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Inslaw and PROMIS

Oversight by Congress of the Justice Department in the PROMIS Dispute

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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Former Attorney General Edwin Meese is interviewed by the House Judiciary Committee about the Inslaw affair. He says that he cannot recall any discussions with former Justice Department official Lowell Jensen about office automation or case tracking at the department. He adds that if there were such a discussion, it would have been casual conversation. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, Jensen previously said he discussed the “whole Inslaw matter” with Meese (see June 19, 1987).

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., Lowell Jensen, Edwin Meese, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Origin of Dispute, Oversight by Congress

Charles Hayes, a surplus computer dealer, claims he has purchased computers with PROMIS software installed on them from the US Attorneys’ Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Hayes, who the House Judiciary Committee will say has “alleged ties to both United States and foreign intelligence communities,” says that the Harris-Lanier word processing equipment he purchased came with 5 1/4-inch computer disks and he believes these disks contain the enhanced version of the PROMIS software. When the committee investigates, the Justice Department refuses to provide some computer equipment related to these allegations (see February 12, 1991), but the disks turn out not to contain the software (see February 13, 1991). (However, the computer equipment Hayes purchased does contain sensitive information that should not have been disclosed, including grand jury material and information regarding confidential informants.) Hayes will also make a number of other allegations about PROMIS. According to an October 1990 memo drafted by William Hamilton, owner of the company that developed PROMIS, Hayes told him he can identify 300 locations where the software has been installed illegally by the government. In addition, a businessman named Earl Brian allegedly sold the software to the CIA in 1983 for implementation on computers purchased from Floating Point Systems and what the CIA called PROMIS Datapoint. Brian has supposedly sold about $20 million of PROMIS licenses to the government. Hayes will later make the same claims in person to the committee on numerous occasions, adding that he has received information from unnamed sources within the Canadian government saying that Brian sold the PROMIS software to the Canadian government in 1987. The committee will say that he makes “numerous promises” that confirming documentation will be provided by unnamed Canadian officials. However, on August 16, 1991, Hayes will say the Canadian officials have decided not to cooperate with the committee. In its final report, the committee will call the allegations “intriguing,” but point out that Hayes “has not provided any corroborating documentation.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: William Hamilton, Charles Hayes, Central Intelligence Agency, House Judiciary Committee, Earl Brian

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

A Canadian government official says that Canada is using the PROMIS software, according to Inslaw owners William and Nancy Hamilton. The Hamiltons pass the information on to the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating allegations that the US Justice Department has misappropriated an enhanced version of the software from Inslaw and passed it on to other governments. The official, Marc Valois of the Canadian Department of Communications, apparently says that PROMIS is being used to support 900 locations around the Canadian government. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Another Canadian official will soon make a similar statement (see January 1991), but both he and Valois will later say they were not referring to Inslaw’s PROMIS, but to a product of the same name from a different company (see March 22, 1991).

Entity Tags: William Hamilton, Nancy Hamilton, House Judiciary Committee, Department of Communications (Canada), Marc Valois

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law holds a hearing about the failure of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to provide full access to all documents and records about the Inslaw case. At the hearing, Inslaw owner William Hamilton and its attorney Elliot Richardson air their complaints about an alleged criminal conspiracy in the Justice Department’s handling of a contract with Inslaw and its alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. Steven Ross, the general counsel to the clerk of the US House of Representatives, refutes the Justice Department’s rationale for withholding documents related to possible wrongdoing by its officials involved with the Inslaw contract. In addition, Government Accountability Office representatives describe deficiencies in the Justice Department’s Information Resources Management Office and its administration of data processing contracts.
Bason's Allegations - Judge George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who had found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the department (see September 28, 1987), testifies that he believes his failure to be reappointed as bankruptcy judge was the result of improper influence on the court selection process by the department because of his findings. Bason cites information provided to him by a reporter (see May 1988) and negative statements about him by departmental employees (see June 19, 1987 and June 1987 or Shortly After). After investigating these allegations, the committee will find: “The committee could not substantiate Judge Bason’s allegations. If the Department of Justice had influence over the process, it was subtle, to say the least.” Bason will point out that Norma Johnson, the judge who chaired the meeting at which he was not reappointed (see December 15, 1987), had previously worked with departmental official Stuart Schiffer, who was involved in the Inslaw case. However, the committee will comment that it has “no information that Judge Johnson talked to Mr. Schiffer about Inslaw, Judge Bason, or the bankruptcy judge selection process.”
Thornburgh's Reaction - Following this hearing, Thornburgh agrees to cooperate with the subcommittee, but then fails to provide it with several documents it wants. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Steven Ross, William Hamilton, Richard Thornburgh, Government Accountability Office, Elliot Richardson, George Bason, House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Legal Proceedings

