UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU: HOW AMERICANS ARE LOSING THEIR IDENTITY
by Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The Army National Guard, faced with extended tours of duty in Iraq, didn't meet its recruitment quota in 2003. So in 2004, it began a multimillion-dollar direct-mail advertising campaign. One of those targeted was Petra Gass, a resident of rural northeastern Pennsylvania, who received a full-color 12"x17" tri-fold telling her in bold capitals that she could be "the most important weapon in the war on terrorism."
Gass says she doesn't know how she got onto the database
that generated her name. She does know she has no plans to join the Guard.
Petra Gass is a 50-year-old German citizen.
A little-known provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by
President Bush in 2001, requires all public high schools to provide to
the Department of Defense the names, ages, phone numbers, and addresses
of all males. The government has the data for about 4.5 million high
school students. Few parents are aware the data is routinely provided to
the government; even fewer are aware they have the right to "opt-out" by
signing a form that prohibits the school district from sending personal
information to the Department of Defense.
The Department of Defense also has the names of almost five million
college students who are required to sign up for Selective Service in
order to receive any kind of state or financial aid.
Petra Gass's son is a recent college graduate, so it's possible that
human error created her place on the recruiting database. But, it's also
possible that her name came from one of dozens of other sources that
make up a massive 30 million name database used by the military
recruiters. The purpose of that database, according to the Army, is to
assist in recruiting at a time when goals are unmet and most Americans
are now questioning the war in Iraq.
As part of a $1.3 billion advertising campaign, the Department of
Defense had awarded Mullen Advertising of Massachusetts a $345 million
five-year contract; Mullen then subcontracted BeNOW, also a private
Massachusetts company, to collect data and manage the database of names,
birth dates, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, areas of
study, grade point averages, height and weight data, ethnicity, social
security numbers, and other personal data gleaned from dozens of
sources. The Army claims the social security numbers are "carefully
But, as innumerable cases over the past decade have shown, it
isn't difficult for databases to be hacked, and for identities to be
stolen. During 2004, there were 12 separate breaches of security into
major databases, affecting almost 11 million individuals, according to
Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Hackers aren't the only ones who violate state and laws. The
Pentagon's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies database
itself is illegal. Buried within the Federal Register, the Army
acknowledged in May 2005 it hadn't met a significant provision of the
Federal Privacy Act that requires public hearings before the government
may create databases. The Army claims its failure was merely "an
oversight," and that the notice, three years after the database was
created, was an attempt to meet the Act's requirements.
There is nothing in the creation and management of the database,
which undoubtedly contains errors, to suggest it won't be shared with
other governmental and law enforcement agencies. There is a long history
of local, state, and federal governments illegally and often
unconstitutionally collecting data on citizens. Among the more recent
cases of the abuse of the public trust:
- The FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) from 1956
through the mid-1970s kept extensive data files, many of them with
egregious errors, on war protestors, civil rights leaders, politicians,
and journalists. COINTELPRO agents often planted illegal wiretaps or
broke into private homes and businesses to blackmail and disrupt the
lives of persons and organizations which did not agree with the FBI
director's 's belief of what a "loyal" citizen should believe.
- At the time of COINTELPRO, the Army was spying upon persons
involved in any form of political dissent. In violation of the Posse
Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C 1385), which forbids the use of armed services
against American citizens, the Army frequently shared its files and
provided significant assistance to civilian law enforcement. By the time
the Army's secret subversion of the law was concluded in 1971, after
being exposed in the media, it had collected personal data, much of it
wrong, upon 100,000 persons, almost none of whom posed any threat to the
nation. Among the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, a reaction to
both FBI and Army spying, is a prohibition against maintaining records
of "how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."
- For about three years, until it was publicly revealed in 2002, the
Denver, Colo., police kept what became known as the "spy files,"
documents that contained personal data of about 3,200 individuals who
attended peaceful protests. The files also included information from
intercepted e-mails, apparently none of which hinted at or suggested the
use of any violence. Among 208 organizations the police classified as
"criminal extremist" were the American Friends Service Committee, a
nonviolent Quaker organization; and Amnesty International.
