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Context of 'May 2008 or Shortly Before: Constitutional Lawyer Questions Legality of Main Core Database'

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Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North uses a sophisticated brand of software known as PROMIS to track potential security threats in the United States. Intelligence officials will later tell Wired magazine that North has a command center connected to a larger Justice Department facility utilizing the software. “According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings,” North maintains a “similar, but smaller, White House operations room… connected by computer link to the [Justice Department]‘s command center.” According to Wired, North uses computers in his operations center to track “dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program.” North is assigned to work with FEMA on the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program from 1982 to 1984 (see 1982-1984). Wired will later report, “Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes.” Compared to PROMIS, Wired notes, “Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

As a part of the plan to ensure Continuity of Government (COG) in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike or other emergency, the US government begins to maintain a database of people it considers unfriendly. A senior government official who has served with high-level security clearances in five administrations will say it is “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.” He and other sources say that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core, and one says it was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Alleged Link to PROMIS - The database will be said to be linked to a system known as PROMIS, the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, over which the US government conducts a long-lasting series of disputes with the private company Inslaw. The exact connection between Main Core and PROMIS is uncertain, but one option is that code from PROMIS is used to create Main Core. PROMIS is most noted for its ability to combine data from different databases, and an intelligence expert briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security will say that Main Core “is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time.”
Definition of National Emergency - It is unclear what kind of national emergency could trigger such detention. Executive orders issued over the next three decades define it as a “natural disaster, military attack, [or] technological or other emergency,” while Defense Department documents include eventualities like “riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, [and] disorder prejudicial to public law and order.” According to one news report, even “national opposition to US military invasion abroad” could be a trigger.
How Does It Work? - A former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community will be told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations using “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools. “The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help,” he will say. “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the US government has [compiled] on specific targets.”
Origin of Data - In 2008, sources will reportedly tell Radar magazine that a “host of publicly disclosed programs… now supply data to Main Core,” in particular the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs initiated after 9/11. [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

President Reagan announces the creation of the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB) “to improve mobilization capabilities and interagency cooperation within the federal government to respond to major peacetime or war-related emergencies.” The board will study emergency preparedness responsibilities and make policy suggestions to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the White House, the new board consists of “representatives from 22 federal agencies at the deputy secretary or under secretary level, and is chaired by the assistant to the president for national security affairs.” A full-time secretariat, chaired by a senior official from FEMA, is to oversee the EMPB and the implementation of its recommendations. The board will consist of 11 separate working groups: industrial mobilization, military mobilization, food and agriculture, government operations, emergency communications, civil defense, social services, human resources, health, law enforcement and public safety, and economic stabilization and public finance. The EMPB will later be criticized for becoming overly powerful and militarizing the nation’s emergency management programs. National security affairs expert Diana Reynolds will later comment: “By forming the EMPB, Ronald Reagan made it possible for a small group of people, under the authority of the NSC, to wield enormous power. They, in turn, used this executive authority to change civil defense planning into a military/police version of civil security.” [White House, 12/29/1981; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. The plans are developed under the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of disaster. As a member of the National Security Council (NSC), North is assigned to the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB), formed by President Reagan to coordinate civil defense planning among the NSC, FEMA, and White House (see December 29. 1981). According to the Miami Herald, the martial law plans would “suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion abroad.” Sources will claim North is involved in a major domestic surveillance operation as part of the COG program (see 1980s and 1980s or Before). During investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) will be barred from asking North about his involvement with the plans and the secret program (see 1987). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990; Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Oliver North, Jack Brooks

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

During the hearings on the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) puts a question to National Security Council officer Colonel Oliver North about a secret plan he has developed to suspend the constitution and intern people in the event of an emergency (see 1982-1984). Referring to a recent article in the Miami Herald, he asks: “Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned at one time to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster.” However, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-H), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran-Contra, immediately cuts Brooks off, saying, “I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir.” Brooks pushes for an answer, saying: “I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan by that same agency [FEMA]… that would suspend the American Constitution. I was deeply concerned about that and wondered if that was the area in which he [North] had worked.” Nevertheless, no answer is allowed to be given. [US Congress, 1987; Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jack Brooks, Daniel Inouye

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bruce Fein, an associate attorney general under the Reagan administration, accuses the Clinton administration of “politicizing” the Justice Department by asking for all 93 sitting US Attorneys to resign (see March 24, 1993). All 93 US Attorneys are Republican political appointees, and many expected to be asked to leave when President Clinton won the election in November 1992. But Fein accuses Clinton of “accommodat[ing] Democratic spoils” by asking the Reagan and Bush appointees to leave, and says the resignations will stop the investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of Clinton’s close allies in Congress. Fein accuses that the resignations are being carried out for “partisan political reasons,” though he cites no evidence to back this claim. “That genuflection to the Democratic Party undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, a consequence [Attorney General Janet] Reno was purported to deplore.… [M]aking allegiance to the Democratic Party the chief concern in selecting federal prosecutors creates, at a minimum, an appearance that justice will be skewed, not evenhanded.” Removing US Attorney Jay Stephens while his office is investigating Rostenkowski constitutes an “obvious political conflict of interest,” as, Fein says, a Democratic US Attorney can be expected to exonerate Rostenkowski. Moreover, Fein writes, “partisan Democrat” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from Washington, DC, will help select Stephens’s successor, and Norton, Fein says, “is thus likely to lobby for a US Attorney benignly disposed toward Rostenkowski.” [New York Times, 3/24/1993; San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/4/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bruce Fein, Dan Rostenkowski, Jay B. Stephens, Janet Reno, Clinton administration, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Eric Holder

