In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks detailing NSA bulk data collection techniques, warrant-less wiretaps, and other Orwellian-like practices, many people feel as though the tools the US federal government are utilizing in these endeavors are some advanced out-of-reach form of technology. While there is no private sector alternative to wiretaps, many people are not aware of the fact that the same databases that they hear about government agencies such as the National Security Agency using, are the databases that have been used by skilled private investigators for years.
The Total Information Awareness (TIA) project was originally created in the early 2000’s coinciding with the United States government’s War on Terror. The project’s main purpose was to utilize the concepts of predictive policing, data mining, and data warehousing to create a shared information system government agents from different departments could use to combat terrorism. The information collected and compiled included credit card purchases, magazine subscriptions, web browsing histories, academic grades, banking records, passport applications, driver’s licenses, toll records, criminal records, civil histories, utility bills, travel records, medical records, drug prescriptions, DNA records, as well as many other records related to individuals and business, both domestic and foreign. While one might assume that the majority of the information that compiled in these databases was obtained by law enforcement officers, federal agents, and other government employees, they would be incorrect.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, ChoicePoint, Inc., a private sector information databasing company, shifted its efforts from commercially available services to homeland defense. In building the TIA, the National Journal reported the Defense Department paid ChoicePoint for access to their expansive databases, containing “billions of personal records about nearly every person – citizens and noncitizens alike – in the United States.”
Former or soon-to-be Bush Administration officials filled a plethora of officer or business associate positions within ChoicePoint, including US Attorney General John Ashcroft, NSA Deputy Director William Crowell Jr., FBI Executive Assistant Director of Counterterrorism and Counter Intelligence Dale Watson, Deputy Secretary of State and PNAC member Richard Armitage, and Assistant Attorney General and Patriot Act Author Viet Dinh. This, coupled with a strategic alliance with Department of Defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the architects of the TIA’s Informational Awareness Protype System or “main brain,” and proprietors of another federally utilized information management system called Automated Data Analysis and Mining (ADAM), essentially ensured ChoicePoint’s de-facto status as the federal government’s data-warehousing arm.
The federal government’s relationship with ChoicePoint would grow, and along with it the scope and range of information the government would glean from their databases and store in their intel reservoir. Federal documents uncovered by the National Journal and Government Executive revealed that the FBI and Department of Defense would go on to order access to new databases including AutoTrackXP, which allowed instant access to 17 billion current and historical records on individuals and business, and Consolidated Lead Evaluating and Reporting (CLEAR), a more advanced version of AutoTrackXP designed specifically for law enforcement and government agencies.
The Total Information awareness project would transition into the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in the face of negative media attention about privacy concerns, and continued pressure would eventually lead to the government formally suspending the program, but the software and databases would be re-purposed by other agencies with only superficial changes being made. In 2012, the New York Times would report that TIA’s legacy was “quietly thriving” at the NSA.
While the totality of the NSA surveillance programs exceeds the databases offered by ChoicePoint and SAIC, including phone taps and internet data collected directly by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies, and information gleaned from the FBI’s Biometric Databases, these databases comprise a significant portion of the data-mining and data-warehousing programs being conducted.
These databases give the federal government a huge step up in the intelligence and information fields, but these same databases, or at least in some situations slightly modified versions of them, are available to meticulously-vetted and highly-trusted professionals in the private sector. Private investigators and others who work in similar professions that deal in personal detail information such as bail bond recovery agents, bail bondsmen, asset recovery specialists, can apply for access to these same databases for use in their everyday work.
The process for approval is stringent and requires private sector agencies to prove their ability to discern acceptable use of the systems, demonstrate their track record of professionalism and compliance with all rules and regulations related to their industry, their ability to keep the databases and the highly-sensitive information contained within secure facilities, as well as meet other requirements.
The biggest difference in what the private sector has to offer clients is the knowledge of the investigator. An investigator that understands the details of personal information databases lime where the information comes from, how long it takes for the database to pick up the information, what channels the information goes through before it is made available to the investigator, how the information is compiled, and what sources it come from, will be able to offer their clients the most accurate, up-to-date and useful information as opposed to the private sector investigator that does not understand these issues about personal information databases.
It is important to understand that this type of knowledge is key to private sector investigators knowing which databases to use on their cases, to gather accurate information for their clients. Agents who work within the private sector don’t have the access to the algorithms the federal government utilizes to add a level of context to the information provided. Where an investigator with years of experience utilizing these databases in real-world scenarios can pretext the database searches to return the best results, as well as accurately interpret the information recovered, an inexperienced investigator is apt to overlook, misinterpret, or incorrectly search for information even when granted access to these systems.
We have been living in a world driven by information for quite some time. It is the duty of the private investigator, recovery agent, and those working in related professions to understand the digital world of information; what it is, how it works, and exactly how powerful it can be. In order to solve cases, locate people, background people, understand the movements of your subjects of interest, it is necessary to know where to get the most accurate information. Having this knowledge comes a little easier for the government because these database companies bend over backwards to offer their very best to them. Large government contract equal large sums of government money. For the private sector investigators, research is required.
With the correct permissible purpose and the appropriate need for the information, private investigators can provide private citizens with almost identical information to that available to the government through the programs used by the NSA and Department of Defense, as long as the private citizen finds the correct investigator that has done their homework and has learned what personal detail databases offer the most accurate and expansive information.
At RMRI, LLC. we have done our homework on the tools we use. We have made it a point to know how old credit header information is on its databases (whether it is “canned” or “fresh from the terminal”), what other sources are used along with the credit header information to develop a compressive report (what public records are accessed and if these records corroborate the accuracy of the location and phone data for a subject), the usefulness of the peripheral data (are the databases using sources to get I.P. Numbers, Email Addresses, Social Network Profiles, and how this information is being obtained). Due to this type of research we can move though an investigation faster than the private investigators that don’t understand this, and with greater confidence that we are getting our clients accurate information.
To ensure we secure the most accurate results for our clients RMRI, LLC. verifies all of the information that we pull from these database reports. RMRI, LLC. also continuously compares notes on databases, and current information on databases with other trusted information professionals who specialize in these areas.
Early on, as a recovery agent I knew that computers and databases would change the landscape for private sector venders in the recovery and investigation businesses. In the early nineties I “boned up” on knowledge about these personal information databases and have carefully followed these database companies ever since, educating my investigators along the way.
We have the experience that gives us a very unique understanding of what databases to use to give our clients the most “bang for their buck”. Don’t go with someone that doesn’t know enough about the databases they are using to know what they are giving their clients. Go with the private investigation agency that has taken the time to research the tools that they use, so they can offer their clients the most accurate information on the market. Go with RMRI, LLC. Check out the Services we offer or Contact Us for more information.