Total Information Awareness is returning on the state level,
and New York is among the first on board
baaaack. Total Information Awareness, the Big Brother-like
Pentagon plan to identify terrorist suspects through data
mining of Americans’ personal records [See “O Big Brother,
Where Art Thou,” Newsfront, Dec. 5, 2002] was scrapped last
September after it encountered bipartisan opposition in Congress.
Now critics are saying that Congress’s stake somehow missed
the vampire’s heart, and TIA is back in a new form: MATRIX,
a multistate federally funded antiterrorist and anticrime
database that New York has provisionally joined.
After a Jan. 22 Associated Press report brought MATRIX into
the public eye, two prominent members of the New York State
Assembly voiced deep concern about the program’s potential
impact on privacy rights. At the same time, the American Civil
Liberties Union made available documents newly obtained through
the Freedom of Information Law that support its contention
that the project closely resembles TIA.
is Total Information Awareness, part two,” said Christopher
Calabrese, the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program counsel.
“It sorts through billions of commercial and government records
looking for patterns and individuals to investigate. It makes
every American a suspect. . . . The federal government is
clearly using the MATRIX as a back door to accomplish what
it couldn’t with TIA.”
MATRIX, which stands for Multistate Antiterrorism Information
Exchange, was developed beginning in October 2001 by the Seisint
Corporation of Boca Raton, Fla. Seisint is a personal data
collection company that gathers information on individuals
from various publicly available sources. The state of Florida
and federal law enforcement officials helped Seisint create
this investigative tool by combining its commercial records—real
estate, boat and Internet domain name ownership; address changes,
utility connections, and bankruptcies; civil court records
such as marriages and divorces, business filings, liens; and
voter registrations, all going as far back as 30 years—with
government criminal and motor vehicle records.
Seisint said its program accurately fingered five of the Sept.
11, 2001, hijackers who had lived in Florida (it is not clear
if any innocent people were misidentified as suspects in the
trial run). From 2002 to 2003, the federal government provided
the project with a total of $12 million through the Departments
of Justice and Homeland Security. The Institute for Intergovernmental
Research, a Florida-based nonprofit corporation, administers
the program and distributes funds to Seisint and the states
At first up to 20 states were involved in the project, but
due to concerns over privacy or funding, several states withdrew.
Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
and Utah are either still participating or considering taking
part. Participating states are pooling their information—about
20 billion bits of data in total—so that 450 law enforcement
officers from the other states, the FBI, and the Department
of Homeland Security have access to it.
In the minutes of an October 2002 planning session attended
by representatives of 12 states, obtained by the ACLU through
FOIL, the FBI and Seisint revealed that they had developed
a data-mining application, FCIC Plus, with the help of the
FBI, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Data mining, with
its potential to wrongfully target innocent Americans as terrorists,
was the centerpiece of Total Information Awareness.
New York State Office of Public Security spokeswoman Lynn
Rasic explained that the state’s involvement with MATRIX is
still tentative. “The New York State Police, in coordination
with the Office of Public Security, is currently evaluating
the program,” she said. “The state does not intend to participate
unless the program complies with our privacy standards one
hundred percent, and has federal funds to support it.” New
York is currently not sharing information with any other states,
R. Clay Jester, the IIR’s MATRIX project coordinator, denied
that it was a new version of TIA, saying the application can
be used only to bring up information on suspects in an active
criminal investigation, and does not finger possible terrorists
based on predetermined profiling standards. “I think it’s
unfortunate how this thing has been mischaracterized,” he
said, but agreed it would be helpful if laws were passed regulating
its use. Jester predicted that after the FOIL requests were
granted, the differences between MATRIX and TIA would become
Some of the documents the ACLU has obtained, however, seem
to contradict Jester’s prognostication. In the minutes of
a Feb. 6, 2003, meeting in San Antonio, Texas, James T. Moore,
the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
and chair of the MATRIX committee, said “a key point of the
effort is to build a national intelligence system.” Toward
that end, Bob Cummings of IIR suggested that “the law-enforcement
agency in each state provide the criminal history information
and then work on gaining access to and providing the other
information not controlled by the law-enforcement agency in
that state.” Lt. Col. Steven Cumoletti and Lt. Col. Bart Johnson
of the New York State Police attended this meeting.