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to a former senior Justice Department official, a high-level former national security official working as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the White House accidentally walks into a restricted room, where he finds a computer system logged on to what he recognizes to be the Main Core database. Main Core contains a list of potential enemies of the state for use by the Continuity of Government program (see 1980s or Before). He will refuse to be interviewed about the matter, but will tell the senior Justice Department official about it. The Justice Department official will add that when she mentions the specific name of the top-secret system during a conversation, he turns “white as a sheet.” [Salon, 7/23/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

NSA Director Michael Hayden responds to an October 11 letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi (see October 11, 2001), expressing concerns about the NSA’s post-9/11 surveillance expansion (see After September 11, 2001) that Hayden outlined for the House Intelligence Committee on October 1 (see October 1, 2001), and asking whether the president authorized it. The substance of Hayden’s October 18 reply will be redacted, except for this statement: “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] A January 4, 2006 report in the Washington Post will cite “intelligence official close to Hayden” as saying that “[Hayden’s] appearance on Oct. 1, 2001, before the House committee had been to discuss Executive Order 12333, and not the new NSA program,” and that “Pelosi’s concerns had been answered in writing and again several weeks later during a private briefing.” [Washington Post, 1/4/2006] In a January 23, 2006 public briefing, Hayden will say, “September 2001, I asked to update the Congress on what NSA had been doing, and I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities,” and, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Nature of Hayden's EO 12333 Surveillance Program - The full scope of Hayden’s surveillance program is unclear, but some sources indicate it includes the wholesale collection and data-mining of phone records provided by telecom companies and placement of pen registers (call trackers) on domestic phone numbers (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, October 2001), and October 31, 2001). Some sources indicate the NSA began large-scale domestic surveillance activities prior to the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of the president’s wartime authority and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens (see December 15, 2005). “This is a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States,” Fein tells the committee. “The theory invoked by the president to justify eavesdropping by the NSA in contradiction to FISA (see April 30, 1986 and October 23, 2001) would equally justify mail openings, burglaries, torture, or internment camps, all in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. Unless rebuked it will lie around like a loaded weapon, ready to be used by any incumbent who claims an urgent need.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write concerning Fein’s statement: “[A] president had secretly claimed the power to ignore a law, and then he had acted on that power. In so doing, the Bush-Cheney administration unleashed imperial power. Even if they had not personally abused their power, there was no guarantee that future presidents would show the same restraint. Moreover, there was no difference in principle between the warrant law [FISA] and any other law that regulates how the president can carry out his national security responsibilities. By demonstrating that a president can set aside a statute or treaty at will, the administration had set a precedent that future presidents, liberal and conservative alike, would be able to cite when they, too, wanted to violate a legal restriction on their power.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 133-134]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, tells a conference of intelligence officials that the government needs new rules about how to balance privacy rights and investigative needs. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he says, their identity should not require the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled. Commenting on the speech, the Wall Street Journal will say that this is part of a project by intelligence agencies “to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 10/23/2007 pdf file; Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008] According to some accounts, the prime repository of information about US citizens that the government has is a database known as Main Core, so if the government collected more information about citizens, the information would be placed in or accessed through this database (see 1980s or Before).

Entity Tags: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Don Kerr, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

National security lawyer Suzanne Spaulding says that the constitutional question of whether the US government can examine a large array of information about citizens contained in its databases (see 1980s or Before) without violating an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy “has never really been resolved.” She adds that it is “extremely questionable” to assume Americans do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an e-mail or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. “These are questions that require discussion and debate,” she says. “This is one of the problems with doing it all [collecting data on citizens] in secret.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Suzanne Spaulding

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, formerly an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, says that the legality of the Main Core database, which contains a list of enemies primarily for use in national emergencies (see 1980s or Before), is murky: “In the event of a national emergency, the executive branch simply assumes these powers”—the powers to collect domestic intelligence and draw up detention lists, for example—“if Congress doesn’t explicitly prohibit it. It’s really up to Congress to put these things to rest, and Congress has not done so.” Fein adds that it is virtually impossible to contest the legality of these kinds of data collection and spy programs in court “when there are no criminal prosecutions and [there is] no notice to persons on the president’s ‘enemies list.’ That means if Congress remains invertebrate, the law will be whatever the president says it is—even in secret. He will be the judge on his own powers and invariably rule in his own favor.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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