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Newly Declassified FBI Docs Reveal Predictive Data System 185

Posted by timothy
from the like-a-creepy-ad-for-ibm dept.
An anonymous reader writes 'Newly declassified documents show that the FBI is developing a data-mining system to uncover terror sleeper cells. Among the 1.6 billion records in the National Security Analysis Center — tens of thousands of travel records, including hotel and airline records. Other revelations in the documents uncovered by a Wired.com FOIA request show that the feds want to expand the system for use in cyber-crime investigations, and it's already been used to scrutinize helicopter pilots and Philly cab drivers. The system has eerie resemblances to DARPA's once-banned Total Information Awareness program."
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Newly Declassified FBI Docs Reveal Predictive Data System

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  • I've got an idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:16PM (#29522127) Homepage Journal

    How about a data mining application to scour through political speeches and legislative records to identify politicians most- and least-likely to support such a scheme?

  • Give up? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:18PM (#29522165)

    You know what, after all these years in IT, I say... give 'em as much data as they want. They'll choke and drown on it. The FBI is the most massively disorganized organization in the US Government. I would not worry about your privacy... they have trouble figuring out how to dress themselves in the morning.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:21PM (#29522197)

    You didn't really think TIA was going away, did you?

  • Re:Give up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:22PM (#29522213) Journal

    I know eh? Us guys in IT, we have to handle alot. All those log files, so little time to sift through them all. How do you find the problem? I mean if only there was a program to help us sort through it --

    Oh hey, whats this ad for? Splunk?

    Could that handle Travel, hotel, and airline records that the FBI have been gathering?

  • This just in . . . (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gabrill (556503) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:22PM (#29522229)

    The federal government (especially those under the executive branch) will do whatever the hell they please, and scandals only force them to whitewash and restart unpopular programs under different names. /rant

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:29PM (#29522317)
    Ignore that silly bit of domestic surveillance you see over there. Look over here at this funny video of a white kid pretending to be a pimp and getting tax advice!
  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:37PM (#29522439) Journal

    they don't need to be omniscient to be a threat to the public. all they need to do is be able to go after enough people to make the public think twice about challenging them.

  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neurogeneticist (1631367) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:40PM (#29522479)
    Mod this guy up. As someone from a field who tries to separate signal from noise and develop predictive models on a daily basis (in supposedly well-controlled conditions) I can say that they have their work cut out for them. I mean, I use proven methodologies in clear-cut and well-designed experiments and end up with data that is extremely difficult to manipulate (genome wide association studies). These guys/gals are trying to observe millions of humans interacting in indiosyncratic and complex ways with millions of input-points, and they think they can use that data? Talk about multiple-testing correction. Bonferroni is the tip of the iceberg in such a data-set. The scary thing is, if you set something like this up, you will get "answers". It might be the result of a random walk, but who in the "jury of your peers" is going to understand that defense? "But your honor, they didn't even define an acceptable false discovery rate!"
  • by rimugu (701444) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:40PM (#29522481)

    It wouldn't work. When have you heard about a political speech and reality having any connection?

  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:42PM (#29522509)
    It isn't so much the privacy that is of concern (though that is a concern, too). The problem with so much data is false positives, and the abuse that results from them.

    Look up how Bayes' Theorem relates to random drug testing, for example. You will easily see how such systems are prone to false positives. And in a case like this -- where many magnitudes more people are innocent than guilty -- it gets that much worse. You will end up prosecuting (and possibly punishing) hundreds or thousands of innocent people for every guilty party you find.

    NOT GOOD.
  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Duradin (1261418) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:48PM (#29522607)

    The public challenging them isn't the problem. It's the guys after their 72 virgins and THEY ARE NOT "THE PUBLIC".

    Making the public think twice does nothing but make our lives more of a hassle. Making the guys seeking an express check in to paradise think twice doesn't do much good either. They are planning to die, and that's if the operation is successful. Taking one for the sleeper cell and getting caught just means the guys in the next cell will be getting first choice in the afterlife.

    Eventually terrorists won't have to actually do anything. They come up with a zany and half-baked plan, get caught, cause everyone to overreact and then they've caused more damage then if they actually did manage to blow something up.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:52PM (#29522659)

    How about a data mining application to scour through political speeches and legislative records to identify politicians most- and least-likely to support such a scheme?

    You'll have faster I/O if you focus on searching for the ones that aren't likely.

  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thewils (463314) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:55PM (#29522701) Journal

    give 'em as much data as they want

    But then they'll be successful in their primary objective, which is self-perpetuation and a larger budget next year.

  • Re:so ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @05:58PM (#29522759) Homepage

    Sadly, we are never going to know the answers.

    I am sure there has been at least one nearly successful action in the US since 2001 that is utterly classified because it would tend to cause a panic - or a violent attack on people of a certain religious faith. So we aren't going to be informed, probably for the better.

    All we are going to hear about is a few misguided individuals that had maybe a 5% chance of pulling something off, if they were really lucky. And the American population just goes on thinking that (a) all this terrorist stuff is way overblown, and (b) our government is doing a really good job. Of course, neither of these is all that true.

    I suspect if the truth came out about one or maybe even two close calls people would utterly freak out. So in this case, secrecy protects us all.

  • by Urza9814 (883915) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:02PM (#29522793)

    Target, Citibank, and Visa don't have the power to put me in prison for one....

  • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:04PM (#29522815) Homepage Journal

    Target, Citibank, and Visa won't lock you up in GITMO, bar your right of Habeas corpus, and let you rot for a decade because you went to Anarchy.com. But they will offer you 10% off of your next Molotov Cocktail purchase of more than $100!

