Friday, January 06, 2006


I try really hard not to be a "conspiracy nut". I realize that the human brain is a pattern-matching machine, and often finds connections where none exist. Thus, I'm always willing to look at all sides of an issue, and I'm always skeptical of conclusions until I have sound evidence. It is also easy to freak out about technological implications that aren't very well understood, and you end up with things like the Y2K "scare".

However, I also believe that the most heinous acts are often carried out (or at least begun) with the best intentions, and that's why we have a complex system of checks and balances in this country. Furthermore, I believe that it is probable that there are people in high positions of power in this country that may not only have the best interests of the American people at heart. A lot of other people believe this too, which is why we have laws for such concepts as the separation of church and state, Miranda rights, and the right of American citizens to be safe and secure in their persons.

That's why this blog article has me so freaked out. It's long, and dry, and technical, which is why topics like this are often overlooked by traditional media. But not only is it completely possible, it is almost inevitable that a database such as this will exist. Following closely, it is almost inevitable that these capabilities will be abused. I highly suggest you read the whole article, follow the links, and research for yourself, but I'll try to summarize anyhow:

The Department of Defense started off by creating a database which DOD employees and military personell (such as those guarding military bases) can use to record any suspicious information or event, verified or not (note that this is usually referred to as gossip). The software interface to this database is called JPEN (Joint Protection Enterprise Network).

This is much like the way that the Google search engine is the simple interface to the giant database where they store all the harvested web pages. JPEN is supposed to allow agents or MPs to quickly share information, such as sightings of suspicious vehicles, that may not spread fast enough to be acted upon by agents at another bases, or otherwise might just get filed away. This was the good intention.

However, this database has become too tempting not to share, and now just about every military or intelligence agency is in on the action. This is just asking for serious abuse.

JPEN is run by NORTHCOM, the DoD division responsible for handling the domestic affairs of the military, meaning this has nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Incidentally, NORTHCOM is also the division in charge of enforcing martial law in this country, should it ever be declared.

From the Washington Post:
Northcom centers conduct data mining, where information received from the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, state and local police, and the Pentagon's Talon system are cross-checked to see if patterns develop that could indicate terrorist activities. Information from these reports is fed into a database known as the Joint Protection Enterprise Network (JPEN), which is managed, as is the Talon system, by the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the newest Defense Department intelligence agency to focus primarily on counterterrorism. The database is shared with intelligence and law enforcement agencies and was found last month to have contained information about peace activists and others protesting the Iraq war that appeared to have no bearing on terrorism.

So, let's summarize a bit:
The illegal NSA wiretap of that call to your friend in Germany? In there.
That last ticket you got for speeding? In there.
The fact that your car was parked near the last WTO protest in Seattle? In there.
Your current credit scores? In there.
That time you checked out the Anarchist's Cookbook from the library? In there.

Keep in mind that, under the Patriot act, the FBI can basically request information on you from any organization, and forbid them from telling you that the request was made.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the U.S. Military can now arrest you, label you an "enemy combatant", keep you indefinitely without access to a lawyer, then hand you off to a civilian court if/whenever they see fit.

Perhaps you can begin to see a little of why I'm concerned. It is a known fact that this database exists. It is not a stretch of any sort to believe that various and sundry (possibly unverified or incorrect) details about your life will make it into this database. I also don't consider it much of a stretch to believe that people in power in this country may use this database to keep close tabs on activists, political opponents, or anyone that stirs up trouble.

Perhaps this helps explain why the author of Bush's Brain is now on the No-Fly list. What database do you suppose the No-Fly list software queries when you check in?

Sigh. Enough for now, it's late and I'm tired. I'll update as I find more info...