Saturday, August 30, 2003

Matrix, the privatized version of Poindexter's TIA 

Congress may have cut funding for and be on the verge of totally shutting down
John Poindexter's Total (later renamed Terrorism) Information Awareness (TIA) program, and the Iran-contra felon may have departed Donald Rumsfeld's War Department, but that hasn't stopped police in Florida from "creating a counterterrorism database designed to give law enforcement agencies around the country a powerful new tool to analyze billions of records about both criminals and ordinary Americans," according to the Washington Post.

Dubbed Matrix, which is short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, the system "enables investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. It would let authorities, for instance, instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event."

Matrix was developed by Hank Asher, the Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida, who donated it to the state. The database, according to the Post, has been in operation for more than a year and some 135 state police departments have signed up for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's service. In addition, the Post reported, "At least a dozen states -- including Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan -- said they want to add their records."

Asher has an interesting history, according to the Post: "In 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI suspended information service contracts with an earlier Asher-run company because of concerns about his past, according to law enforcement sources. The Chicago Tribune reported in 1987 that court documents in a federal drug case said defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who identified Asher as a pilot and onetime smuggler, offered him as an informant."

James "Tim" Moore, former Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner, told the Post that the department was aware of Asher's background, but "we were also aware he had never been arrested or charged."

Seisint's coffers will be swelled by $1.6 million from the Florida legislature. In addition, the US Justice Department has kicked in $4 million to expand Matrix nationally and the Department of Homeland Security has pledged $8 million to the project of tracking your every move.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who is seeking the Democrats' nomination for president, apparently backs the program. The Post reported that Graham, while chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, met several times with Matrix "organizers" to discuss "the system's development."

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