Database Measured 'Terrorism Quotient'

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Thu May 20 12:22:36 PDT 2004


AP: Database Measured 'Terrorism Quotient'
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May 20, 7:25 AM (ET)


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 NEW YORK (AP) - Before helping to launch the criminal information project
known as Matrix, a database contractor gave U.S. and Florida authorities
the names of 120,000 people who showed a statistical likelihood of being
terrorists - sparking some investigations and arrests.

 The "high terrorism factor" scoring system also became a key selling point
for the involvement of the database company, Seisint Inc., in the Matrix

 Public records obtained by The Associated Press from several states show
that Justice Department officials cited the scoring technology in
appointing Seisint sole contractor on the federally funded, $12 million

 Seisint and the law enforcement officials who oversee Matrix insist that
the terrorism scoring system ultimately was kept out of the project,
largely because of privacy concerns.

 However, new details about Seisint's development of the "terrorism
quotient," including the revelation that authorities apparently acted on
the list of 120,000, are renewing privacy activists' suspicions about
Matrix's potential power.

 "Assuming they have in fact abandoned the terrorist quotient, there's
nothing that stops them from bringing it back," said Barry Steinhardt,
director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil
Liberties Union, which learned about the list of 120,000 through its own
records request in Utah.

 Matrix - short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange -
combines state records and data culled by Seisint to give investigators
fast access to information on crime and terrorism suspects. It was launched
in 2002.

 Because the system includes information on people with no criminal record
as well as known criminals, Matrix has drawn objections from liberal and
conservative privacy groups. Utah and at least eight other states have
pulled out, leaving Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

 The AP has received thousands of pages of Matrix documents in records
requests this year, including meeting minutes and presentation materials
that discuss the project in detail.

 Not one indicates that Matrix planners decided against using the
statistical method of determining an individual's propensity for terrorism.

 When the AP specifically requested documents indicating the scoring system
was scrapped, the general counsel's office for Florida state police said it
could not uncover any.

 Even so, people involved with Matrix pledge that the statistical method
was removed from the final product.

 "I'll put my 26 years of law enforcement experience on the line. It is not
in there," said Mark Zadra, chief investigator for the Florida Department
of Law Enforcement.

 He said Matrix, which has 4 billion records, merely speeds access to
material that police have always been able to get from disparate sources,
and does not automatically or proactively finger suspects.

 Bill Shrewsbury, a Seisint executive and former federal drug agent, said
the terrorism scoring algorithm that produced the list of 120,000 names was
"put on the shelf" after it was demonstrated immediately following Sept.
11, 2001.

 He said the scoring system requires intelligence data that was fed into
the software for the initial demonstration but is not commonly available.
"Nor are we interested in pursuing that," he said.

 The Utah documents included a Seisint presentation saying the scoring
system was developed by the company and law enforcement officials by
reverse engineering an unnamed "Terrorist Handbook" that reveals how
terrorists "penetrate and in live our society."

 The scoring incorporated such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, credit
history, "investigational data," information about pilot and driver
licenses, and connections to "dirty" addresses known to have been used by
other suspects.

 According to Seisint's presentation, dated January 2003 and marked
confidential, the 120,000 names with the highest scores were given to the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI, Secret Service and Florida
state police. (Later, those agencies would help craft the software that
queries Matrix.)

 Of the people with the 80 highest scores, five were among the Sept. 11
hijackers, Seisint's presentation said. Forty-five were identified as being
or possibly being under existing investigations, while 30 others "were
unknown to FBI."

 "Investigations were triggered and arrests were made by INS and other
agencies," the presentation added. Two bullet points stated: "Several
arrests within one week" and "Scores of other arrests." It does not provide
details of when and where the investigations and arrests took place.

 Phil Ramer, who heads Florida state police's intelligence division, said
his agency found the list a useful starting point for some investigations,
though he said he could not recall how many. He stressed that the list was
not used as the sole evidence to make arrests.

 "What we did with the list is we went back and found out how they got on
the list," Ramer said.

 Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a
descendant of INS in the Department of Homeland Security, said he could not
confirm that INS used or was given the list.

 Although Seisint says it shelved the scoring system - known as high
terrorist factor, or HTF - after the original demonstrations in the wake of
Sept. 11, 2001, the algorithm was touted well into 2003.

 A records request by the AP in Florida turned up "briefing points," dated
January 2003, for a presentation on Matrix to Vice President Dick Cheney
and other top federal officials delivered jointly by Seisint, Florida Gov.
Jeb Bush and Florida's top police official.

 One of the items on Seisint's agenda: "Demonstrate HTF with mapping."
Matrix meeting minutes from February 2003 say Cheney was briefed along with
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

 In May 2003, the Justice Department approved Seisint as sole data
contractor on the project, citing the company's "technical qualifications,"
including software "applying the 'terrorism quotient' in all cases."

 "The quotient identifies a set of criteria which accurately singled out
characteristics related to the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks and other
terrorist events," said a memo from an Office of Justice Programs policy
adviser, Bruce Edwards. "This process produced a scoring mechanism (that),
when applied to the general criminal population, yields other people that
may have similar motives."

 A spokeswoman for the Office of Justice Programs declined to comment.

 Ramer, the Florida agent, said the scoring system was scrapped because it
was "really specific to 9/11," and not applicable for everyday use. Also,
he said, "we didn't want anybody abusing it."

 Seisint Inc., is a Boca Raton, Fla., company founded by a millionaire,
Hank Asher, who stepped down from its board of directors last year after
revelations of past ties to drug smugglers.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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