The minutes also suggest that the creators of MATRIX felt
they had something to hide when they edited a brochure describing
the project. “Chairman Moore advised that the MATRIX promotional
document is being updated to remove references to data mining
. . .” the record states.
Also, the federal government has been involved with MATRIX
at a higher level than was previously known. At the meeting,
Moore stated that he and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had briefed
Vice President Dick Cheney, Homeland Security head Tom Ridge
and FBI director Robert Mueller on the project.
Not everyone in New York is accepting MATRIX with open arms.
New York State Assemblyman Alexander “Pete” Grannis (D-Manhattan)
said that MATRIX “poses a real threat” to civil liberties
and privacy. “I think it’s extremely troubling, and I think
before we move ahead with this we should have it looked at
and approved by the State Legislature,” he said firmly. (The
executive branch responded to the federal invitation to participate,
but it was not brought before the Legislature.) Grannis added
that abuses of the system are likely and that he intends to
take the matter up with his colleagues.
Assemblyman William Parment (D-Jamestown) shared Grannis’
concern. “Compiling a multiaddress database on individuals
who are not suspected of any criminal wrongdoing,” he said,
“seems to me to be an abuse of government discretion, and
violative of privacy rights.”
consideration: Members of the Citizens Police
Review Board, including chairman Kenneth Cox (center).
Photo: Chris Shields
As the police department comes under scrutiny, so does
the board thats supposed to monitor it
were about 30 people in the audience on Monday at the regular
meeting of the Citizens’ Police Review Board—a virtually unheard
of number for a board that’s used to deliberating in front
of a handful of viewers at most, and about the same as the
number who showed up for the board’s public hearing last Tuesday.
A rash of department troubles—including the firing of a popular
commander, the shooting of David Scaringe on New Year’s Eve,
and charges that council members have had difficulty getting
information from the police department—have generated a lot
of interest in the board.
It’s also bringing to light the frustrations and limitations
of a volunteer board that was born of political compromise
in 2000; its enabling legislation walked a line between wanting
something stronger than previous incarnations without incurring
lawsuits from the police union.
It has been successful on those counts, but many people don’t
understand what they can and cannot do, say board members.
“The public at large thinks we actually investigate complaints,”
said board member Judith Mazza. The board only reviews the
investigations done by the Police Department’s Office of Professional
Standards. The board has reviewed 145 complaints over the
course of its existence, and made numerous policy recommendations.
The limits on what they can do are frustrating, said Mazza.
For example, they are limited to saying if they agree or not
with OPS conclusions about a complaint, but this often doesn’t
give the full picture of the board’s feelings on the matter,
she said. They also have no way to know if they are seeing
complaints over and over about the same officers.
To really carry out its mission, the board needs at least
some more power to do its own investigations, said Mazza,
because requests for information from the police department
are often stymied. That sentiment was echoed by Albany Councilwoman
Carolyn McLaughlin at the pubic hearing on Feb. 3. “We did
not get what the people were looking for,” she said, referring
to the repeated references to unfulfilled information requests
submitted to the department. “We did not empower you. . .
. I will challenge my colleagues to review the legislation
to give you the power to do what needs to be done.”
But board chairman Rev. Kenneth Cox said that the greater
problem lay with lack of cooperation and support from the
Common Council. “The power [we need] is inherent in the process,”
he said, referring to the board’s right to ask the council
for subpoena power and other help, “but if a primary party
of the process is detached,” that makes things difficult.
