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An Open Letter To Attorney General John Ashcroft

An Open Letter To Attorney General John Ashcroft
By J. Bradley Jansen
June 19, 2002

An Open Letter To Attorney General John Ashcroft
June 19, 2002
By J. Bradley Jansen

Dear Mr. Attorney General,

Please know that I write this as friendly, constructive criticism with a concern about our security. With a long-standing record in defense of privacy and other Constitutional liberties, the Free Congress Foundation probably worked harder than any group in favor of your confirmation.

Your reliance on so many career bureaucrats promoted by your predecessor continues to undermine our privacy as well as our national security. The Clintonista bureaucrats’ justified fear of pink slips may be the biggest obstacle to our safety.

The announcement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Domestic Guidelines changes (and red herrings about surfing the internet) worked well to divert attention from whistleblowers but would have done nothing to prevent the airline hijackings. The surveillance of the (alleged) hijackers operating for foreign terrorist entities would have fallen under the Foreign Guidelines that, while partially classified, reportedly have not been changed.

Unfortunately, the continued Clintonista advice is taking us down the same road that led to the intelligence failures of September 11th. The new FBI Domestic Guidelines will, in many cases, make us less secure.

Given the failure of the FBI to analyze the information then available, these changes cast a bigger net for information collection: more information is a poor substitute for better intelligence. To make a bad situation worse, the FBI will now be collecting a lot of bad information under the new Guidelines.

Anyone who has tried to clean up a copy of one’s credit report knows how easily bad information collects and disseminates in our technological age.

Every victim of identity fraud understands the dangers inherent in your proposal to sweep lots of publicly-available information into new databases that will be sifted and shared.

What are the controls on the sharing and use of that information? Given that half or more of all computer security problems stem not from computer crackers breaking into a system but from authorized personnel abusing their access, are you protecting us or making us less secure? These relaxed Guidelines invite more nominees for the Privacy Villain Award given out weekly by the National Consumer Coalition’s Privacy Group.

The new emphasis on data mining and profiling raises troubling questions. The use of false empiricism and profiles diverts law enforcement from the true targets. The methods of statisticians who would go to a shooting gallery and miss one foot to the left, then one foot to the right and jump up and down excitedly thinking that “on average” they hit the target do not protect us.

All investors have heard the admonition that past performance is no predictor of future gain. Profiles of past terrorists do an excellent job of “predicting” the past-not of preparing us for the future. Changing profiles from the World Trade Center bombing did not prepare for Timothy McVeigh. Updating profiles after the Oklahoma City bombing did nothing to prepare for September 11th.

The intelligence communities’ inability to ascertain correctly whether the “Mohamad Atta” who was in the Czech Republic last summer was the Pakistani national who happened to have the same name is not addressed.

The sharing of more collected information with foreign intelligence will in some cases make us less secure. Intelligence sharing with the Pakistanis, some of whom are close to al-Qaeda, aids and abets our enemies. Don’t we share intelligence with Syria and other countries the State Department labels terrorist governments? What security procedures do you have in mind to limit our private, personal information from the prying eyes of rogue individuals of trustworthy allies?

You asserted that terrorist entities use identity fraud among other means to fund their activities as a justification for some of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and other changes. By collecting information on all of us instead of just criminal suspects and sharing that information, you endanger all of us and make the job of terrorists easier.

Previous Guidelines changes had always been vetted through Congress, civil liberties groups and other experts. The sneaky way the Guidelines were changed further suggests that the career bureaucrats misleading you fear Congressional oversight.

The proposals to suspend the Constitutional protections of non-citizens in this country under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act procedures threaten all of us [see US v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990)]. The Bill of Rights guards the rights of all “people” here, citizens or not. If the holdover Clintonistas think they can suspend some people’s rights here, they would have that prerogative to suspend the rights of all of us.

Please do not to be swayed by your enemies within. Permitting fishing expeditions of more information of dubious accuracy makes us less secure.

J. Bradley Jansen