A second Canadian government official says that Canada is using the PROMIS software, according to Inslaw owners William and Nancy Hamilton. The Hamiltons pass the information on to the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating allegations that the US Justice Department has misappropriated an enhanced version of the software from Inslaw and passed it on to other governments. The official, Denis LaChance of the Canadian Department of Communications, apparently says that PROMIS is being used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to support its field offices. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Another Canadian official had previously made a similar statement (see November 1990), but both he and LaChance will later say they were not referring to Inslaw’s PROMIS, but to a product of the same name from a different company (see March 22, 1991).

Entity Tags: Nancy Hamilton, Denis LaChance, House Judiciary Committee, William Hamilton, Department of Communications (Canada)

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

Juval Aviv, an Israeli businessman resident in the US, makes allegations to the House Judiciary Committee about the distribution of PROMIS software. Aviv, who claims to be a former member of Mossad, says he can provide information that a businessman named Earl Brian sold the enhanced version of the PROMIS software to US government agencies outside the Justice Department, including the CIA, NSA, NASA, and the National Security Council. Aviv also claims Brian sold the software to Interpol in France, the Israeli Air Force, and the Egyptian government, the latter through the foreign military assistance program. He also says the software was converted for use by both the United States and British Navy nuclear submarine intelligence data base. Aviv says there are witnesses and documents to corroborate his allegations, but refuses to repeat these claims under oath or provide any further information. These charges will be mentioned in the committee’s final report on the Inslaw affair, but the committee will not endorse them. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Aviv previously collaborated on the book Vengeance, which purports to describe Mossad’s assassination campaign after a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The book will later be made into a film, Munich, by Steven Spielberg. However, intelligence writers Yossi Melman and Steven Hartov will call the book a “Walter Mitty fabrication,” adding: “[O]ur investigations show that Aviv never served in Mossad, or any Israeli intelligence organisation. He had failed basic training as an Israeli Defence Force commando, and his nearest approximation to spy work was as a lowly gate guard for the airline El Al in New York in the early ‘70s.” [Guardian, 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Yossi Melman, Juval Aviv, Earl Brian, House Judiciary Committee, Steven Hartov

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

Ari Ben-Menashe, a former employee of an Israeli intelligence agency, says he is willing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in its investigation into the alleged theft of PROMIS software. In return, however, he asks the committee to arrange an extension for his US visa, which is about to expire, and to provide him with immunity from any prosecution. The immunity is to relate to information and documents he allegedly possesses regarding the illegal distribution and sale of an enhanced version of the software by businessman Earl Brian to the Israeli government. However, the committee refuses the request, and Ben-Menashe will later provide a sworn statement with no conditions (see May 29, 1991). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Ari Ben-Menashe

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

The Justice Department refuses to provide the House Judiciary Committee with some equipment and documentation relating to its alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS software. The refusal is in response to a request for access to the equipment and documents sent by the committee in November, following allegations by used computer dealer Charles Hayes (see August 1990). However, W. Lee Rawls, the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs, says that although the committee can see the equipment and examine the documents that came with it based on a civil writ of possession, the committee cannot operate the equipment. Nor can the department provide a printout of the information contained in the equipment, as it does not have such a printout and “disclosure of this information would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.” In addition, the committee cannot have access to some documents in civil division files, as providing them could harm a pending criminal investigation relating to the matter. These documents are non-public witness statements, attorneys’ notes about the statements and conversations with prosecutors, draft pleadings and memoranda, and other material, as well as exhibits sealed by a court. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: W. Lee Rawls, House Judiciary Committee, Charles Hayes, US Department of Justice, Office of Legislative Affairs

