October 15, 2008
In the PSA here, happy young people tote their Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) RFID cards as America the Beautiful plays in the background. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security claim this little biometric card will make traveling “more efficient,” not for tourists and business travelers, of course, but for the government. On June 1, 2009, U.S. citizens returning from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda will be required to have this card, otherwise they will not be allowed in the country.
In January, the CBP and DHS penned a deal with Unisys Corporation to “provide information technology in support of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative,” specifically RFID. “The RFID component stores the traveler’s relevant information. Card readers that Unisys will deploy and manage will quickly communicate that information to CBP, whose systems can confirm the document’s validity and the traveler’s identity.”
The solution will also capture images of the vehicle and its driver, read license plate information, send the captured data to other CBP systems, and retain that data so that future searches can be performed quickly and easily.
Doubtless this data will also be shared with the DHS and other government agencies and will be retained in sprawling databases of the sort used by the NSA in its so-called warrantless electronic surveillance program.
In August, the Washington Post reported on a networked called the Border Crossing Information system.
“The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations,” wrote Ellen Nakashima. Not only is it described as “part of a broader effort to guard against terrorist threats,” it also “reflects the growing number of government systems containing personal information on Americans that can be shared for a broad range of law enforcement and intelligence purposes, some of which are exempt from some Privacy Act protections.”
All of this was “authorized” after everything changed on September 11, 2001. “The government states in its notice [on the Border Crossing Information system] that the system was authorized by post-Sept. 11 laws, including the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004,” the Post reports.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Of course, these laws and the resultant high-tech track and trace schemes have nothing to do with terrorism. As usual, it is all about keeping tabs on potential troublemakers — that is to say folks who disagree with the government.
Recall James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early 2007. Comey was John Ashcroft’s second-in-command at the Department of Justice during Bush’s first term. In his testimony, Comey “described how he had grown increasingly uneasy reviewing the Bush administration’s various domestic surveillance and spying programs. Much of his testimony centered on an operation so clandestine he wasn’t allowed to name it or even describe what it did,” writes Christopher Ketcham for Radar Magazine.
While Comey, who left the Department of Justice in 2005, has steadfastly refused to comment further on the matter, a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government’s data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.
Ketcham was told there “exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” The database is called Main Core and it allegedly contains data on eight million Americans. “In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.” Main Core was devised under the rubric of COG, or Continuity of Government.
For most people the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will be yet another government mandated nuisance, but for the government it is a vital link in a larger control and surveillance matrix. Main Core, writes Ketchum, citing a well-informed source — a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community — “has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with ‘social network analysis’ and artificial intelligence modeling tools.”
Main Core “is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets,” explains Ketchum’s source. An intelligence expert who has been briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security confirms that a database of this sort exists, but adds that “it is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time.”
Is it possible the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will be searched by Main Core?