Calls to McLaughlin were not returned, but Councilman Richard
Conti admitted that the council had “fall[en] down on some
of the oversight we committed to doing,” and “didn’t do anything”
with the first report it received from the board.
you have to go to another political body that has other concerns,
that takes away the independence right there,” said Mark Mishler,
a lawyer who favors a stronger review board and was involved
in some of the predecessors to this one.
Common Council President Helen Desfosses said she anticipates
“more dialogue in 2004” between the council and the review
board, and said that “with four years of our own experience
to draw on” that the board and the council are now in a better
position to act on recommendations to enhance its capacity.
At its last meeting, the board set a deadline of Feb. 9 to
receive a long list of information it had requested repeatedly,
in some cases since its inception. At Monday’s meeting, Jennifer
Cottrell, assistant corporation counsel for the city, presented
responses to the requests. Some of the responses were curt—regarding
a concern about the handcuffing of minors during the execution
of search warrants, Cottrell reported that “due to safety
concerns the practice will not be changed.” In another case
she noted that a recommendation of the board had been “taken
under advisement” with no further elaboration. Many of the
responses, particularly requests for copies of various police
procedures, were contained in confidential appendices that
were not shared with the public. A request for data on the
number of times an officer had fired a gun was not filled
because the department wanted to know under what circumstances.
One response drew widespread ire—a flat refusal of a board
request put a copy of the nonconfidential portions of the
department’s Standard Operating Procedures in the library
of the government law center. “Our feeling is that it needs
to be requested through FOIL [Freedom of Information Law],”
said Cottrell, adding that people should pay the maximum allowed
25 cents per page copying fee when requesting it. This would
come to approximately $100.
Councilman Michael O’Brien practically leapt from his seat
in the public comment period to respond. “There’s nothing
in the law that says FOIL is the only way to get that
information,” he said. “Whoever made this decision ought to
look at themselves,” concurred Councilman Dominick Calsolero.
average citizen, no, they shouldn’t have to pay,” said Cox
after the meeting. “It’s good if more people understand [police
But overall, Cox was upbeat about the fact that their deadline
had been met, and didn’t want to comment on the thoroughness
of the repsonse until he had been able to read the appendices.
“Last month we were more forceful and we strongly requested
information,” he said. “The deadline worked. . . . We’ve enhanced
our credibility.” He said he was pleased that every issue
was addressed, but “is everything satisfied? No.”
Axel-Lute can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 463-2500 ext. 141.
for discussion: Panelists talk shop about culture clash.
Photo: Ellen Descisciolo
Preeminent minds converse about globalization and the clash
scholars convened at Skidmore College this weekend (Feb. 6-8)
to talk liberalism, democracy, and the myriad sources of stress
between the East and West. The panel comprised powerful thinkers
with impressive credentials, and an audience of curious listeners
who devoted the better part of their weekend to the mental
calisthenics of global political thought.
Hosted by the journal Salmagundi, “Jihad, McWorld,
Modernity: Public Intellectuals Debate the Clash of Civilizations”
was an ambitious topic of conversation to say the least. Robert
Boyers, the editor of Salmagundi, who put the panel
together, said he was interested in examining the idea that
America’s power could be used as “potentially a force for
good” as well as gathering a diverse group of academics and
“putting them on display and seeing the way their heads work
when they confront these big questions” about clashing civilizations
and America’s role in that conflict.
Among the points examined over the five sessions were whether
or not this East-West clash is irreconcilable; the concept
of a “just” war; and terrorism. Martha Nussbaum, professor
of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, helped lead
two sessions about the role of women in Eastern cultures and
the tensions between universal values and diversity.
