Friday, 28 November 2003

New public face for CAPPS-II profiling office

Last week’s meeting of the Department of Defense Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee (TAPAC) marked the public debut of the new spokesperson and second-in command of the TSA’s “Office of National Risk Assessment”, the TSA division whose primary responsibility is the development of traveller profiling algorithms for CAPPS-II.

Although ONRA director, NSA cryptology school graduate, and military intelligence expert Ben H. Bell, III, was reportedly in the room, testimony for the ONRA was given by ONRA Deputy Director Stephen Thayer.

The only article I can find about his August 2003 appointment to the ONRA position descibed his sterling background thusly:

Stephen Thayer, the former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice who resigned three years ago after allegations of judicial misconduct , was recently tapped to be the deputy director of the new Office of National Risk Assessment in the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Safety Administration. Thayer resigned from the court in March 2000 rather than face a grand jury investigation into claims that he tried to influence his own divorce proceedings. His resignation prompted the impeachment of the court’s chief justice, David Brock, who was eventually acquitted. TSA spokesman Brian Turmail says that Thayer was chosen for the job in part because of his experience with “complex privacy issues,” which will come in handy as the office tries to implement the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening (CAPPS II) Program. From February until he took the TSA post in July, Thayer was executive director of the American Conservative Union. According to Turmail, Thayer was not available for comment.

(Ironically, current ACU board member Grover Norquist was among those who filed comments with the TSA and DHS opposed to CAPPS-II.)

It’s not clear what, if any, actual qualifications Thayer has with respect to either transportation security or privacy. I can only guess that he was brought in as a political spokesperson, (1) to render less conspicuous the extent to which CAPPS-II and other DHS “security” programs have come to be dominated and driven by military intelligence officers, to the near-total exclusion of the aviation industry and security experts, and (2) to carry out lobbying with his old right-wing cronies in Washington in behalf of the ONRA profiling and intelligence-gathering programs.

Thayer’s actual testimony, as it has been reported , pursued the same line of misdirection as other TSA and DHS public staements. According to Drew Clark’s account in National Journal’s Technology Daily , “Thayer said, “In effect, there is no record” of the passenger names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth that travelers would have to provide to airlines when they purchase tickets.” But there’s still nothing in the CAPPS-II Privacy act notice, or any existing law, to change current practices under which airlines, travel agencies, and CRS’s keep records of this data for years.

Thayer also appears to have contradicted other TSA and DHS spokespeople — who continue to claim that the TSA hasn’t yet tested CAPPS-II, isn’t testing it, and has no idea when it will be deployed — when he said that, “ONRA is testing the system and hopes to have it running by the end of March.”

TAPAC also got a briefing from the Army on the military subcontract in relation to which jetBlue Airways gave its reservation archives to Torch Concepts for passenger profiling tests. The Army claims the research was a “Base Security Enhancement Study”, even though military bases were never mentioned in the Torch Concepts presentation. And, as Ryan Singel points out in Wired News , the briefing contains some peculiar-seeming statistics on the “success” of the profiling tests.

[Addendum: For more on Thayer’s appointment to the ONRA, see Ex-supreme court justice wins Homeland Security post from New Hampshire’s arch-conservative newspaper of record, the Manchester Union-Leader (free registration and cookie acceptance required).]

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 28 November 2003, 08:22 ( 8:22 AM)
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