Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is one frustrated bureaucrat. You can hear it in his voice, even when you are only reading his words.
The Department of Homeland Security is under fire from lawmakers and privacy advocates who are outraged at last month’s news of the Automated Targeting System, which assigns a terrorism risk score to international travelers, and saying the program is illegal.
Originally the system was designed to help screen cargo. It was first applied to air travelers in the mid-1990s and began assigning a terrorism risk assessment to travelers after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.
“Clearly the law prohibits testing or development” of such computer programs, said Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.), who wrote the three-year-old prohibition into homeland security funding legislation. “And if they are saying that they just took some system, used it and therefore did not test or develop it, they clearly were not upfront about saying it.”
Privacy advocates and members of Congress expressed growing skepticism this week about the legality, scope and effectiveness of the massive data-mining program — particularly the creation of risk assessments on Americans that would be retained for up to 40 years — whose existence was first disclosed in detail in a Nov. 2 notice in the Federal Register. — Washington Post
According to that notice, travelers would have no way to access the data, review it for accuracy or challenge any inaccurate information.
And Chertoff has no idea what the big deal is. After all, he’s been talking publicly about the program for years. How did everybody miss it?
“I’ve talked about the collection of this data and the analysis of this data incessantly,” Chertoff said in an interview this week at his office. . . .
“Yeah, they missed about 100 speeches that I gave,” an exasperated Chertoff told National Journal on December 5. “I’ve talked about [Passenger Name Record] data and biographic data and using it to analyze and connect the dots about people before they come into the country; I have to have given at least 20 speeches about it.” . . .
Chertoff acknowledged that he may have failed to use some key abbreviations in his speeches. “I don’t know that I said the words ‘ATS,’ but that’s just an analytic description,” he said. — National Journal
“So why didn’t journalists like myself and privacy groups know this was happening?” complains Wired reporter Ryan Singel.
Try searching the Federal Register for yourself, and see what you come up with. If you get anything other than the November notice, you’re doing better than every other journalist in the country.
Singel got a list of 21 public mentions of the program in Congressional hearings by various Customs and Border Protection officials, but none by Chertoff himself.
Clearly the problem is: one reporter, three C-SPAN channels. Or, to put it another way, the government is now so big that all the journalists in Washington are no longer sufficient to cover its activities, and if you put every reporter in the country on the Washington beat, they’d only barely keep up.
The solution to this, of course, is to Downsize DC.