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

Charles Hayes, a computer dealer who claims a US attorney’s office has mistakenly given him a copy of the PROMIS application (see August 1990), hands over to the House Judiciary Committee disks he says contain the software. Hayes also makes a sworn statement about his assertions, saying he thinks PROMIS was copied onto the disks from the original media by personnel at the attorney’s office. However, when the committee examines the disks, it finds only training programs for the computers. In addition, William Hamilton, the owner of the company that developed the application, tells the committee it is “highly implausible” that the 5 1/4-inch disks could contain the enhanced version of the software. He adds that if PROMIS was being used on the computers Hayes purchased, it would have to be the public domain version, which is owned by the Justice Department, not the enhanced version owned by Inslaw. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Charles Hayes, William Hamilton

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

A Canadian government official tells the US House Judiciary Committee that Canada is reluctant to cooperate with the committee’s inquiry into the alleged theft of a version of the PROMIS software by the US Justice Department and its subsequent passage to Canada. This is in response to a letter sent on February 26, 1991, in which the committee asked Canadian Ambassador Derek Burney for help determining what version of the software the Canadian government was using. The official, Jonathan Fried, counselor for congressional and legal affairs at Canada’s Washington embassy, says that “Canadians had been burned once before by Congress,” and imposes conditions on Congressional questioning of Canadian officials. The conditions are that interviews of individuals be conducted only in the presence of lawyers for the relevant departments and their superiors and that no Canadian public servants would be witnesses in any foreign investigative proceedings. The committee accepts these conditions in mid-March, and identifies the two Canadian officials it wants to speak to (see November 1990 and January 1991). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Derek Burney, Jonathan Fried, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

Shortly before the US House Judiciary Committee interviews two Canadian officials who have said Canada has the allegedly stolen PROMIS software (see November 1990 and January 1991), the Canadian government contacts the committee and imposes a further condition on the interviews. The Canadians had already insisted the officials be accompanied by minders (see Shortly After February 26, 1991), but now says that, in addition, they will only answer questions specifically related to the software. They will not answer questions about any allegations that four software programs that may have been acquired by the Canadian government may be derivates of the PROMIS software. If the committee wants information about such alleged derivatives, it will have to submit a written request. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

Two Canadian officials who had previously said that the Canadian government was using Inslaw’s PROMIS software now tell the US House Judiciary Committee that it is not. In an interview with the committee, officials Denis LaChance and Marc Valois of the Canadian Department of Communications say that they had incorrectly identified software used by the Canadians as being Inslaw’s PROMIS (see November 1990 and January 1991), whereas in fact it was actually project management software from a company called the Strategic Software Planning Corporation that is also called PROMIS. Despite an objection by the Canadians to them being asked about PROMIS derivatives in Canada (see Before March 22, 1991), the two officials also say they do not use or know of a derivative of Inslaw’s PROMIS in Canada. The president of the Strategic Software Planning Corporation will later acknowledge in a sworn statement to committee investigators that his company had sold a few copies of his firm’s PROMIS software to the Canadian government in May 1986. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Denis LaChance, House Judiciary Committee, Marc Valois, Department of Communications (Canada)

