What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 12, 2006

Precrime & The Disruptive Technology Office

From the Washington Post:
The government's prosecution of the "Virginia jihad network" has produced more guilty verdicts than any domestic terrorism case since Sept. 11 and symbolizes a new direction in the legal war on terrorism, government officials and experts said yesterday.

Some Muslims and lawyers have derided the probe that ended this week as the "paintball case," saying it targeted Muslim men who had done nothing more than innocuously play paintball in the woods and who never intended attacks inside the United States.

But prosecutors say that misses the point. With the breakup of an alleged terrorist plot in Canada this week heightening concerns about homegrown terrorists, federal officials point to the Virginia case as a prime example of their post-Sept. 11 mandate to focus on preventing attacks.


"We're arresting people for talking about things, thinking about things, training for things," said Andrew McBride, a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria. "I think you will see more of it as the government moves from a traditional criminal law model of post-event reaction to pre-event interdiction. But that's where the civil liberties rubber meets the road."


A juror, Robert Stosch, said yesterday that most panel members did not believe Chandia attended the camp but convicted him primarily because he had helped another defendant ship 50,000 paintballs for use by Lashkar.

But Stosch added that he thought the case "shouldn't have been brought at all. It was very insignificant." And he said the whole investigation was "way too minor, regardless of whether they convicted 11 people."


Prosecutors presented no evidence that any of the 11 convicted men had planned U.S. attacks. But several admitted in court that they had intended to use their training to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and one, Muhammed Aatique, said at his guilty plea hearing in 2003: "The United States could have been one of the possible opponents if the conspiracy had gone ahead."
The judge in the case has said the following:
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said at the time she imposed those sentences that they were "draconian" and "sticking in my craw" but that she had no choice because of congressionally mandated minimum sentences for certain firearms convictions.

At Friday's hearings, Brinkema repeated her assertion that the sentences were draconian, but said she had limited ability to alter them. That's because the Supreme Court ruling affects only the federal sentencing guidelines and not the mandatory minimums imposed by Congress that drove the lengthy terms imposed on Khan and Chapman.

As a result, Khan's sentence was reduced only to life plus 45 years. Chapman, 32, had his sentence reduced from 85 years to 65 years. There is no parole in the federal system, so both will have to serve the vast majority of their terms.

"I have a limited ability to impose what I consider to be an appropriate sentence," Brinkema said. "These statutes are really draconian. I've said it before and I'll say it again."
So a juror didn't think that they were all guilty of the crimes with which they were charged (which they believed to be minor anyway) but that some suffered from guilt by association and so convicted them all, and the judge believes that they received the wrong sentence but her hands are tied...

Hat Tip to 8ackgr0und N015e at Daily Kos for this story, who concludes with:
If the government can put people in jail for life for exercising their second amendment rights based on what they were thinking... what makes you think they can't put you in jail for exercising any other right based on what they believe you are thinking?
And, if only thinking the wrong thoughts or knowing the wrong people makes you eligible for precrime status, it makes this from Shakespeare's Sister even more frightening:
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology - specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the web standards organisation W3C - to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

…The [Disruptive Technology Office]’s interest in online social network analysis echoes the Pentagon's controversial post 9/11 Total Information Awareness (TIA) initiative. That programme, designed to collect, track and analyse online data trails, was suspended after a public furore over privacy in 2002. But elements of the TIA were incorporated into the Pentagon's classified programme in the September 2003 Defense Appropriations Act.
And, more from the same New Scientist article:
Meanwhile, the NSA is pursuing its plans to tap the web, since phone logs have limited scope. They can only be used to build a very basic picture of someone's contact network, a process sometimes called "connecting the dots". Clusters of people in highly connected groups become apparent, as do people with few connections who appear to be the intermediaries between such groups. The idea is to see by how many links or "degrees" separate people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation.

By adding online social networking data to its phone analyses, the NSA could connect people at deeper levels, through shared activities, such as taking flying lessons. Typically, online social networking sites ask members to enter details of their immediate and extended circles of friends, whose blogs they might follow. People often list other facets of their personality including political, sexual, entertainment, media and sporting preferences too.


Privacy groups worry that "automated intelligence profiling" could sully people's reputations or even lead to miscarriages of justice - especially since the data from social networking sites may often be inaccurate, untrue or incomplete, De Roure warns.

But Tim Finin, a colleague of Joshi's, thinks the spread of such technology is unstoppable. "Information is getting easier to merge, fuse and draw inferences from. There is money to be made and control to be gained in doing so. And I don't see much that will stop it," he says.

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