161,948 SARs Become 103 Investigations and 5 Arrests

The WaPo rolled out one last story to shore up their “Top Secret America” Pulitzer bid before the end of the year. I agree with Glenn’s overall assessment of this latest installment:

As was true of the first several installments of their “Top Secret America,” there aren’t any particularly new revelations for those paying attention to such matters, but the picture it paints — and the fact that it is presented in an establishment organ such as The Washington Post — is nonetheless valuable.

But I did want to point out what I find to be the most valuable detail in the story:

As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.

Of those, 103 have become full investigations that have resulted in at least five arrests, the FBI said. There have been no convictions yet. An additional 365 reports have added information to ongoing cases. [my emphasis]

That, as much as the skeptical comments from true experts like Philip Mudd and Charles Allen included in the story, really lays the stark inefficiency of this entire network: Less then .1% of the Suspicious Activity Reports have resulted in any real investigation, and just 5% of those investigations–a teeny fraction of the total–have resulted in any arrest.

So I hope no one actually believes this effort is an effective means to root out terrorism, however that gets defined.

Which would suggest the larger purpose for all this surveillance of private citizens is something else. Partly, as the WaPo points out, to use to combat more pedestrian crimes. But also to create the Total Information Awareness database that Americans once rejected soundly.

But, as Glenn points out, whereas Americans objected to such an expansive invasion of the privacy in the months after 9/11, they now welcome it.

Many Americans plead with their Government in unison:  we demand that you know everything about us but that you keep us ignorant about what you do and punish those who reveal it to us.  Often, this kind of oppressive Surveillance State has to be forcibly imposed on a resistant citizenry, but much of the frightened American citizenry — led by most transparency-hating media figures — has been trained with an endless stream of fear-mongering to demand that they be subjected to more and more of it.

All the better to distract the people from the real threat posed by the banksters and the others dismantling the middle class and our democracy.

34 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    You’re not looking at this right. Using this tool, we found 161,948 people who needed investigating. But we only have investigators to actually check 105. And the law is so full of loopholes that we can only charge 5. Think about it: there are over 161,000 potential terrorists that we can’t check into.

    We need more staff. And we need the rules for evidence admissability relaxed. Otherwise, America will not be safe.

    Boxturtle (Think the above will get me a job at DOJ or DHS?)

  2. DWBartoo says:

    EW, this post, excellent and important, like all the rest, puts the real purpose of the Security State to the fore.

    It is to distract, dissaude, discourage, disrupt, and diminish the people of this nation to the clear benefit of those “astute” few, who are now unfettered by law or by reason, to do, without question or hindrance, whatever they wish.

    “Security” will be the “big stick” used to enforce the new “rule of the elite” in such fashion that not only will most people not understand what is happening, but also, in their enforced confusion, many will, for a time, come to believe that it is purely for their own good and safety …

    It is a sad, grim, future, this neo-feudalism, we face, and its proponents are vicious beyond belief … as well as beyond the understanding of most, as sociopaths and psychopaths … usually are.

    There is not, now, even a general understanding of the threat that those incapable of empathy truly present to humanity and this planet.

    In time, that will change, of a certainty, but much destruction and grevious loss yet awaits those who do understand … as well as those who do not.


    • Larue says:

      I was gonna do a whole long reply to Mz. Wheeler, extolling her prowess and abilities and this diary, but you did it much better than I could have.

      That was one of yer finest, DW . . .

      Well done, start to finish.

      N thank you, Mz. Wheeler, for all you do.

  3. behindthefall says:

    What politician would these days deliver the Gettysburg Address? It would be seen as subversive. “… that ALL men are created EQUAL!”, “… government of the people BY the People — FOR THE PEOPLE! — shall not perish from the earth!”

    • BoxTurtle says:

      First, we define “men” as excluding women and gays. And we define “people” such that Scary Brown People are excluded. See? Now it reads just fine.

      Boxturtle (Now we just need to apply those same filters to the constitution)

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    We are now in thrall to a bipartisan fetish to reduce a federal deficit that spirals out of control, not because of overspending on “entitlements”, but because of our foreign wars and the political class’s fear of asking the rich to pay tax on its wealth or income. In the permanent tussle between guns and butter, surely this program should be among the first to stop and dismantle.

    Handing out money on the streets of Washington and Philadelphia would be a more efficient way to spend it than this boondoggle, except that an array of “suppliers” would no longer receive their fair share of the government pie (as opposed to the unemployed and uninsured, who “already receive too much”).

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    All the better to distract the people from the real threat posed by the banksters and the others dismantling the middle class and our democracy.

    Yes, EW, that’s exactly right. That and their other crimes, and their wars.

