Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Oh, That's Why


Last week, I asked,

Now, if Evan Kohlmann can get to this gathering, and if John Walker-Lindh can meet bin Ladin, why haven’t we penetrated and shut down more groups which are openly calling for murder?

Today’s New York Times has the answer in “Large Volume of F.B.I. Files Alarms U.S. Activist Groups:”

WASHINGTON, July 17 – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected at least 3,500 pages of internal documents in the last several years on a handful of civil rights and antiwar protest groups in what the groups charge is an attempt to stifle political opposition to the Bush administration.

The F.B.I. has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace, an environmental group that has led acts of civil disobedience in protest over the administration’s policies, the Justice Department disclosed in a court filing this month in a federal court in Washington.

Way to allocate resources, guys. As the Economist once said, “we now accept unreservedly that we should have always known the Bureau was bound to cock it up in the end.”

5 comments on "Oh, That's Why"

  • John Kelsey says:

    I think an endlessly-expanding watchlist is just a consequence of the incentives facing individual FBI agents. The cost of adding you to the watchlist is zero. It may even be less than zero, as someone is surely evaluating the agent’s performance based on how much visible work she does, and adding suspicious characters to watchlists is visible work.
    On the other hand, the cost of removing you from the watchlist is the cost of being fired and possiby crucified in the press as “the one who dropped the ball” times the probability that you will later be implicated as a terrorist.
    Of course, if the watchlists are available, there’s no reason (from the bureaucratic perspective) *not* to also add people who are particularly annoying to anyone with a lot of pull. Again, the cost (as experienced by the agent, not the agency) is zero. Why not do a favor for the guy who got you your interview?

  • keydet89 says:

    Remember, folks, all of this is speculation…where the previous comment uses absolutes such as, “the cost of removing you from the watchlist is…”, there should be terms like “might be”. Until an authoritative source posts and provides up-to-date, accurate information regarding watchlist management, the comments are pure speculation.
    And to be sure, it seems to be extremely easy to point out someone else’s faults, doesn’t it?

  • PrawfsBlawg says:

    FBI Surveillance of the ACLU and Greenpeace

    From the New York Times:The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected at least 3,500 pages of i

  • John Kelsey says:

    Fair enough. These are my impressions based on thinking about the problem, and also working from time to time in various parts of government. My model of the world suggests that watchlists should grow almost without bound in the absence of some check on that process, and that even people who were added for bad reasons should have a hard time being removed. That’s consistent with what I’ve been able to gather about the working of various watchlists. Do you (does anyone) know of cases where this isn’t true?
    My goal here isn’t to point out peoples’ faults, it’s to point out that this kind of behavior is a product of the arrangements for making and keeping watchlists, rather than of the people involved. It’s not that the FBI/DHS/etc. agents are bad or incompetent people, it’s that if you maintain watchlists in such a way that it’s much easier to add people than to remove them, you can expect long watchlists, mostly full of marginal cases.

  • H. Carvey says:

    Many times, in lists and blogs, you run across folks whose opinions and impressions are unimpeded by facts.
    I agree with you on the issue of watchlists, but I don’t think that by viewing one subculture of the federal government that you can map what you see over to *every* federal agency.
    H. Carvey
    “Windows Forensics and Incident Recovery”

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