Because many panelists had diverse areas of global expertise—India,
Iran, former Soviet states, South Africa, to name a few—the
discussion was globally oriented. In his opening remarks,
however, Benjamin Barber, whose book Jihad vs. McWorld
provided part of the conference’s title, implored the panel
and the audience to not simply to try to figure out problems
within Islam but to look “in the mirror honestly at our own
The session on the idea of waging “just” wars was supposed
to begin with remarks from Christopher Hitchens, a former
columnist for the Nation who now writes for Vanity
Fair, and Jean Elshtain, a professor of ethics
at the University of Chicago, but neither were able to attend,
much to the disappointment of many in the audience. Boyers
said Hitchens intended to come until the last moment but the
combination of icy conditions on Friday and a “serious” personal
condition prevented him from attending. They were the only
panelists who were decidedly pro-war and therefore would have
diversified the discussion significantly.
A few conference-goers thought a debate format instead of
discussion would have livened things up and perhaps added
some focus to the often freewheeling conversation. But after
13 hours of listening, and about an hour and a half of having
their questions fielded, many attendees felt that the discussion
had been thought-provoking, but the panel offered little in
terms of practical suggestions.
enjoyed hearing what the speakers had to say but there was
something frustrating about it all, as well as distant,” said
senior Ben Scheim. “I wasn’t often convinced that any of them
were ever actually engaging in dialogue.” That said,
he appreciated the potential to raise awareness in the community
about world issues, though he would have liked to see more
intellectuals are very good at talking, they’re not necessarily
so good at listening,” said Barber. He said he would like
to see this type of discussion become more accessible to the
American masses, not simply the well-educated. “A lot of Americans
are ready to talk about more seriously and thoughtfully about
these issues,” he said, noting that the problem is that there
are few venues for doing so. “So the question is, how do we
find a way into the media, and into the communications networks
that broker our relationship with the American people so we
can have some influence.”
Yet others thought the panelists shouldn’t have had answers,
but were simply to offer food for thought as questioning,
active members of society. “I actually think what they’re
doing is modeling for us how to be an informed citizen,” said
Sarah Goodwin, associate dean of the faculty. “I think all
of these people, and I as a faculty member, want to be a model
for my students. I’m not going to be an expert in this but
I’m still going to be voting on it,” she said.
Peter Warren, a teacher at Niskayuna High School, asked the
panel how he could help bring this discussion back to his
community. He didn’t get much of an answer but did buy three
books, took pages of notes and said “within the next couple
of weeks I’m going to try to digest this from my notes and
then think about how and why I’m going to put this in the
classroom context.” Then, expressing the thoughts of many
attendees, he added, “This isn’t the answer, but now I have
all of the questions.”
Hahn can be reached at email@example.com
out: former Albany Police commander, Chris DAlessandro.
Photo: Chris Shields
After months of speculation, a veteran Albany police officer
is let go, rallying the community he served around a new cause
that’s a nice picture,” Chris D’Alessandro said, pointing
to the blown-up, color photograph that sat on the table before
him. Taken on a bright sunny day last summer on the corner
of Second Street and Lexington Avenue in Arbor Hill, the picture
shows six little black girls playing double Dutch on the sidewalk
next to the Albany Police Department’s short-lived mobile
outreach vehicle—an aging Chevy camper with APD banners hanging
on the side.
For a few months last summer, the camper was strategically
moved throughout Arbor Hill from one known trouble spot to
the next, carrying a message to criminals and law-abiding
citizens alike: The Albany Police are here.
[the outreach unit] was there, it had a calming effect on
what just days before had been an open-air drug market,” D’Alessandro
said. “We had residents comment that this was the first time
in years that they had a restful night’s sleep because there
weren’t cars speeding up the street or groups of people hanging
out in front playing loud music. People could look at it as
a symbol of the police department and see it as an asset to
After residents saw the unit sitting in vacant lots on Swan
and Lark streets and elsewhere, D’Alessandro said he began
receiving requests from residents in other parts of Arbor
Hill that the unit be moved near them. Unfortunately, the
camper was taken off the streets after only two months for
lack of funding, but D’Alessandro said that picture best illustrates
what he was able to accomplish in his last days with the department.