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence employee, provides a sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee on the PROMIS affair. He had previously said he would only tell what he knows under conditions (see February 6, 1991), but now waives this demand. Ben-Menashe says under oath that, in 1982, businessman Earl Brian and Robert McFarland, a former director of the National Security Council, provided the public domain version of PROMIS software to the Israeli government’s special intelligence operation Defense Forces. (This version was owned by the Justice Department; correspondence indicates the department provided a version of the software to Israel in 1983—see May 6, 1983 and May 12, 1983). Ben-Menashe also alleges he was present in 1987 when Brian sold an enhanced version of the software (which would have been owned by Inslaw) to the Israeli intelligence community and the Singapore armed forces and that, after these sales were completed, approximately $5.5 million was placed in a foreign bank account to which Brian had access. He also says that Brian sold the public domain version of PROMIS to military intelligence organizations in Jordan in 1983 and to the Iraqi government in 1987, a transaction brokered by a businessman named Carlos Cardoen. Ben-Menashe further claims that he has information about the sale of a public domain version of PROMIS by Israel to the Soviet Union in 1986, and the sale of the enhanced version to the Canadian government coordinated by Brian. Ben-Menashe states that various unnamed Israeli officials would corroborate his statements, but refuses to identify these officials or provide evidence to corroborate his statements unless he is called as an official witness for the committee under a grant of immunity. The committee decides not to grant immunity and will include these claims in a section of its report that merely states what witnesses told it, without endorsing their claims. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Ben-Menashe will go on to be involved in numerous major and minor international scandals, picking up a chequered reputation for honesty. [New Statesman, 2/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Ari Ben-Menashe, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh informs the House Judiciary Committee that he will not attend a committee hearing the next day, despite previously saying he would. The hearing is to discuss the committee’s access to departmental documents and the Inslaw affair, in which the department had allegedly stolen an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. According to a report by the committee, Thornburgh refuses to appear because a “press release announcing the hearing had been unduly aggressive and contentious and not in keeping with the tenor of an oversight hearing.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Richard Thornburgh

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law votes 10 to six to authorize the issuance of a subpoena to the Department of Justice for documents related to the Inslaw affair. The subpoena follows on from a refusal by Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to appear before the House Judiciary Committee (see July 17, 1991). [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Some of the documents will be forthcoming, but others will be reported missing (see July 31, 1991).

Entity Tags: House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

Responding to a Congressional subpoena (see July 25, 1991), the Justice Department sends most documents requested about the alleged theft of a version of the enhanced PROMIS software to the House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law. However, the department says that 51 documents or files are missing and cannot be found. A report issued by the House Judiciary Committee in September 1992 will say that the subcommittee has still not received an adequate explanation on how the documents came to be missing. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

Lois Battistoni, a former employee of the Justice Department’s criminal division, says that the PROMIS application may have been transferred from the department to a private business. She makes the claim in a sworn statement for the House Judiciary Committee in October 1991, and again in an interview in February of the next year. According to Battistoni, a criminal division employee had previously told her that there was a company chosen to take over PROMIS implementation contracts served by Inslaw at that time. This company was apparently connected to a top department official through a California relationship. Inslaw owner William Hamilton will speculate that this company is Hadron, Inc., as it was owned by businessman Earl Brian, who was linked to former Attorney General Edwin Meese. However, Battistoni says that she has little firsthand knowledge of the facts surrounding these allegations, and does not provide the committee with the name of the criminal division employee who made the claim to her, indicating department employees are afraid to cooperate with Congress for fear of reprisal. She also makes a number of allegations about the involvement of department employees in the destruction of documents related to the affair. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: William Hamilton, US Department of Justice, House Judiciary Committee, Lois Battistoni, Earl Brian, Hadron, Inc., Edwin Meese

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

John Schoolmeester, a former Customs Services program officer, says that Peter Videnieks, a Justice Department official who worked on the implementation of PROMIS software, is linked to a company called Hadron, Inc., owned by Earl Brian, a businessman involved in the PROMIS affair. Schoolmeester makes the claim in two sworn statements provided to the House Judiciary Committee on October 10 and November 6, 1991. Schoolmeester says he has direct knowledge of ties between Videnieks and Hadron, Inc., prior to Videnieks’ employment with the Justice Department. According to Schoolmeester, Videnieks, as a contracting officer for the Customs Service, was involved with several Hadron, Inc. contracts, and he would necessarily have met with Dominic Laiti (a former Hadron chief executive officer) on a regular basis, because that was the way Laiti conducted business. However, Videnieks tells the committee under oath that he does not know and has not had any conversations with Laiti or Brian. Schoolmeester also says that Brian is “the behind-the-scenes guy at Hadron,” but he is not certain whether Videnieks met with him. Finally, he says that Brian is well connected in Washington and had connections with former Attorney General Edwin Meese and several Congressional figures. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: John Schoolmeester, Peter Videnieks, Hadron, Inc., Dominic Laiti, Edwin Meese, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Oversight by Congress

