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David Bloys - News for Public Officials

March 14th, 2006

 

The Chicago Tribune reported last week on how they easily identified and tracked over 2600 CIA employees using the services of an unnamed Internet data miner. While the Tribune did not name the source company, there are thousands of companies from all over the world mining the online records. Data miners use the records published online by local, state and federal officials to create dossiers on U.S. citizens.  John Crewdson of the Tribune makes this clear in Data mining easy as using credit card .

 

Crewsdon states, "The Chicago Tribune computer searches that produced the identities, workplaces, post office box addresses and telephone numbers of hundreds of CIA employees here and abroad relied entirely on Public Records, not private data. The data the Tribune used were derived from telephone listings, real estate transactions, voting records, legal judgments, property tax records, bankruptcies, business incorporation papers and the like."

Property records and judgments  kept at the county level are only available to data miners when placed online or sold in bulk by local county officials.

A senior U.S. official, reacting to the computer searches that produced the names and addresses, said, "I don't know whether Al Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could."

It seems likely that Al Qaeda  used this method of intelligence gathering prior to the attack September 11, 2000 attack on the World Trade Center. An Al Qaeda training manual found on a laptop in Afghanistan instructed would be terrorists, "Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy."

The Al Qaeda training manual includes provisions for trainees to leave camp with five fake personas. Terrorists are regularly schooled in the art of subsisting off credit card fraud while living in the United States.

In 2004 Federal law enforcement authorities notified school districts in six states  that a computer disc found in Iraq contained photos, floor plans and other information about their schools -- all publicly available on the Internet. the indictment of terrorist suspect Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been linked to alleged Sept. 11 paymaster Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, alleged that al-Marri was arrested with a laptop computer that had 1,000 stolen identities  on it, along with a host of Internet bookmarks pointing to fraud and fake ID-related sites.

Asked how so many personal details of CIA employees had found their way into the public domain, a senior U.S. intelligence official replied that "I don't have a great explanation, quite frankly."

The CIA employees bought homes, took out mortgages, married, divorced and generally acted as all other Americans, trusting the local county courthouse would keep their records safe. Behind the practical obscurity of the courthouse walls, the records were safe.

Until recently, such Public Records represented a minimal threat to privacy, in large part because they were widely scattered in hundreds of libraries, city halls and courthouses around the country.

Only recently has the CIA recognized that in the Internet age its traditional system of providing cover for clandestine employees working overseas is fraught with holes, a discovery that is said to have "horrified" CIA Director Porter Goss. The director's  Social Security number and that of his wife appear on the Lee County, Florida website. Colin Powell's SS number and other sensitive information is routinely sold  by the Fairfax County (VA) $25 subscription website.

The CIA will likely have even less luck removing the addresses of CIA agents than Florida Governor Jeb Bush had redacting his own Social Security number. We reported on  Governor  Bush's failed efforts to remove some of his sensitive information from the Dade County website in The Truth About Redaction . After having his Social Security number "redacted" from the Quit Claim deed appearing on the Dade County (FL) website, the number can now be seen on five American and two foreign websites.

Although Texas officials  have been more cautious than officials in many other states, there are currently 23 of the 254 counties in Texas that are openly publishing the records online. News for Public Officials has visited many of these sites and discovered the private information of County and District Judges, State and Federal Legislators, and local and state law enforcement officers mixed in with the records of hundreds of thousands of fellow Texans. If there are CIA agents living in any of these counties, you can bet their information has also been compromised.

 

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