports about possibly suspicious activities — like “probing” — some emails in the haul of MPD documents give details on which pieces of information were deemed worthy of follow-up.
In Washington, TrapWire processes so-called suspicious activity reports filed by members of the community and adds them to its massive national counterterrorism database, attempting to identify threat patterns. However, some observers say much of the behavior can be explained as ordinary members of the public — or tourists with cameras — simply going about their business in a busy major city.
Insulting ‘our intelligence’ -
In one D.C. case, a TrapWire report dubbed “slightly suspicious” and processed from a member of the community contained information about a 56- to 60-year-old male taking photographs with his cellphone camera. Another report submitted read, “Both my girlfriend’s and I’s phone received a weird call.”
“These programs are not only wasteful and harmful, they are insulting to our intelligence,” said Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, who reviewed the MPD’s TrapWire documents obtained by Al Jazeera.
“Americans aren’t stupid. If we see someone with a gun or a knife, we will call the police,” Crockford said. “The notion that we should report to the police people taking photographs and notes or ‘acting suspicious’ runs contrary to every democratic value this nation claims to defend.
“It’s a waste of public resources, and it promotes a culture of fear, which is corrosive to democracy and an open society.”
There also seemed, in some reports, to be an element of racial profiling (read the original documents [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/901902-report-from-metro-sighting.html]). For example, on Sept. 8, 2011, TrapWire processed a report that read, “Mrs. (redacted), a concerned citizen reports that a Middle Eastern male was walking back and forth on the train looking out the doors and checking his watch. He exited at Arlington Metro station (blue line). That male was described as 5'4", med 20s, 170 lbs, medium complexion last seen wearing a blue long sleeve shirt, black pants and glasses carrying a olive back pack with black stripes.”
On Sept. 9, 2011, a “moderately suspicious” report (read the original documents [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/902085-suspicious-photo-report.html]) that also led to further investigation was submitted in which a citizen described “two males who appear to be of Arab decent on the tressel bridge near New York and Florida Avenue and near the train tracks taking photographs in the direction of the capital.”
A citizen reported on Sept. 8, 2011, that a taxi driver at Union Station was “wearing a white (Middle Eastern-style gown) which was unusual for this type of weather” and his “demeanor seem to be unusual.”
TrapWire says it uses complicated mathematical algorithms that allow digital surveillance systems to detect suspicious patterns of behavior, possibly linking multiple reports to identify serious threats. But some critics have questioned its effectiveness. TrapWire detected only one threat pattern in the thousands of pages of suspicious-activity reports from 2011 to 2013 obtained by Al Jazeera. A person was taking pictures at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and two people separately reported the incident as suspicious.
Michael Price, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program who reviewed the same MPD TrapWire documents, agrees that the system may not be effective.
“The concerning part to me is the suspicious-activity reporting itself,” he said. “There is a lot of useless, innocuous information in these suspicious-activity reports that has little to do with terrorism. The idea that this is all being done through a private company that analyzes and keeps copies of this data and doing God knows what with it is troubling. Distributing personally identifiable information to a private company is something that is usually forbidden. This raises all sorts of civil-liberties, First Amendment and legal concerns.”
Price noted that Washington is a tourist destination and people naturally will photograph landmarks and talk about how the government works. But now acting like a tourist could be considered suspicious behavior and could land someone in a terrorism database. But it is not just behavior in public that can bring people to the attention of TrapWire and D.C. police.
One video gamer ended up in TrapWire (original documents posted after this article) and the FBI’s terrorism database after apparent threats he made while he was playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” that a member of the community reported.
In one email — dated last January and obtained by Al Jazeera — Sgt. James Black of the MPD’s Homeland Security Bureau described how five “large members” of the department’s Robbery Intervention Program (RIP) and “(his) own online game expert” showed up at the home of a gamer whose name is redacted in the documents. The gamer had apparently been reported by a member of the public after making some sort of threat while playing on his computer.
The gamer “was shaking, sweating, and looking like a deer in headlights the whole time we had our interview,” Black wrote in a Jan. 18, 2013, email shared with FBI agents.
