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Profile: Federation of American Scientists (FAS)

Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997.Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997. [Source: Tim Graham / Corbis]The NSA admits that US intelligence agencies possess 1,056 pages of classified information regarding Britain’s Princess Diana. British tabloids portray the documents as rife with salacious information on Diana’s “most intimate love secrets” about her relationship with Egyptian billionaire Dodi al-Fayed, but the actual documentation may not be so lurid. The NSA recently denied a Freedom of Information request from the Internet news service APB Online about information it has collected on Diana, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997. (It is unclear whether US intelligence has any unreleased information about the circumstances of Diana’s death. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] The NSA has denied monitoring Diana on the night of her death, an allegation raised by The Observer in 2006.) [MSNBC, 12/11/2006] In the two-page letter denying the request, the NSA admits to possessing a “Diana file,” but refuses to divulge what is in that file. A US intelligence official says the information is made up of conversations between other people who mentioned Diana; the references to Diana in those intercepted conversations are “incidental.” The official says Diana was never a particular target of the NSA’s Echelon surveillance program. However, the NSA has classified 124 pages of the “Diana documents” as top secret “because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” According to a recent report by the European Parliament, the NSA routinely monitors virtually “all e-mail, telephone and fax communications… within Europe” (see July 11, 2001). Intelligence expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says “the US and our allies promiscuously collect electronic communications around the world. Whether the descriptions of Echelon are accurate or not, that much is definitely true.” Some believe that lurid snippets of information leaked to the British press regarding Diana’s affair with Fayed, and her ambivalent relationship with Prince Charles, may have come from Echelon wiretaps and surveillance. Another FAS scientist, John Pike, says the NSA and other US intelligence agencies may have been monitoring Diana to protect her from terrorist attacks. Pike says it is also possible she may have been monitored because of her involvement in banning land mines, a position opposed by the Pentagon. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] Former NSA official Wayne Madsen will say in 2000, “[W]hen NSA extends the big drift net out there, it’s possible that they’re picking up more than just her conversations concerning land mines. What they do with that intelligence, who knows?” [CBS News, 2/27/2000] In August 1999, the NSA will deny another Freedom of Information request about its “Diana file” from the British newspaper The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/6/1999]

Entity Tags: Steven Aftergood, Prince Charles, The Guardian, John Pike, Dodi al-Fayed, Echelon, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), National Security Agency, Princess Diana

