Thursday, June 7, 2007

Reverse Data-Mining 101

The Department of Homeland Security as well as Arab Computer Systems Co (which includes among its clients the Saudi Defense Ministry and a number of digital securities firms with CIA contracts) both stopped by here yesterday. Most likely this stop was a web crawler used by these agencies and the contents of yesterday's posting is now stored in a federal supercomputer. No big deal.

The reason for alarm is that the Department of Homeland Security and Arab Computer Systems did not land here as a result of random crawling through the web, but because the DHS was crawling through a a website that appears to be a public watchdog group but turns out to be not only a lapdog of corporate lobbyists, as described in detail by Peter Byrne below, but also an arm of the Department of Defense and Homeland Security intelligence services. OpenCongress.org, started by Michael Klein, collects all sorts of political blogs, but for the benefit of spy agencies and not just the general public. Klein is on the Board of Directors for SRA International, which is in charge of the IT for Homeland Security. Klein sets up a public database with copious information about political malcontents that Homeland Security can crawl without violating the Fourth Amendment.

First, some background on Klein and Opencongress.org. Here's what journalist Peter Byrne published in the alternative weekly online newspaper for the Silicon Valley, MetroActive, in his article “Daddy Kleinbucks:Why the media missed the story on Dianne Feinstein's past conflicts of interest”:

(With thanks to pofarmer on the JustOneMinute blog, for linking to this article, and you can read more of Byrne's work here.)
"LAST YEAR, Wikipedia blocked congressional staffers from editing Wiki entries on their bosses after an employee of Sen. Dianne Feinstein changed certain references to her war-contractor husband, Richard C. Blum. For example, Feinstein's office excised Wiki's account of the $190,000 fine she paid for not disclosing that Blum underwrote her political campaigns.
Following the Wiki crackdown, a website devoted to creating bios of congressional members was born: Congresspedia.org. Democrat Feinstein's Congresspedia page paints her as being politically courageous and full of ethical grace. But conversely, Republican senator James Inhofe's Congresspedia blurb details his sins, including his support for torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Con gresspedia is edited by the Center for Media and Democracy as a "joint project" with the Sunlight Foundation.
The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation was founded and bankrolled last year by Blum's longtime business partner, attorney Michael R. Klein. They co-own Astar Air Cargo, which holds defense contracts to service military bases, including Gitmo. Other war-contracting firms in which Blum was a majority shareholder have regularly wrung billions of dollars out of military appropriations that were overseen by Feinstein.
In a telephone interview in September, Klein told me, "I've known Dick [Blum] for a long, long time. One of my roles in life has been to make sure that, when he wakes up in the morning, he doesn't do something that embarrasses his wife. And, to the extent that I can, to make sure that, when she wakes up in the morning, she doesn't do something to embarrass herself, or him." (Our Jan. 24 cover feature, "Iraq & Diane," details how Klein, as a board member of Perini Corp., a defense contractor then controlled by Blum, repeatedly updated Feinstein on Perini's projects coming before her as legislation.)
Klein says the goal of the Sunlight Foundation is to "disinfect" Congress by funding watchdog groups and investigative journalism. He shares the board of directors with Nicholas J. Klein and Ellen S. Miller. The latter is a journalist who founded the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonprofit that tracks campaign donations, lobbyist activities and functions as a reliable source of data for investigative journalists.
Sunlight's advisory board includes Kim Malone, the director of online sales for AdSense at Google; Esther Dyson, who blogs for the Huffington Post; and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.com. A section of Sunlight's website is devoted to creating blog tags for "your Google homepage," so it is obvious why Malone is involved. Ditto for Dyson, who is an Internet venture capitalist. Newmark, however, is an icon of electronic self-empowerment. I e-mailed him to inquire if he is aware of how Klein makes his living. He did not reply.
In its first year of existence, Sunlight gave out more than $1.6 million in "transparency grants" to ethics watchdog groups, such as Ellen Miller's CRP ($796,000); OMB Watch, which oversees the government's Office of Management and Budget ($334,000); the Center for Media and Democracy ($95,000); ReadtheBill.org ($200,000); Dan Gilmore's Center for Citizen Media ($25,000); and Arizona Congresswatch ($1,650). Journalists may submit individual grant proposals online to Klein.
The money has funded worthwhile activities. OMB Watch used its Kleinbucks to partner with Eagle Eye Publishers, a for-profit company based in Fairfax, Va., that sells search capabilities on federal databases. The resulting contract data obtainable online from www.fedspending.org is useful. ReadtheBill.org and MapLight.org (recipient of $77,000 Kleinbucks) have created free online access to state and federal legislation. And Miller's CRP used the grant to streamline a searchable database of lobbying and campaign records.
Miller is cofounder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. She is still a board member of the CRP, however, which raises a conflict-of-interest question. The IRS generally frowns on leaders of nonprofit foundations steering tax-free dollars to outside organizations in which they have a governing interest. In a telephone interview, Miller explained, "The question of self-dealing is irrelevant, because I am not paid by the CRP." She says she is aware of Klein's defense-contracting activities.
For many years, Klein represented Blum's interest as the vice-chairman of the board of directors of Perini Corp., which holds more than $2.5 billion in military-construction contracts in the global war on terror. Klein is also a member of the board of directors of SRA International, which earned $776 million from the federal government last year for such tasks as performing technology- and strategic-consulting services for national security programs.
But it is Klein's co-ownership with Blum of Astar Air Cargo that has furrowed more than a few brows inside the Beltway. Astar is the U.S.-based arm of DHL Worldwide Express (DHLWE), a German-owned air freight service. According to a May 2003 Astar press release, "The airline operates 40 aircraft in the United States or abroad for the United States Air Force, and was actively engaged in providing service to the U.S. Department of Defense during the Iraqi conflict. The airline currently serves the U.S. military with missions to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany; and other military bases around the world."
The byzantine circumstances in which Klein and Blum acquired Astar prompted competitors FedEx and UPS to formally complain to the federal government, claiming that Astar is a front for the German government. The Congressional Research Service investigated the matter and made a report to Congress in December 2003 that related the following facts:
Foreign corporations are not allowed to directly deliver air freight inside the United States.
In 2001, DHLWE was acquired by the German Post Office (Deutsche Post AG), which made it problematic for DHLWE to deliver packages inside American territory.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) ruled in May 2002 that DHLWE could operate in the U.S. as a "citizen." But in March 2003, the Congressional Research Service's report stated that the Inspector General found that "the informal review process employed by the DOT was not well-suited to the evaluation of DHL Airways' citizenship."
In April 2003, Congress earmarked the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act with a special provision that required DHLWE's American delivery arm to be majority owned by U.S. citizens. The bill also ordered DOT to conduct another review of the matter.
Shortly thereafter, Klein and Blum purchased control of DHLWE's domestic delivery arm with $50 million from Boeing Capital. They renamed it Astar Air Cargo. The gargantuan loan was guaranteed by Deutsch Post AG.
Nevertheless, in December 2003, DOT ruled that Astar meets citizenship requirements because it is controlled by Klein and Blum. The favorable ruling allowed Astar's parent company the right to operate in the U.S. and to obtain military contracts.
The Congressional Research Service pointed out that Klein was a partner in Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, the Washington, D.C.-based law firm that simultaneously represented DHLWE, Deutsche Post AG and Astar Air Cargo. The report suggested that Astar was potentially controlled by the Deutsche Post AG given its legal bedfellows. Therefore, Klein's potential conflict of interest could have reasonably disallowed Astar Air Cargo from operating inside the U.S. and contracting with the Department of Defense.
In summary, Klein, a member of the powerful law firm representing a foreign-owned corporation, bought a part of that corporation with a loan from a major defense contractor in partnership with the husband of a U.S. senator who directly oversaw military appropriations.
This, then, is the war-contractor-cum-media-philanthropist who is systematically purchasing control over the agendas of congressional watchdog groups and investigative journalists who are supposed to keep on eye on this type of shenanigan."

