Too much data, indiscriminately accumulated, is just as much a problem as too little intelligence data, if not worse. Remember when we were America, land of the Free?
It has been demonstrated that when officials must establish before a court that they have reason to intercept communications — that is, that they know what they are doing — we get better intelligence than through indiscriminate collection and fishing expeditions.
The failure of the U.S. Government to detect the fairly glaring Northwest Airlines Christmas plot — despite years and years of constant expansions of Surveillance State powers — illustrates this dynamic perfectly. As President Obama said [Janurary 5th, 2010], the Government — just as was true for 9/11 — had gathered more than enough information to have detected this plot, or at least to have kept Abdulmutallab off airplanes and out of the country. Yet our intelligence agencies — just as was true for 9/11 — failed to understand what they had in their possession. Why is that? Because they had too much to process, including too much data wholly unrelated to Terrorism. In other words, our panic-driven need to vest the Government with more and more surveillance power every time we get scared again by Terrorists — in the name of keeping us safe — has exactly the opposite effect. Numerous pieces of evidence prove that.
Today in The Washington Post, that paper’s CIA spokesman, David Ignatius, explains that Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be “clogged” — overloaded — with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored. Identically, Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report that U.S. intelligence agencies intercept, gather and store so many emails, recorded telephone calls, and other communications that it’s simply impossible to sort through or understand what they have, quite possibly causing them to have missed crucial evidence in their possession about both the Fort Hood and Abdulmutallab plots:
This deluge of Internet traffic — involving e-mailers whose true identity often is not apparent — is one indication of the volume of raw intelligence U.S. spy agencies have had to sort through as they have tried to assess Awlaki’s influence in the West and elsewhere, said the officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information. The large volume of messages also may help to explain how agencies can become so overwhelmed with data that sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to connect potentially important dots.
Newsweek adds that intelligence agencies likely possessed emails between accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — as well as recorded telephone calls between al-Awlaki and Abdulmutallab — but simply failed to analyze or understand what they had intercepted.
[Click to continue reading Glenn Greenwald – Backfiring of the Surveillance State : Salon.com]
Pretty pathetic. And the solution is simple: start being much more targeted with information collection so there is less noise and more actionable signal. Allowing 8 year old kids like Mike Hicks to remain on the No-Fly List for seven years is just idiotic
Mikey, who would rather talk about BMX bikes and his athletic trophies than airport security, remains perplexed about the “list” and the hurdles he must clear. “Why do they think a kid is a terrorist?” Mikey asked his mother at one point during the interview.
Mrs. Hicks said the family was amused by the mistake at first. But that amusement quickly turned to annoyance and anger. It should not take seven years to correct the problem, Mrs. Hicks said. She applied for redress in December when she first heard about the Department of Homeland Security’s program.
“I understand the need for security,” she added. “But this is ridiculous. It’s quite clear that he is 8 years old, and while he may have terroristic tendencies at home, he does not have those on a plane.”
[Click to continue reading Mikey Hicks, 8, Can’t Get Off U.S. Terror Watch List – NYTimes.com]
and he’s not alone
For every person on the lists, hundreds of others may get caught up simply because they share the same name; a quick scan through a national phone directory unearthed 1,600 Michael Hickses. Over the past three years, 81,793 frustrated travelers have formally asked that they be struck from the watch list through the Department of Homeland Security; more than 25,000 of their cases are still pending. Others have taken more drastic measures. Mario Labbé, a frequent-flying Canadian record-company executive, started having problems at airports shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, with lengthy delays at checkpoints and mysterious questions about Japan. By 2005, he stopped flying to the United States from Canada, instead meeting American clients in France. Then a forced rerouting to Miami in 2008 led to six hours of questions.
“What’s the name of your mother? Your father? When were you last in Japan?” Mr. Labbé recalled being asked. “Always the same questions in different order. And sometimes, it’s quite aggressive, not funny at all.” Fed up, in the summer of 2008, he changed his name to François Mario Labbé. The problem vanished.
Boy, that makes me feel so much safer – just change your name, and voila, no problems!
The mind-set doesn’t appear to be ending soon, if Massachusetts Police policy is any indication:
A report from the New England Center For Investigative Reporting has chronicled a pattern of what civil liberties advocates say is a misuse of police powers: Massachusetts police are using the state’s stringent surveillance laws to arrest and charge people who record police activities in public.
It’s a situation that is pitting new technologies against police powers. With recording equipment now embedded into cellphones and other common technologies, recording police activities has never been easier, and has resulted in numerous cases of police misconduct being brought to light. And that, rights advocates argue, is precisely what the police are trying to prevent.
In October, 2007, Boston lawyer Simon Glick witnessed what he said was excessive use of police force during the arrest of a juvenile. When he pulled out his cellphone to record the incident, he was arrested and charged with “illegal electronic surveillance.”
In December, 2008, Jon Surmacz, a webmaster at Boston University, was attending a party that was brok
[Click to continue reading Massachusetts cops can arrest you for making them famous | Raw Story]
Even the Chicago Transit Authority is getting into the action
The Chicago Transit Authority is so “committed to safety,” that it is urging commuters to report people committing “excessive photography/filming.”
The sign posted inside the train stations places photographers on the same level as, say, a non-CTA employee walking the tracks or an unattended package or “noxious smells or smoke.”
In other words, it accuses photographers of being possible terrorists or just suicidal maniacs.
The problem is that these signs not only encourage commuters to dial 911 when seeing someone taking photos, which will tie up real emergencies, it contradicts the CTA’s own policy on photography and videography within train stations.
[Click to continue reading Chicago Transit Authority urges commuters to report photographers | Photography is Not a Crime]
More data, more clutter in the system for intelligence to sort out, or the already overloaded judicial system, and for what reason? We need a change in direction, and soon.