Social Security data used for criminal investigations

Wage and earnings data held at the Social Security Administration has been used in terrorism investigations since September 11, 2001. But few if any of those investigated have been brought up on terrorism charges.

Federal prosecutors don’t actually bring terrorism charges if they can find any lesser charges which will result in a deportation and preserve national security secrets, officials said.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the News 21 Program of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. According to a statement on its Web site, it aims to transform journalism in the 21st century by “preparing future media leaders to be analytic thinkers, clear writers and communicators, armed with an in-depth understanding of the context and complexity of issues facing the modern world.’ And it’s starting to unleash a new breed of journalists on the world.

Two of them turned in this story to the Washington Post, which the editor promptly buried in the back pages.

The Social Security Administration is “literally the Fort Knox of identity information in the United States,’ said James Huse, the agency’s inspector general from 1998 to 2004. “That’s a pretty impressive investigative tool that no other agency possesses.’

From just after Sept. 11 through 2005, Social Security officials sent prosecutors 456 referrals that were classified as terrorism-related, according to statistics compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The review shows that 91 percent of those referrals led to prosecutions. . . .

Still, few if any suspects in Social Security cases are ever linked publicly to alleged terrorist activity. Most cases referred to prosecutors in the months after Sept. 11 involved document fraud by Latino immigrants working at airports. . . .

“Prosecution of terrorism-related targets on [immigration and document fraud] charges is often an effective method — and sometimes the only available method — of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist planning and support activities without compromising national security information,’ Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty wrote in a Justice Department white paper in June. . . .

The Internal Revenue code normally prohibits Social Security from releasing information in the wage and earnings database, even to law enforcement agencies. But IRS and Social Security officials are permitted to waive that rule in “life-threatening situations.’ A 30-day waiver was granted immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks and was extended four times by the IRS through early 2002, [Jonathan] Lasher [deputy chief counsel to the Social Security Administration’s inspector general] said. — Washington Post

That explains how stealing Corn Flakes became a federal terrorism investigation.

Of course, it didn’t help that post-9/11 Justice Department rules allowed for almost anything to be classified as a terrorism-related investigation, as well as fudging the numbers in other ways.

So now, federal agents can turn anything into a terrorism investigation through some bureaucratic sleight-of-hand, get Social Security records which would otherwise be off-limits, and use whatever they find against you. And don’t think you have nothing to hide because you’re innocent. A screwed up computer record, and they are all over the place, would be enough for a predawn paramilitary raid at your house and a one-way trip to the nearest federal prison.

Have a nice day, tovarishch.