Peter Byrne's impressive discoveries fortified me to do some poking around myself. It turns out that the firms Michael Klein runs are doing more secret intelligence work for the Defense Department than Byrne realizes.

No doubt the $3.5 million Klein donated to the group funding OpenCongress.org, the Sunlight Foundation, of which he is the co-director, really are from his personal funds and there is no direct government spending on the project, which would be a violation of Congressional limits on Homeland Security, not to mention the Fourth Amendment. But since Klein's SRA International received a $1 billion contract for just one project alone, he might not raise a fuss about using some of this to donate a database for SRA to crawl as part of its work for the DHS and DOD.

In other words, SRA International receives contracts to run the Information Technology for Homeland Security and Homeland Security uses SRA IT to run web crawls through a database that an SRA director with a defense industry background has set up. To quote Ollie North, "a neat idea."

The evidence for these claims? According to the Federal Contracts page for SRA International,

"The Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading-Edge solutions (EAGLE) is a multiple-award indefinite delivery / indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle, specifically designed as the preferred source of information technology (IT) services for the majority of the infrastructure and IT initiatives for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)."


SRA International is also running IT for the Department of Defense. The following is from an SRA project that appears as a link from SRA here:

"The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is the Department of Defense (DOD) command and control information systems engineer and provides the engineering for interoperable, integrated, secure, and affordable DOD command and control information systems to support the warfighter."


The SRA contracts for the Air Force specifically include an “Information Warfare Effectiveness Program,” although no further information on this is provided.

Later: on how this program follows from the DARPA plans for using private firms to data mine.

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