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Last week the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a dual panel hearing on potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which would include efforts to increase transparency.


Last week the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a dual panel hearing on potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which would include efforts to increase transparency. In my rundown on the panelists last week I mentioned that Chertoff Group Senior Advisor Paul Rosenzweig was originally slated to testify, but bowed out due to a scheduling conflict. Despite not testifying, he published his prepared remarks, which justify the unconstrained gathering of big data and contend that our notions of privacy and expectations of government transparency require an update in the new era of “dataveillance”:

In considering this new capability we can’t have it both ways.  We can’t with one breath condemn government access to vast quantities of data about individuals, as a return of “Big Brother” and at the same time criticize the government for its failure to “connect the dots” (as we did, for example, during the Christmas 2009 bomb plot attempted by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.)

More to the point —these analytical tools are of such great utility that governments will expand their use, as will the private sector. Old rules about collection and use limitations are no longer technologically relevant.

This statement prompted a response from national security blogger Marcy Wheeler, who criticized Rosenzweig’s assumption that having infinite access to data would invariably lead to proper analysis of that data. Instead, Wheeler argues that big data drowns analysis and cites Rosenzweig’s own example, Abdulmutallab, as an example of captured data having been misread.

While Marcy dissected the absurdity of Rosenzweig’s testimony, his statements begin to make sense in light of  his connections at the Chertoff Group and his own security and privacy consulting firm, Red Branch Consulting.

The Chertoff Group is a well-known, government connected, revolving door firm with a clear focus on defense. Its namesake Michael Chertoff was the Secretary of Homeland Security under George W Bush and his stable of advisors are formers of nearly every national security acronym you can name; DoD, ODNI, DHS, NSA, NCC, NCS, and CIA. In an October 31st Washington Post op-ed Michael Chertoff argued that the NSA’s activities pale in comparison to the private citizen’s penchant for social media. Pointing to the eavesdropped tweeting of Michael Hayden’s private, albeit loud and public, phone call with a reporter, Chertoff said that what we should really fear is the rise of the “informant society.” Why is the public eye so troublesome to Mr. Chertoff but government data surveillance is not? Hint: you can only make money off one of them.

Michael Chertoff and his band of formers

Chertoff Group Advisor Robert Rodriguez is the founder and managing principal of the Security Innovation Network (SINET), a public-private cybersecurity industry group that offers “community building” and advisory services. The Chertoff Group is a SINET member and sits among a myriad of data security companies large and small, all ostensibly interested in the burgeoning data security and analysis market. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are among the more recognizable companies with SINET memberships.

SINET members

The extent of SINET’s “community building” is probably best summed by a quote that leads the about section of its website.

“SINET provides a fantastic forum to further the Industry – Government partnerships. By assembling the leading players in one room, it is not only a forum to enhance your knowledge but to actually move the ball down the field. At a recent SINET event, an introduction was facilitated that helped substantially advance the support for trusted computing across the DOD.”

– Steven Sprague, Chief Executive Officer, Wave Systems

Is SINET angling to be the INSA of the cybersecurity market; A shadow government space that operates outside of the public eye, or as Spies for Hire author Tim Shorrock described the INSA, “a space for contractors and their government employers to schmooze in peace”?

Firms like Chertoff Group and Red Branch serve as both advisor and network for their clients. They promote their proximity to government officials and in the case of Red Branch, thinly veil their leverage with their former colleagues:

In short, few in the United States know as much about the homeland security paradigm as we do at Red Branch Law & Consulting. We know how the system works and we know the players within the system.

Add in a shadow schmooze space like SINET and you get a network of private companies and firms shaping the security apparatus that will drive their future profits. Should an inner circle member of this network be invited to testify before Congress as an “outside expert”? Perhaps only with some kind of clear warning label attached, informing the public of the conflicts of interest that throw the expert’s credibility and independence into question.