Targeting Terrorists Based on Their (?!?) Sorority Membership

Identity IntelligenceAs part of my continuing obsession with the way NSA tracks identities, I wanted to take a close look at one slide released by the NYT with its facial recognition story the other day. It tracks all the kinds of data the NSA and its Five Eyes partners try to collect on targets (and I’m sure they aspire to this level of detail primarily with targets).

It’s useful because it offers a list of the kinds of financial records the NSA might use. These range from Hawalas and farm cooperatives to scholarships, retirement accounts, and health/medical accounts.

At one level, these record types are uninteresting. Journalists search out some of the same information to do their reporting. Of course, the NSA has more legal authority to obtain these records.

At another level, this slide seems to serve primarily as a brainstorming document, invoking all the potential identity types for a range of NSA’s potential targets. Some potential targets’ “cohabitants” would be boarders; others’ would be servants. You’d learn about some targets by accessing their game rentals; you’d learn about others by tracking their half-siblings.

And perhaps that’s the mindset that led to the sheer diversity of types of targets envisioned in this slide. Perhaps whatever contractor made it works largely for corporate clients and most of the categories came from an existing presentation or experience base.

Sorority MembershipStill. I was rather amused that a dragnet the US largely justifies in the name of counterterrorism includes sorority membership among the identity characteristics they collect.

It’s not entirely inconceivable that an NSA target would be a sorority member (she could work for a targeted company, after all). It’s just so far down the realm of likelihood that I can’t imagine NSA tracking someone’s sorority — unless their targeting were far broader than they claim.

21 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Well, sororities (more so their sibling fraternities) are notorious for their Hazing. How is that so different from Hacking? All done Anonymous-ly, of course. Those college years, after all, can be Terror-ifying to a naïf.

    (Sorry, just trying to make some Connections, per the new law.)

  2. P J Evans says:

    Sounds like they’re really trying to recreate a social-networking system. Maybe they should simply buy a company instead.

  3. Garrett says:

    Nursing homes are listed too.

    A dragnet the US largely justifies in the name of counterterrorism includes nursing homes among the personal pattern contextual data they could collect.

    • bloopie2 says:

      They won’t need high-speed computers to keep track of the conversations at the nursing homes, that’s for sure.

  4. bloopie2 says:

    Sorry, not on Twitter, so I can only comment here on your sidebar Twitterverse statement of “If Jeff Bezos decides he doesn’t like that Ambassador and he withdraws everything in her Kindle like Amazon can do is she still Ambassador?” Good question, to be sure, but actually there’s no need for him to take things that far; he could simply end (à la Hachette) the ability of the Bible’s publisher (God?) to sell via Amazon.

  5. reliably says:

    This is the same government that tells us with a straight face that evidence of alleged anthraxer Bruce Ivins’s guilt was his obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

    So it’s not like the NSA just pulled the sorority-terror nexus out of thin air. Had we been ‘collecting it all’ on sororities back in 2001, terrorism would have been foiled, right?

  6. Heliopause says:

    Have you considered the possibility that maybe they just like to spy on college girls?

  7. wallace says:

    This puts Alexanders “collect it all” in a whole new dimension. Next they’ll be monitoring our septic tank clean out bills to see how much we shit. Correlate it to our food bills and voila! Over-consumption “laws” for SNAP recipients..coming up…ie..we don nee no stinkin SNAP.

  8. Rayne says:

    Ugh. Like I hadn’t already developed new worries about my daughter being targeted by a misogynistic psychopath targeting young women at a sorority — now I have to worry about her being targeted by the NSA, too?


    On the other hand, her risks were high living with a political activist/citizen journalist mother.

  9. s says:

    Well you know, there is a historic pattern of behavioral trends effected by Alpha Kappa Alpha, that’s for sure.

    I’m sure Eric Holder knows all about it. So did Hoover, and his formal.

    • Rayne says:

      Yeah. Highly educated African American women — why wouldn’t they be obvious targets? Jeebus. Really?


      Of course the previous weekend’s YesAllWomen cri de coeur makes it clear all women are suspect. Hope they map that contextual network soon to keep our country safe.


      (That’s snark, son.)

      • s says:

        Well everyone know what terrorists Ida B Wells and Rosa Parks were! But I wonder if they could have sustained their efforts in this surveillance climate. I believe they would have: they were strong, strong, strong but they were exceptional. On the other hand, it may have allowed more interference and disruption with everything they did, for the regular existential reasons that have long existed in the power relations in the US domestic sphere. And so one question is if we have a newish form of misogyny, among other things? Seems all a kind of disembodied, but supremely powerful Schoolmaster as from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved even if not intended, surely. Isn’t removing privacy, a like issue of abortion, sexual orientation, and marriage, erasing all forms of empowerment sought by so many heroines for so many years?

  10. Delta HouseimeanForce says:

    Goddammit, now I’ve got intrusive thoughts of that scene from Animal House with Bluto watching the pillow fight from the ladder, only it’s Mike Rogers up there.

  11. P/K says:

    Those slides had nothing classified in them, any company which develops facial recognition tools could have produced such texts. The specific figure discussed here could also very well be derived from a general presentation about this topic from a company or a university. To me it seems not specifically tailored for NSA operations, which doesn’t mean NSA can use all those options where needed.

  12. Mary McCurnin says:

    we are so fucky fuck fucked. And what is going to with the guy from SF, Chamberlain ? Over reaction much? Or are they just trying to make up for the fuck up in Santa Barbara?

  13. JTMinIA says:

    Laugh all you want, but the facts are the facts. Iowa City has only been hit by one tornado in the last twenty-plus years. (They usually do this weird thing where they come east along Route 80, heading right for us, but turn north towards Cedar Rapids when they get to the exit for 380.) And only one building was destroyed by the one tornado that came to town: a sorority. Yeah, sure. Some folks said that this was G*d’s way of telling us that sororities are evil dens of communal toe-polish application and joint twitter accounts, but some of us knew better. The government controls the weather. The government is the only thing standing between us and the terrorists. Ergo, the government was wiping out a terrorist cell.

    Either that of Mother Nature was trying to get the stink of acetone out of downtown.

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