He described the family of the man as “devoutly, overtly Christian” and went on to detail the impact of the visit.
“When I explained why we were here and about the threats, his mother and sister nearly swooned and he was shaking pretty badly,” he wrote.
The nature of the alleged threats made by the gamer was redacted from Black’s summary of the incident. In his email Black eventually said the individual posed “ZERO” threat. However, Washington police personnel were instructed to add Black’s report to TrapWire.
Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the department continues to use TrapWire’s technology. But at one point, it seemed the department was ready to give up on TrapWire because of its poor analytic capabilities, which one department official described in an April 4, 2012, email obtained by Al Jazeera as “pretty bad.”
However, Crump did not provide responses to specific questions about racial profiling.
TrapWire did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment about the information in the suspicious-activity reports it has collected.
Nerd Rage Incident -
Below, read the Jan. 28, 2013, email, written by Sgt. James Black of the MPD's Homeland Security Bureau and shared with FBI agents, detailing how a video gamer ended up in the TrapWire and the FBI terrorism database because of apparent threats he made while playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.” Black concluded that the gamer did not pose a threat, but he was still added to the terrorism database.
"FBI begins installation of $1 billion face recognition system across America"
Birthmarks, be damned: the FBI has officially started rolling out a state-of-the-art face recognition project that will assist in their effort to accumulate and archive information about each and every American at a cost of a billion dollars.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reached a milestone in the development of their Next Generation Identification (NGI) program and is now implementing the intelligence database in unidentified locales across the country, New Scientist reports in an article this week. The FBI first outlined the project back in 2005, explaining to the Justice Department in an August 2006 document (http://www.justice.gov/jmd/2008justification/exhibit300/fbi_ngi.pdf) that their new system will eventually serve as an upgrade to the current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) that keeps track of citizens with criminal records across America .
“The NGI Program is a compilation of initiatives that will either improve or expand existing biometric identification services,” its administrator explained to the Department of Justice at the time, adding that the project, “will accommodate increased information processing and sharing demands in support of anti-terrorism.”
“The NGI Program Office mission is to reduce terrorist and criminal activities by improving and expanding biometric identification and criminal history information services through research, evaluation and implementation of advanced technology within the IAFIS environment.”
The agency insists, “As a result of the NGI initiatives, the FBI will be able to provide services to enhance interoperability between stakeholders at all levels of government, including local, state, federal, and international partners.” In doing as such, though, the government is now going ahead with linking a database of images and personally identifiable information of anyone in their records with departments around the world thanks to technology that makes fingerprint tracking seem like kids' stuff.
According to their 2006 report, the NGI program utilizes “specialized requirements in the Latent Services, Facial Recognition and Multi-modal Biometrics areas” that “will allow the FnewBI to establish a terrorist fingerprint identification system that is compatible with other systems; increase the accessibility and number of the IAFIS terrorist fingerprint records; and provide latent palm print search capabilities.”
Is that just all, though? During a 2010 presentation (http://biometrics.org/bc2010/presentations/DOJ/vorder_bruegge-Facial-Recognition-and-Identification-Initiatives.pdf) made by the FBI’s Biometric Center of Intelligence, the agency identified why facial recognition technology needs to be embraced. Specifically, the FBI said that the technology could be used for “Identifying subjects in public datasets,” as well as “conducting automated surveillance at lookout locations” and “tracking subject movements,” meaning NGI is more than just a database of mug shots mixed up with fingerprints — the FBI has admitted that this their intent with the technology surpasses just searching for criminals but includes spectacular surveillance capabilities. Together, it’s a system unheard of outside of science fiction.
New Scientist reports that a 2010 study found technology used by NGI to be accurate in picking out suspects from a pool of 1.6 million mug shots 92 percent of the time. The system was tested on a trial basis in the state of Michigan earlier this year, and has already been cleared for pilot runs in Washington, Florida and North Carolina. Now according to this week’s New Scientist report, the full rollout of the program has begun and the FBI expects its intelligence infrastructure to be in place across the United States by 2014.