Canada’s ambassador to the US, Derek Burney, writes to the House Judiciary Committee saying that neither the Canadian Royal Mounted Police nor the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have the PROMIS software developed by Inslaw or derivatives thereof. The statement is in response to an October letter from the committee, which is investigating the alleged theft from Inslaw of a version of the software and its subsequent passage to Canada. According to Burney, both the Mounties and the CSIS told him that not only do they not use Inslaw’s PROMIS or any software believed to be a derivative of it, but that they do not use any case management software at all. The committee will comment: “The ambassador’s conclusory statement did not provide an offer or an opportunity for further verification of the allegations received concerning the government of Canada. Without direct access to [the Mounties], CSIS, and other Canadian officials, the committee has been effectively thwarted in its attempt to support or reject the contention that Inslaw software was transferred to the Canadian government.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, House Judiciary Committee, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Derek Burney

Category Tags: Use Outside Justice Department, Oversight by Congress

Former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Lester Coleman submits a sworn affidavit to a court hearing the dispute between Inslaw and the Justice Department about the alleged theft of PROMIS software.
PROMIS Allegedly Provided to Middle Eastern Countries - Coleman says that in spring 1988 he worked with a DEA proprietary company in Nicosia, Cyprus. He found that the DEA was using the company to sell computer software called “PROMISE” or “PROMIS” to drug abuse control agencies in Cyprus, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkey. Coleman claims to have seen reels of computer tapes and computer hardware being unpacked at the Nicosia Police Force Narcotics Squad. The boxes allegedly bore the name and red logo of a Canadian corporation with the words “PROMISE” or “PROMIS” and “Ltd.” According to Coleman, the DEA’s objective in aiding the implementation of this system in these countries was to enhance the United States’ ability to access sensitive drug control law enforcement and intelligence files. Coleman adds that a DEA agent was responsible for both the propriety company, Eurame Trading Company, Ltd., and its initiative to sell “PROMIS(E)” computer systems to Middle Eastern countries.
Apparent Link to Case against Michael Riconosciuto - Coleman also says he believed the agent’s reassignment in 1990 to a DEA intelligence position in Washington State prior to the arrest of Michael Riconosciuto in March 1991 on drug charges was more than coincidental. Riconosciuto has also made a number of claims about PROMIS. According to Coleman, the agent was assigned to Riconosciuto’s home state to manufacture a case against him. Coleman says this was done to prevent Riconosciuto from becoming a credible witness concerning the US government’s covert sale of PROMIS to foreign governments.
Meeting with Danny Casolaro - Coleman also says he was contacted by the reporter Danny Casolaro on August 3, 1991. Casolaro apparently told him he had leads and hard information about (1) Justice Department groups operating overseas, (2) the sale of the “PROMIS(E)” software by the US government to foreign governments, (3) the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and (4) the Iran-Contra scandal.
Mentioned by House Committee in Report - These charges will be mentioned in the House Judiciary Committee’s final report on the Inslaw affair, but the committee will not endorse them. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Later Conviction for Perjury - Coleman will later admit fabricating a claim that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Pleading guilty to five counts of perjury, he will say he lied for a variety of reasons: to obtain money, to evade pending federal charges that he filed a false passport application, to enhance his status as a consultant on international security and terrorism, and to get back at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration for firing him. [New York Times, 9/12/1997]

Entity Tags: Lester Coleman, House Judiciary Committee, Daniel Casolaro, Eurame Trading Company, Ltd., Michael Riconosciuto

Category Tags: Legal Proceedings, Oversight by Congress, Use Outside Justice Department

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