Jan 6, 2007

DNI Nominee Led TIA Data Mining Contractor

Adm. John M. (Mike) McConnell (Ret.), selected to replace John Negroponte as DNI, is being criticized for his role in a (supposedly cancelled) data mining operation.

(S)ome of McConnell's longtime associations may cause him headaches during Senate confirmation hearings, especially with the Democrats taking over Congress. One such tie is with another former Navy admiral, John Poindexter, the Iran-contra figure who started the controversial "Total Information Awareness" program at the Pentagon in 2002. The international consultancy that McConnell has worked at for a decade as a senior vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton, won contracts worth $63 million on the TIA "data-mining" program, which was later cancelled after congressional Democrats raised questions about invasion of privacy. McConnell will be named by week's end to replace John Negroponte, who will move on to become Condoleezza Rice's deputy secretary of State, according to a White House official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. While his role in the TIA program is unlikely to derail McConnell's nomination, spokespeople for some leading Democratic senators such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ron Wyden of Oregon say it will be examined carefully.

McConnell was a key figure in making Booz Allen, along with Science Applications International Corp., the prime contractor on the project, according to officials in the intelligence community and at Booz Allen who would discuss contracts for data mining only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "I think Poindexter probably respected Mike and probably entrusted the TIA program to him as a result," said a longtime associate of McConnell's who worked at NSA with him. Poindexter, who lives in Rockville, Md., did not answer phone calls. Booz Allen spokesman George Farrar said McConnell was not speaking to the media prior to his nomination. Farrar also had no comment on the TIA program. ...

McConnell may need all the friends he can get to fend off criticism of his role in helping the government to mine data on U.S. citizens—the subject of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings set to begin next week. TIA was an effort to gather intel on potential terrorist attacks by vacuuming up huge amounts of data from electronic transactions, including banking, plane reservations and other public and private sources. It was stopped after some in Congress about raised questions about invasions of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union later called it an "Orwellian program."

But the concept of doing broad-based surveillance lives on, as does Booz Allen's contracting role. Last September, the ACLU sharply criticized Booz Allen and the U.S. government for the revolving-door ties that had many former intelligence officials going to work for the contractor. After it was reported in June that the U.S. government was studying records of financial transactions carried out by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, the Bush administration responded that the fairness of the process was being audited by Booz Allen. But both European regulators and the ACLU said Booz Allen was not independent enough to fulfill such duties. "Its relationship with the U.S. government calls its objectivity seriously in to question," an ACLU report said. ...

Booz Allen's government contracts have expanded dramatically during McConnell's time there, amounting to $1.59 billion last year in information technology. According to his official Booz Allen biography, "As Senior Vice President, Mike McConnell leads the firm's assignments in Military Intelligence and Information Operations for the Department of Defense, the Unified Combatant Commanders, Military Services, and Defense Agencies." Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, says: "Plainly, given the NSA's role in massive spying on Americans, we'll want the Senate to look very carefully at his history."

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