In 2008, the FBI announced that it awarded Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions, one of the Defense Department’s most favored contractors, with the authorization to design, develop, test and deploy the NGI System. Thomas E. Bush III, the former FBI agent who helped develop the NGI's system requirements, tells NextGov.com, "The idea was to be able to plug and play with these identifiers and biometrics." With those items being collected without much oversight being admitted, though, putting the personal facts pertaining to millions of Americans into the hands of some playful Pentagon staffers only begins to open up civil liberties issues.
Jim Harper, director of information policy at the Cato Institute, adds to NextGov that investigators pair facial recognition technology with publically available social networks in order to build bigger profiles. Facial recognition "is more accurate with a Google or a Facebook, because they will have anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen pictures of an individual, whereas I imagine the FBI has one or two mug shots," he says. When these files are then fed to law enforcement agencies on local, federal and international levels, intelligence databases that include everything from close-ups of eyeballs and irises to online interests could be shared among offices.
The FBI expects the NGI system to include as many as 14 million photographs by the time the project is in full swing in only two years, but the pace of technology and the new connections constantly created by law enforcement agencies could allow for a database that dwarfs that estimate. As RT reported earlier this week [http://rt.com/usa/news/lapd-suspicious-photo-sar-553/], the city of Los Angeles now considers photography in public space “suspicious,” and authorizes LAPD officers to file reports if they have reason to believe a suspect is up to no good. Those reports, which may not necessarily involve any arrests, crimes, charges or even interviews with the suspect, can then be filed, analyzed, stored and shared with federal and local agencies connected across the country to massive data fusion centers. Similarly, live video transmissions from thousands of surveillance cameras across the country are believed to be sent to the same fusion centers as part of TrapWire, a global eye-in-the-sky endeavor that RT first exposed earlier this year.
“Facial recognition creates acute privacy concerns that fingerprints do not,” US Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law earlier this year. “Once someone has your faceprint, they can get your name, they can find your social networking account and they can find and track you in the street, in the stores you visit, the government buildings you enter, and the photos your friends post online.”
In his own testimony, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Alessandro Acquisti said to Sen. Franken, “the convergence of face recognition, online social networks and data mining has made it possible to use publicly available data and inexpensive technologies to produce sensitive inferences merely starting from an anonymous face.”
“Face recognition, like other information technologies, can be source of both benefits and costs to society and its individual members,” Prof. Acquisti added. “However, the combination of face recognition, social networks data and data mining can significant undermine our current notions and expectations of privacy and anonymity.”
With the latest report suggesting the NGI program is now a reality in America, though, it might be too late to try and keep the FBI from interfering with seemingly every aspect of life in the US, both private and public. As of July 18, 2012, the FBI reports, “The NGI program … is on scope, on schedule, on cost, and 60 percent deployed.”
"TrapWire: The Surveillance State Continues; Documents released by Wikileaks show use of surveillance system in release of emails from Stratfor"
2012-08-14 from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/08/14-3]:
Documents released by Wikileaks last week showing the use of a surveillance system TrapWire from a company started by ex-CIA agents underscores the ubiquity of surveillance systems in use in the post-9/11 state.
As Scott Shane explains in the New York Times, [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/us/trapwire-antiterrorist-software-leaks-set-off-web-furor.html] "TrapWire is discussed in dozens of e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, a private security firm in Austin, Tex., that were posted online last week by WikiLeaks. The e-mails were part of a large cache captured late last year and early this year by hackers associated with the loose-knit international collective called Anonymous, which gave the e-mails to WikiLeaks."
Yet unlike the National Security Agency's (NSA's) "pernicious, persistent and permanent" database collected from domestic spying [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/07/25-5], details of "TrapWireTM: Pre-Attack Terrorist Detection System for Protecting Critical Infrastructure" have been publicly available since 2005, the ACLU points out (pdf [http://www.privacysos.org/sites/all/files/trapwire.pdf]). This software uses data gleaned from CCTV cameras, license plate readers and open source databases, which the company says it provides to its partners in private and public security and the military.