The Bush Administration has spawned a number of database programs,
most of which have met with significant opposition:
- During the summer of 2002, the federal government revealed Operation
TIPS, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System. Dreamed up within
the Department of Justice, the nation-wide program would have been a
massive database created from "tips" by "concerned" citizens. The
program was cancelled when both liberal and conservative Congressional
leaders opposed the "Big Brother" program.
- The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness Program (TIAP) was designed
to create an "ultra-large-scale" database of databases about
individuals. Proposed funding was initially about $500 million. When the
public, the media, and members of Congress questioned what appeared to
be a potential for a massive invasion of their privacy, complete with
undocumented information, the Agency kept the acronym but renamed the
program the Terrorist Information Awareness Program. In February 2003,
Congress finally suspended all funding for TIAP.
- In his 2003 state of the union, upset that both TIP and TIAP had
been attacked, President Bush announced the creation of the Terrorist
Threat Integration Center (TTIC) "to merge and analyze all threat
information in a single location." The CIA-based program, with the input
from several other federal agencies, was designed to "merge and analyze
terrorist-related information collected domestically and abroad in order
to form the most comprehensive possible threat picture."
- Two months after the President's state-of-the-union declaration,
the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealed plans to
implement the Computer-Assisted Passenger Profiling System (CAPPS II),
yet another cutesy acronym to "cap" terrorism. All persons flying on
commercial airlines would be identity-stripped by a database that would
include their names, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, their
traveling companions and itineraries, how tivcked were paid, rental car
information and destinations, names and addresses of businesses the
passenger has used, all information about their current and past car
ownership and even newspaper subscriptions. About 100 million names
would be entered into the database. Congress forbade further development
until all eight criteria to assure privacy rights were met. Subsequent
testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, combined
with an investigation by Wired News, revealed that the TSA apparently
continued to collect and mine data without meeting the necessary
safeguards. In July 2004, the Department of Homeland Security, under
relentless attacks from members of Congress, the public, and civil
rights organizations, finally suspended CAPPS II after about $102
million had already been spent.
- Within two weeks of President Bush's re-election in November 2004,
the government morphed CAPPS II into "Secure Flight," and required the
nation's airlines to turn over personal data on all of its passengers,
not just possible terrorism risks. After bullying 25 European Union
nations, the federal government would get personal data in 34 categories
on every passenger who flies into or out of the United States.
- The "no-fly" lists include individuals who may pose security
threats. However, many of those on the list are not terrorists but
persons opposed the Bush Administration or the war in Iraq. The TSA,
which receives names from several federal agencies, denied that
political activity had anything to do with who was placed on the list.
But, even after the existence of the lists was made public, the TSA
refused to state how persons were put onto those lists and what they
could do to clear their names. Among those denied boarding passes were a
36-year-old Air Force master sergeant, a 74-year-old retired minister,
and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
- In mid-December 2003, the FBI ordered all Las Vegas casinos, hotels,
rental car agencies, travel agencies, and airlines flying into and out
of McCarran Airport to electronically turn over lists of all of their
guests and customers, and then not to reveal any of this. The casino
operators alone may have turned over more than 350,000 names and
accompanying personal data.
- The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX) was
created to give local and state governments a common database that
merged personal information (including ethnicity, what meals airline
passengers ordered, and even credit card records). The program was
finally terminated when the federal government reluctantly stopped
further funding after several states, citing significant violations of
privacy rights, pulled out of the program.
Some 52 federal departments and agencies are either using or plan
to use data mining programs, according to the Government Accounting
Office. On several of those databases is Petra Gass, the 50-year-old
German citizen and "the most important weapon in the war on terrorism,"
who will probably receive greater scrutiny-and some recruiting
Dr. Walter Brasch's latest book is America's Unpatriotic Acts: The
Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights,
available from most major online bookstores. Contact him at
firstname.lastname@example.org or via his Website, www.walterbrasch.com.
Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.