    -Rick

  • Re:Give up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blackraven14250 (902843) * on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:10PM (#29522893)

    They come up with a zany and half-baked plan, get caught, cause everyone to overreact and then they've caused more damage then if they actually did manage to blow something up.

    Seems to be the way it works now....

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:27PM (#29523073)

    I get what you are saying but your examples are only true in narrow contexts.

    Ds want you to have the freedom to make lots of choices they approve of, just like Rs. (they just approve of different things)

    Ds fully approve of their freedom to make money off the public, just like Rs.

    You have to translate based on who is saying it and what (s)he is talking about.

  • Re:Give up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @06:30PM (#29523109) Journal

    No force can handle 10-50 times it's numbers.

    they can if they are the only ones with defensive weapons.

  • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:21PM (#29523639) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I'm thinking this isn't such a bad thing. When you have agencies competing like that it seems likely that they're also going to be keeping an eye on the other agencies, keeping them more honest in the process. When they all start cooperating I think I'll feel less safe, as a matter of fact.

    It's the same with the political parties. Just the right amount of non-cooperation and competitiveness keeps one organization from becoming the oligarchy it naturally wants to become.

  • Re:Give up? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:25PM (#29523671)
    Heh! That's assuming you would even get to see a "jury of your peers". So far it's been mainly trial by oubliette.
  • Re:so ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beckett (27524) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:38PM (#29523771) Homepage Journal

    I am sure there has been at least one nearly successful action in the US since 2001 that is utterly classified because it would tend to cause a panic - or a violent attack on people of a certain religious faith. So we aren't going to be informed, probably for the better.

    This is using Pascal's Wager as an argument to continue black budget funding. There have been several thwarted attacks like the liquid bomb plot in the UK, and these haven't been causing full blown panic. Do you think there will ever be another shoebomber, or did the very public incapacitation of John Walker Lindh by concerned, untrained passengers suddenly furnish a very real deterrent on any future flight?

    I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant in this case. by showing the true nature of domestic attacks or terrorist actions, we can clearly demonstrate who is operating on the side of truth and humanity. It is best to lead by example, not cloaking everything under secrecy and privilege. If the real information is not available anywhere and we are just told to "obey authority", that's not so much secrecy as it's forcefeeding denial. Tell us what the real problems are, not to buy lots of duct tape and pray.

  • Re:so ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shadowofwind (1209890) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @07:47PM (#29523809)

    So in this case, secrecy protects us all.

    That same argument is also used to cover up an enormous amount of scary, incompetent, and/or fraudulent behavior by security agencies. From my experience in the government surveillance R&D business, when someone says 'If you knew what I knew, you would support program X', its very often bullshit.

    Of course much of what is secret does need to be secret. But often the main effect of secrecy is a lack of accountability. Personally I think we would be better off overall if we opened most of it up.

    People get all offended when someone suggests that the US government is a greater danger than terrorists, since the US government is relatively civilized, and terrorists do want to kill us. But we are so much more powerful than the terrorists are that I think it is us that's the greater threat. Personally, taking a long view, I'd rather risk losing a city to a terrorist nuke than risk a Stalinist catastrophe.

  • Re:so ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:01PM (#29523915)

    Personally, taking a long view, I'd rather risk losing a city to a terrorist nuke than risk a Stalinist catastrophe.

    I absolutely agree. However, it's worth recognizing that if a US city got nuked, it'd make a Stalinist catastrophe far more likely as panicked citizens would almost be begging government to take away their rights and exploit them.

  • Re:so ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:07PM (#29523949)

    I am sure there has been at least one nearly successful action in the US since 2001 that is utterly classified because it would tend to cause a panic - or a violent attack on people of a certain religious faith.

    Which religion? Democrats or Republicans? More seriously, I've heard this kind of argument before. If government actually had stopped a nearly successful action in the US, they'd advertise it 24/7 *unless* it reveals relevant government agencies as acting entirely incompetent in the case.

  • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @08:13PM (#29523989) Journal

    This sounds a lot like the plot of the movie Conspiracy Theory where Mel Gibson plays a paranoid cab driver who publishes a newsletter of various conspiracy theories jumbled together from random public sources (this was before the age of blogs) and is chased by personnel from a shadowy government agency in black SUVs and helicopters (ala the USSS).

    The real shadowy agencies are much smarter than that. If someone finds a bit of the truth, they don't chase him down (which would tend to give him credibility), they leak that truth along with a bunch of obviously bogus and silly information just to discredit him.

    Not posting anonymously because They will know who I am anyway.

  • by he-sk (103163) on Wednesday September 23, 2009 @10:09PM (#29524663)

    Wow, what an ignorant statement. Slashdot frequently posts articles from countries where they don't speak English. Zensursula, HADOPI, Piratpartiet are just three examples at the top of my head.

    People post stuff in their native tongue all the time on Slashdot, and have complained about the broken Unicode support for ages.

    Slashdot sees itself as a major internet publication, but still lives in a 7-bit world. What is this, 1985?

  • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @01:16AM (#29525593)

    Forget political speeches... how about campaign contributions [followthemoney.org] and votes?

  • Re:Give up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bazer (760541) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @04:44AM (#29526423)
    They do just that and they don't check if your qualified enough to issue such evidence. Peter Donnely gave an example in his TED Talk called "How stats fool juries" [ted.com]. This projects result's will be no more relevant than the MIT's gaydar's but it has the backing of the FBI. You're going to have a hard time disproving it in court.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:24AM (#29527805) Journal
    This is the kind of view that makes me worry about the state of society. What kind of anarchist buys Molotov Cocktails?

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