  6. DeadLast says:

    I have a new gizmo I would like to sell. Maybe the database will soon be commercially available so my marketing efforts will be more efficient!

    • BoxTurtle says:

      If you were a cooperative telco, I’d bet you could get a copy of that marketing database. Just to verify its accuracy, of course.

      Boxturtle (Ohio will sell you data from the drivers license database to hold you until the big copy is available)

  7. klynn says:

    This is the time to ask, “Where is the line between security and militarism?”

    Addictive levels of militarism played a large role in the factors which brought about WWII.

    • tjbs says:

      We’re not doing military fly overs at all major sporting events , are we?

      We are Damn.

      What’s firepower worth if you can’t fire it, same with the security state.

      And who better than regular citizens to run and oversee the system than duel citizens, who’s unquestioned loyalty is to the highest bidder.

  8. behindthefall says:

    Is it significant/interesting that this starts in D.C.? Nobody there is going to complain to their Congresscritter, because no one there has one. Ideal testing ground before spreading it to the country as a whole.

  9. fatster says:

    O/T, though related

    Cablegate: MPAA, RIAA, BSA weighed in on France’s Internet disconnection law

    “According to a US diplomatic cable given to secrets outlet WikiLeaks, US business interests played a role in the passage of a French law that created Internet user blacklists, ostensibly to be used against people who access copyrighted content online.”


  10. eCAHNomics says:

    I think the FBI’s really onto something. Make secret files on everyone, then look for the perps among those you missed.

  11. patrickhenrypress says:

    Many Americans plead with their Government in unison: we demand that you know everything about us but that you keep us ignorant about what you do and punish those who reveal it to us.

    I’m not asking for this. Neither are my neighbors, my relatives or their relatives, as my personal, unscientific survey reveals. I have to disagree here with Glenn.

    The only people who “plead” with their government “in unison” are the duped and the dupers: Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS and the politicians and other corporations who taint the news with their overarching love for fascism. Spineless news reporters (I shan’t call them journalists) and bullying thugs are serving this up to the country. But you know what, Glenn? The country doesn’t want it, doesn’t want them, and is done a disservice when you paint us all with the same broad brush dipped in the Rove/Goebbels paint bucket.

  12. Sebastos says:

    The inefficiency is also a sign that the creation of such databases is, in large part, a bluff. Even if they’re so inefficient at data mining that they can’t directly use the information they gather (either for the stated purposes, or for other, nefarious ones), they will gain from the chilling effect. People will be so afraid of being targeted that they will be reluctant to speak freely. Far more people are likely to self-censor than the creepozoids in charge would ever be able to censor actively.

    • patrickhenrypress says:

      Good point. As it is, all internet communication is subject to scanning by algorithm, yet the manpower required to follow up on this make-work is astounding. It is highly inefficient, a point worth remembering.

      If people clam up and let the bullies win, they cheat themselves and their children.

      What is the point of our alleged passion for exporting freedom if we ourselves aren’t truly free?

      Pardon me a moment. Let me dust this old phrase off. There. Much better. Ahem.

      Question authority!!!

  13. Shoto says:

    All the better to distract the people from the real threat posed by the banksters and the others dismantling the middle class and our democracy.


    Can we file SARs on Lloyd Blankfein, Timmeh Geithner, etal?

  14. BoxTurtle says:

    As it is, all internet communication is subject to scanning by algorithm, yet the manpower required to follow up on this make-work is astounding.

    That was true possibly as recently as five years ago. Many improvements have been made to the algorithms and to the data layouts. False positives have dropped to almost nothing by the time it hits a human. The human can then probe the records in more detail. After obtaining a warrant, of course.

    Now, some of those positives are annoying peple like me, who will mention uranium, New York, and detonate in the same post and make more work for some faceless bureaucrat.

    The real question is how many different searches are they doing?

    Boxturle (But I’m sure they’re limiting it to terrorism searches)

    • Larue says:

      (But I’m sure they’re limiting it to terrorism searches)

      Yer snark knows no bounds BT . . . well done.


    • patrickhenrypress says:

      My, my. Time flies when you’re having fun. I should have known better. They probably are dying to outsource this to India.

      It seems only yesterday a poster on another thread decided to debate me on massively parallel algorithmic pattern-matching and aes256 on the basis of Moore’s law, and now this. The next thing you know we’ll have those make-believe quantum gates laying around and…

      …oh, wait.

    • Sebastos says:

      That was true possibly as recently as five years ago. Many improvements have been made to the algorithms and to the data layouts. False positives have dropped to almost nothing by the time it hits a human.

