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Axciom, the Constitution and the General Wesley Clark and the "No Fly" List

Wesley Clark and the "No Fly" List

by SEAN DONAHUE

Last June, retired Gen. Wesley Clark told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that he was concerned about the effect of the war on terrorism on civil liberties. He said, "I think one of the risks you have in [fighting terrorism] is that you’re giving up some of the essentials of what it is in America to have justice, liberty and the rule of law. I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you abridge those rights to prosecute the war on terrorists." As a politician, Wesley Clark has tried to portray himself as a liberal ready to reign in the excesses of Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.

But as a businessman, Clark has been involved in helping companies sell the Pentagon and the Transportation Security Administration technologies that may threaten the civil liberties and privacy rights of Americans. In a recent profile, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Since retiring from a 34-year Army career in 2000, Gen. Clark has become: chairman of a suburban Washington technology-corridor start-up, managing director at an investment firm, a director at four other firms around the country and an advisory-board member for two others. For most, he was hired to help boost the companies’ military business. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Gen. Clark counseled clients on how to pitch commercial technologies to the government for homeland-security applications."

Clark’s most controversial role has been as a member of the Board of Directors of Axciom, a Little Rock-based database company that owns some of the most extensive consumer databases in the world. According to the Wall Street Journal, Clark "joined the board of the Nasdaq-traded company in December 2001, as the company started to market its customer-database software to federal agencies eager to hunt for terrorists by scanning and coordinating the vast cyberspace trove of citizen information." Fortune magazine reported that Clark "is spearheading the company’s pursuit of contracts with the federal government. For example, the company can retool software that detects insurance fraud and make it screen airline passengers instead. Acxiom is now in talks with several government agencies and has won at least one contract so far."

Last year Axciom allegedly violated its consumer privacy agreements by turning over its databases to a company doing a trial run of software designed to compile information to help the Transportation Security Administration develop lists of people to ban from commercial flights. According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Axciom sold information on two million airline passengers to Torch, Inc., a military contractor working on designing an updated version of the "Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System" known as (CAPPS-II.)

CAPPS-II is one of the few programs that survived the Congressional shutdown of the "Total Information Awareness" program at the Pentagon. It is essentially a passenger profiling system. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, "The basic structure of passenger profiling is to use an algorithm to determine indicators of characteristics or behavior patterns that are related to the occurrence of certain behavior. The CAPPS-II initiative will expand the range of databases searched for suspicious activity so that each airline passenger will be subjected to an extensive profiling." The databases used may include credit information, information on purchases, travel information, medical records, and criminal records.

Critics point out that terrorists tend to use false identification and avoid activities that would draw suspicion. Existing "No Fly" lists have notoriously misidentified many innocent people, delaying or preventing them from flying. More seriously, on several occasions, the lists appear to have been used to harass nonviolent activists. In October of 2002 the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration in San Francisco detained the editors of the War Times, a peace movement newspaper, because their names allegedly appeared on a "No Fly List." In April of 2002, sheriff’s deputies in Milwaukee detained twenty peace activists including a sixteen-year old high school student and a nun because their names allegedly appeared on the same list. Expanding the information on airline passengers available to the Pentagon and the Transportation Security Administration will expand those agencies’ ability to harass dissidents.

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, "Airline security is an area Acxiom had hoped to work in since as early as February 2002, according to lobbying reports filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. Wesley Clark, an Acxiom board member and now a presidential front-runner for the Democratic Party, had lobbied for the company, according to those reports, in the areas of "information transfers, airline security and homeland security issues."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint before the Federal Trade Commission regarding Axciom’s transfer of consumer information to Torch, Inc., in violation of its own stated privacy policies. But so far, Wesley Clark has refused to comment on the case.

Granted, Clark was most likely not directly involved in the decision to transfer the records. But the General does need to explain how he can reconcile his support for civil liberties with his role in helping a company profit from a government program which the ACLU has criticized for violating peoples’ rights to privacy and due process. Leaving aside the potential legal violations involved in Axciom’s dealings with Torch, Inc., Clark had to be aware of the basic nature of the CAPPS-II program as a lobbyist working on airline security issues. Voters deserve an explanation of Clark’s work at Axciom.

SEAN DONAHUE directs the Corporations and Militarism Project of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse. He can be reached at: info@stopcorporatecontrol.org