D’Alessandro spent the last few years of his tenure devising
and implementing similar strategies with residents from some
of Albany’s high-crime neighborhoods, learning from community
members how to police their backyard.
allowed myself to be mentored by the community,” D’Alessandro
said. “Certainly I didn’t have any magic answers for their
problems, but I did care and I did try to help them.”
D’Alessandro’s tenure came to an end last week, when, with
little explanation, he was fired from his post as APD commander,
the first commander ever fired from the department. D’Alessandro
declined to discuss what he believes is the reason for his
termination before making a decision on legal action.
Rumors leaked from “department sources” to the Times Union
stated that D’Alessandro’s termination stemmed from an
internal investigation surrounding a derogatory flier circulated
within the department lampooning another officer. Detective
James Miller, the department’s spokesman, would not comment
on these allegations or why D’Alessandro was fired, citing
privacy concerns. Miller would only say that a “lengthy internal
investigation” took place prior to the firing.
According to Paul DerOhannesian, D’Alessandro’s attorney,
his client wasn’t even informed as to why he was fired. DerOhannesian
said it is uncertain whether his client will file a wrongful
termination suit at this point, but he said it is certain
at least that his client’s dismissal was handled in poor taste.
D’Alessandro, who had never been formally disciplined prior
to his firing, learned of his dismissal when reporters called
him last Thursday night. He received a formal letter from
the department two days later.
The department’s scant explanation for the commander’s dismissal
did little to quell an angered public. Many members of the
communities D’Alessandro policed have questioned why a police
officer who was so popular with so many would be pulled from
David Soares, one of Albany County’s Assistant District Attorneys,
oversees the city’s community-accountability board (which
seeks alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders
committing quality-of-life crimes). He spent time walking
the streets with D’Alessandro last summer, listening to residents’
concerns and offering advice for solving those problems.
currency with which we operate in this community is trust,
and we’ve slowly built equity in this community with our work
over the past year and a half,” Soares said. “Not having [D’Alessandro]
be a part of our efforts in the future, we’ve lost some of
that equity and getting it back will take time.”
Miller said the commander’s termination should not affect
the department’s community prosecution efforts. Some residents
were concerned that firing D’Alessandro might sever the bond
he helped form between the department and some neighborhood
residents, effectively weakening APD’s community-policing
initiatives, but Miller said “that’s very subjective.”
those community members you’re speaking with are supporters
of Chris,” Miller said.
D’Alessandro’s termination came in the wake of allegations
made earlier this week by a black APD detective. Kenneth Wilcox
reportedly is planning to file a suit against D’Alessandro
alleging a hostile work environment and racial discrimination
under the former commander’s watch. Wilcox’s attorney, Bernard
Bryan, did not return calls for comment. Wilcox was reportedly
one of the officers D’Alessandro investigated during an independent,
internal audit of overtime practices in the detectives office
a few years back.
D’Alessandro and his attorney would say only that Wilcox’s
accusations would be dealt with in court, but representatives
from the communities the former officer policed, which are
primarily African-American, said D’Alessandro is not a racist.
of you here know me, you know my family, you know my politics,”
said Aaron Mair of Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens during the
public comment period at the Citizens Police Review Board
meeting on Monday. “This man stands wrongly accused as a racist.
He has stood by our families. . . . He is guilty of one thing:
doing his job.”
Mair and others called for a transparent outside investigation
into the firing.
Though Soares, Mair and others in Arbor Hill and the South
End speak highly of the former commander’s involvement in
those communities, Albany Common Council President Pro Tempore
Michael Brown doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.
supporters] just make him sound like he was a super cop, or
Robocop, and I just think differently,” said Brown, whose
ward D’Alessandro policed. Brown said he still receives calls
from constituents concerned about the delivery of police services,
and that he’d spoken to “hundreds” of people unaware of D’Alessandro.