On its own website, the company describes its system [http://www.trapwire.com/trapwire.html]: "TrapWire is a unique, predictive software system designed to detect patterns indicative of terrorist attacks or criminal operations. Utilizing a proprietary, rules-based engine, TrapWire detects, analyzes and alerts on suspicious events as they are collected over periods of time and across multiple locations. Through the systematic capture of these pre-attack indicators, terrorist or criminal surveillance and pre-attack planning operations can be identified -- and appropriate law enforcement counter measures employed ahead of the attack. As such, our clients are provided with the ability to prevent the terrorist or criminal event, rather than simply mitigate damage or loss of life. "
The ACLU's Privacy SOS blog notes that while some of the claims about TrapWire's surveillance abilities have been overstated in some media reports, there is cause for concern [http://www.privacysos.org/node/785]:
The Wikileaked Stratfor emails that revealed the existence of this shadowy surveillance network to the world contain at least 189 references to Trapwire. They reveal much more about what the program is used for than does the Trapwire public website.
Among the most disturbing emails in the Wikileaks GIF files is this one, written by a Stratfor analyst to the head of the firm. It gives us a troubling taste of how these private security companies view their role as intermediary between the government and the people: "Regarding SF landmarks of interest--they need something like Trapwire more for threats from activists than from terror threats. Both are useful, but the activists are ever present around here."
"WIKILEAKS: Surveillance Cameras Around The Country Are Being Used In A Huge Spy Network"
2012-08-10 by David Seaman [http://www.youtube.com/davidseamanonline] [http://www.businessinsider.com/trapwire-everything-you-need-to-know-2012-8]:
The U.S. cable networks won't be covering this one tonight (not accurately, anyway), but Trapwire is making the rounds on social media today—it reportedly became a Trending hashtag on Twitter earlier in the day.
Trapwire is the name of a program revealed in the latest Wikileaks bonanza—it is the mother of all leaks, by the way. Trapwire would make something like disclosure of UFO contact or imminent failure of a major U.S. bank fairly boring news by comparison.
And someone out there seems to be quite disappointed that word is getting out so swiftly; the Wikileaks web site is reportedly sustaining 10GB worth of DDoS attacks each second, which is massive.
Anyway, here's what Trapwire is, according to Russian-state owned media network RT (apologies for citing "foreign media"... if we had a free press, I'd be citing something published here by an American media conglomerate): "Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology—and have installed it across the U.S. under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.
Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it's the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community.
The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation's ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented. The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing."
So: those spooky new "circular" dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city—they aren't just passively monitoring. They're plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition.
In related news, the Obama administration is fighting in federal court this week for the ability to imprison American citizens under NDAA's indefinite detention provisions—and anyone else—without charge or trial, on suspicion alone.
So we have a widespread network of surveillance cameras across America monitoring us and reporting suspicious activity back to a centralized analysis center, mixed in with the ability to imprison people via military force on the basis of suspicious activity alone. I don't see how that could possibly go wrong. Nope, not at all. We all know the government, and algorithmic computer programs, never make mistakes.
Here's what is also so disturbing about this whole NDAA business, according to Tangerine Bolen's piece in the Guardian: "This past week's hearing was even more terrifying. Government attorneys again, in this hearing, presented no evidence to support their position and brought forth no witnesses. Most incredibly, Obama's attorneys refused to assure the court, when questioned, that the NDAA's section 1021 – the provision that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial – has not been applied by the U.S. government anywhere in the world after Judge Forrest's injunction. In other words, they were telling a U.S. federal judge that they could not, or would not, state whether Obama's government had complied with the legal injunction that she had laid down before them. To this, Judge Forrest responded that if the provision had indeed been applied, the United States government would be in contempt of court."
If none of this bothers you, please don't follow me on Twitter, because nothing I report on will be of interest to you. Go back to watching the television news network of your choice, where you will hear about Romney's latest campaign ads, and whether Obamacare will increase the cost of delivery pizza by 14 to 16 cents.