      Perhaps when they use it for detecting actual terrorism. But it cannot be assumed that the false positive rate is independent of the type of targeted communication being detected. The type of political activism they are trying to detect and intimidate is much more nebulous than terrorist incidents. Also, remember the ROC (receiver operating characteristic): the false positive rate is also not independent of the false negative rate.

      Even the use of quantum computing (if they’ve made significant non-public progress on it) wouldn’t guarantee performance adequate to keep significant human effort out of the loop. Quantum computing is unlikely to offer more than a quadratic (rather than exponential) speedup in the general case; I don’t think it’s likely that QP=NP, unless P=NP.

      In practice, low-tech methods of intimidation are likely to work better. Like the time (during the Clinton years) when I wrote to the White House to protest ECHELON and Carnivore, and received a response from the FBI.

        • Sebastos says:

          I don’t even recall specifically what they said. It was some collection of mealy-mouthed rationalizations along the lines of “Well, it’s necessary for our national security, and we’re sorry you feel that way.” To me, the noteworthy part was not the content, but the source. I had been requesting a response from the Office of the President (not, of course, from Bill Clinton personally – I’m not that foolish – but from his staff).

          While it may be normal practice to forward specialized requests to certain departments, I think the Clinton White House knew very well:

          1. What kind of psychological effect a response from the FBI would have;

          2. That this was a matter of overall national policy governing a number of agencies (such as NSA, CIA, DIA, etc.), and was not specifically an FBI matter.

  15. patrickhenrypress says:

    I have a prediction. When the feces meets the whirling blades, the cities of New York and Washington will look like the fall of Saigon with politicians and bankers on rooftops climbing rope ladders to waiting helicopters (provided, no doubt, by Xe mercenaries) to begin their coordinated airlift to Dubai.

    Perhaps some of the rats will scurry off to Argentina where they might meet up with remaining members of their WWII counterparts who once fled Germany in a similar fashion when the world back then finally had enough of their larcenies, fraud, genocide, torture and war profiteering.

  16. gesneri says:

    So I hope no one actually believes this effort is an effective means to root out terrorism, however that gets defined.

    I’m afraid that the bar has been lowered right to the floor. Any effort that roots out even one supposed terrorist (after all, who knows, that one ungodly infidel might have taken out thousands of good Americans) is now deemed “effective”.

  17. skepticdog says:

    I suspect the database activities are even more widespread. Waterhouse (Ameritrade) locked out my online account claiming I had malware. I scanned for malware and found none, but they wouldn’t unlock my account until I answered a few questions. Past cars, addresses, that sort of thing. Then they started asking personal questions about friends that have nothing to do with the account. When I objected, they claimed the questions were generated by a third party. Big Brother is definitely here.

  18. reddog says:

    I’m in total agreement with your statement [email protected] “Something” has happened recently that lengths all the various electronic databases that were previously widely disbursed, together. But, there is no assurance that the information in these databases is correct, and apparently no easy way to correct faulty entries (does No-Fly List ring a bell?). A co-worker recently went through his secret clearance update audit, which has been no problem for 20+ years, and an arrest for “Trespassing on Federal Property” from 1970 came up with a “no-resolution” tag. This arrest happened when he was 18 years old when he and his buddies climbed on a railroad trestle in a national park and the charge was dismissed by the judge with the admonition to “Not climb on railroad trestles”. The arrest made it into the database but the dismissal did not. Now what something like this could have to do with a security clearance 40 years later is unfathomable, but it held him up for 2 months. Of course, he had reported this arrest (his one and only) on the original clearance app in 1988 and nothing has ever been said of it–until this year. But, somewhere in a database that the FBI can now access, there is a record of an arrest for trespassing on federal property, with no explanation of what that trespassing actually was, and no record of any adjudication of it.

    Scary stuff if you are the one caught in the web.

  19. gmoke says:

    When we invaded Iraq under George HW Bush, you know, Desert Storm, I was surprised how quickly the entire USA was mobilized for war. It struck me as a dress rehearsal for a permanent militarization of society and, lo and behold, here we are with perpetual for perpetual peace, as Gore Vidal titled one of his books. The surveillance society is there to get us used to the idea of being watched over 24/7/365.

    Had dinner with a friend who is a “libertarian from the beginning.” As he’d just returned from a trip out of the country, I asked if he chose irradiation or groping. He said that he didn’t find either a problem because, after all, nobody had to choose to fly if they didn’t want to. I replied that the same techniques will eventually come down to the train and bus stations. He had nothing to say after that.

    We give up our freedoms so easily for convenience. We also give up our power to elected representatives too easily as well. Voting is the least of democracy. Speaking loud at the bus stops and writing here to each other is probably more important. Of course, everything we write here and possibly all we say in public is now available for capture and keyword analysis. I answer my phone with “the NSA is still listening and so am I.”

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