What Brown left out, however, is that Jestin Williams, a community
activist whose campaign for county legislature Brown is managing,
told the councilman on numerous occasions about working with
D’Alessandro and Soares on neighborhood issues.
was a bridge builder, and it seemed like the bridge was almost
built and now there is a piece missing,” Williams said. “He
marched with us, he prayed with us, I met his family. He was
just a great guy who had no problem talking with and embracing
far as Mike Brown’s statements, I can’t defend that,” Williams
said. Brown could not be reached for comment yesterday [Wednesday,
It also wasn’t clear whether Brown spoke with members of the
West Hill Ministerial Fellowship, 13 pastors and ministers
from which recently sent a letter to city officials stating
that D’Alessandro was an “outstanding representative of the
[APD]” who “demonstrated a genuine caring and consideration
for residents” of their community.
Durfee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 463-2500 ext. 144
There Is No Way to Democracy, Democracy Is the Way
it’s rarely mentioned, hovering in the back of most Democrats’
minds are two facts: George W. Bush didn’t actually win the
last election, and damn if he hasn’t raised a boatload of
cash in his push for this one. That doesn’t mean Bush isn’t
beatable, but it does highlight just how crucial issues of
campaign-finance reform, voting reform, and ballot security
Howard Dean has a mixed record. His decision to pull out of
a promise to use public financing drew a lot of negative attention,
but he has also prioritized promoting campaign-finance reform—including
strengthening public financing so candidates don’t feel forced
to withdraw. And yet, while governor, he targeted portions
of Vermont’s public-financing system for elimination.
Dean wants to offer a tax credit to small political donors,
switch to nonpartisan redistricting, give the Federal Election
Commission some teeth, and require a paper trail for electronic
voting machines. According to the Center for Public Integrity,
Dean’s top “career patrons” (supporters of all his different
races) include Time Warner, Microsoft, and IBM; a farmer in
Sharon, Vt.; and a half-dozen elite universities.
John Edwards has been strong on campaign-finance reform since
his senatorial campaign. He was a cosponsor of the McCain-Feingold
campaign finance bill, and hasn’t wavered from that position.
That makes it odd, however, that it’s hard to find any mention
of the subject on Edwards’ campaign Web site—though lobbying
reform is on his short list of issues. He has criticized electronic
voting machines as unreliable. Edwards’ top career patrons
are Shangri-La Entertainment, Goldman Sachs, and law firms.
John Kerry follows Edwards’ suit in having a strong record
on campaign-finance reform, and yet not listing any position
on it on his campaign Web site (it’s there on his Senate site).
He has consistently voted for campaign-finance reform, rejects
contributions from PACs, and has gone beyond the usual requirements
in disclosing his large donors. Nonetheless, the Center for
Public Integrity and the Sacramento Bee have pointed
out that Kerry has accepted some very large donations from
companies that are overseen by committees on which he sits,
and he has a history of siding with these companies on regulatory
matters. For example, he supported the controversial merger
of Fleet Financial Corp. ($182,387 in donations) and BankBoston.
Kerry’s top career patron is law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn,
Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, which represents telecommunications
and cable companies. Kerry sits on the subcommittee on telecommunications.
Other top donors include Fleet, Time Warner, Harvard, Citigroup,
Goldman Sachs, and four other law firms.
Dennis Kucinich, who by the way has raised over $6 million
and came in third in the Washington Caucuses, is predictably
firm on all of these issues. “Private control of campaign
financing leads to private control of the government itself,”
his campaign-finance statement reads. He is a cosponsor H.R.
2239, the “Voter Confidence and Increased Accountability Act
of 2003,” which would not only require all voting machines
to produce a voter-verified paper record, it would ban the
use of “undisclosed software and wireless communications devices”
in voting systems and require mandatory surprise recounts
in 0.5 percent of jurisdictions. Kucinich supports proportional
representation and instant runoff voting. His top career patrons
are all labor unions.
It’s also worth noting that the recently departed candidate
Wesley Clark was the only one to explicitly emphasize needing
to protect the rights of African-American voters at the polls.