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An illustration of the NIMD dataflow.An illustration of the NIMD dataflow. [Source: LibertyThink.com] (click image to enlarge)Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). [New York Times, 5/21/2003; National Journal, 1/20/2006] NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006] Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, William E. Moschella, Tom Armour, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, Steven Aftergood, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency, Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis, Advanced Research and Development Activity, John Poindexter, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The NSA’s enormous data mining program, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD—see After September 11, 2001), closely resembles another data mining program, the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002). TIA, which will be suspended in 2003 after outcries from citizens and legal experts concerned over that program’s refusal to comply with fundamental Constitutional guarantees of privacy, was also designed as an early-warning system that not only compiled intelligence data, but mined through private financial databases for credit-card and other financial transactions. Six of the corporations and research institutions who win NIMD contracts also held contracts for the earlier TIA project. Much of their work with TIA duplicated the same aspects and protocols to be used by NIMD, including challenging analytic assumptions and building prototype data-mining devices. Both TIA and NIMD attempt to second-guess human analysts’ conclusions over a particular data schema by creating a database of what TIA creator John Poindexter once called “plausible futures,” or likely terrorism scenarios. NIMD is a creation of the Advanced Research and Development Activity agency (ARDA); another ARDA project, the Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis (ACIA) also envisions a similar database (see 2005). Though TIA focused more on counterterrorism than the more sweeping NIMD, the two projects coordinated closely with one another, according to former program manager Tom Armour, who worked in Poindexter’s office.
NIMD Survives In Other Agencies - Congress will eliminate funding for TIA and other Poindexter projects, but many of those projects, and related projects such as NIMD, do not disappear. Many are instead transferred to intelligence agencies such as the NSA. Although information about these projects is strictly classified, a former Army intelligence analyst familiar with the programs will confirm in 2006 that large elements of TIA were transferred to other agencies, where they will continue to be researched and implemented. It is highly likely that NIMD is an offshoot and outgrowth of TIA. Armour will say the two programs are specifically designed to analyze large amounts of phone and e-mail traffic: “That’s, in fact, what the interest is.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Government 'Shell Game' - Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says in 2004, “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game. There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Aftergood will note that NIMD has thrived in the shadows where TIA died of exposure: “Pursued with a minimal public profile and lacking a polarizing figure like Admiral Poindexter to galvanize opposition, NIMD has proceeded quietly even as TIA imploded.” [Defense Tech, 9/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom Armour, Total Information Awareness, Steven Aftergood, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, John Poindexter, National Security Agency, Advanced Research and Development Activity, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), George W. Bush, Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney unilaterally exempts his office from Executive Order 12958, which established government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. [White House, 4/17/1995; Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007] It was amended by President Bush’s Executive Order 13292 (see March 25, 2003) to require that all agencies or “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information” regularly report on their activities to the Information Security Oversight Office. [White House, 3/25/2003]
Vice President Not Part of Executive Branch, Cheney Argues - Cheney’s argument is that the vice president’s office is not part of the executive branch, and therefore has no legal obligation to report on its classification decisions as mandated by the order. Cheney justifies his position by noting that the vice president has a role in both the executive and legislative branches—the vice president is also president of the Senate—and the vice president’s office is not an agency. In May 2006, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride will say, “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (McBride does not say who reviewed the claim.)
Criticism - Others, such as government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, disagree. “It undermines oversight of the classification system and reveals a disdain for presidential authority,” he says. “It’s part of a larger picture of disrespect that this vice president has shown for the norms of oversight and accountability.” Around 80 agencies and entities must report annually to the National Archives; besides the Office of the Vice President, only the president’s Homeland Security Council and the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board have as yet failed to report on their activities. Aftergood will say: “Somebody made a decision that they don’t want to do what they used to do.… They have to explain why they stopped doing it, and they haven’t done that.” [ABC News, 6/21/2007] Law professor Garrett Epps observes: “The vice president is saying he doesn’t have to follow the orders of the president. That’s a very interesting proposition.” And Judicial Watch’s Paul Orfanedes says Cheney’s claim “seems most disingenuous.” [Cox News Service, 6/21/2007]
Retaliation For Attempt To Force Compliance - The National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will attempt in 2004 to conduct an inspection of Cheney’s offices pursuant to the executive order; Cheney’s staff will block the inspection, the first time since the ISOO’s inception in 1978 that one of its inspections has been thwarted. The National Archives will protest Cheney’s decision (see June 8, 2006 and January 9, 2007); Cheney will respond by attempting to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file; ABC News, 6/21/2007] In June 2007, President Bush will announce that he never intended for either his or Cheney’s office to have to comply with the directive. [USA Today, 6/24/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Issue Nothing More Than 'Kerfuffle' - In December 2007, Cheney will call the entire issue a “kerfuffle… is he or isn’t he; is he part of the executive branch, part of the legislative branch? And the answer really is, you’ve got a foot in both camps. I obviously work for the president. That’s why I’m sitting here in the West Wing of the White House. But I also have a role to play in the Congress as the president of the Senate. I actually get paid—that’s where my paycheck comes from, is the Senate. So I try to keep lines open to both sides of the Congress, both the House and the Senate.” [White House, 12/6/2007] However, Cheney sometimes asserts executive privilege, a function of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007 and June 29, 2007).

Entity Tags: Information Security Oversight Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Archives and Records Administration, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Lea Anne McBride, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Issuetsdeah, Garrett Epps, Steven Aftergood, Office of the Vice President, Paul Orfanedes

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says that he is not sure that Congress’s public termination of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see January 23, 2003) was as real and outrage-driven as it seemed at the time. “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game,” Aftergood says. “There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” While Congress terminated TIA with visible indignation, it also quietly funded the “National Foreign Intelligence Program,” and never identified which intelligence agency would do the work—which was also kept from the public eye. Congress did say that none of the research would be used against US citizens. No one in Congress will discuss how many of Poindexter’s programs survived, but knowledgeable sources will confirm that some 18 data-mining programs known as Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery in Poindexter’s research were preserved after TIA’s termination. These programs may well include the sprawling data mining program known as Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) (see After September 11, 2001), though this cannot be confirmed. Former TIA chief John Poindexter’s vision of the technology behind NIMD envisioned software that can quickly analyze “multiple petabytes” of data. A single petabyte would fill the Library of Congress space for 18 million books more than 50 times, or could hold 40 pages of text for each of the more than 6.2 billion humans on Earth. Poindexter and his colleagues envisioned the program as handling a petabyte or more of data a month. [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Concerns about the privacy rights of US citizens being damaged by the program are rife. “If they were to stick to strictly military-related research and development, there is less of an issue, but these technologies have much broader social implications,” says Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an organization that has expressed concerns about TIA. [New York Times, 5/21/2003] At least one Senator is uncomfortable with the apparent resurgence of TIA. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will write Vice President Dick Cheney in June 2003 after receiving a briefing on the various secret surveillance programs (see July 17, 2003). Rockefeller will write, “As I reflected on the meeting today, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Steven Aftergood, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Total Information Awareness, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, John D. Rockefeller, John Poindexter, Barbara Simons, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Association of Computing Machinery

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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