ALERT UPDATE: 11. Nov. 2019 - Secret Project Nightingale: Google is engaged with one of the U.S.’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states in the USA - without their consent. Already in 2018 Google was accused of 'trust demolition' over health app.
Google Whistleblower Zach Vorhies Speaks Out
- According to Google whistleblower Zach Vorhies, changes at Google first became noticeable in 2016, after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States
- Google started filtering “fake news,” yet Vorhies got concerned when he discovered examples of news stories tagged as fake news that were in fact factual historical events
- Machine Learning Fairness is a Google project that replaces “unfair” search results — even when the unfairness is accurately reflecting worldly reality — with a more fair and balanced search results, thereby artificially altering what people perceive as “reality”
- Vorhies has collected and released 950 pages of Google documents that paint a comprehensive picture of how Google is manipulating public opinion and the political landscape
- The documents clearly reveal Google is far from a neutral platform for information. It has a very clear political agenda, and is using its platform to shape the public view by selectively promoting some content and demoting others
In mid-September 2019, Maryam Henein published a video interview with Google whistleblower Zach Vorhies.1 The interview is broken into four parts, all of which have been included in a playlist further below.
In the featured video above, Vorhies and Maryam Henein, a journalist and functional medicine consultant, discuss Google’s suppression of natural health information from holistic health sites such as Mercola.com with Sayer Ji, founder of Greenmedinfo.com — another victim of Google’s censorship.
I also recently interviewed Vorhies for nearly two hours and will release that incredibly detailed video in the near future. In it, he discusses the tactics Google used to intimidate him into submission after they learned he had turned into a whistleblower.
Google's Secret Natural Health Censorship Campaign with Sayer Ji, Zach Vorhies (Google Whisleblower), and Maryam Heinen The three sit down for an in depth discussion on the censorship of natural health and wellness content by Google.
In a recent article, Henein, perhaps best known for directing the documentary film, “The Vanishing of the Bees,” writes:2
“Google has become the digital Thought Police for health content, tampering and manipulating information, and shadow banning health professionals and independent journalists …
I had the honor to interview 39-year-old Zach Vorhies, who served as Senior Software Engineer at Google/YouTube for 8.5 years ... He is Google’s Snowden. He’s a hero in my book.
And if you use Google, YouTube, Gmail, etc you are being impacted. Vorhies turned whistleblower, releasing a cache of internal documents illustrating that Google is NOT a reliable source of information.”
New President Marked a Turn at Google
According to Vorhies, changes at Google first became noticeable in 2016, after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
“Before Trump won, Google had this mission statement to organize the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful,” Vorhies says.
“After Trump won, they said ‘Well, Donald Trump won because of fake news and Russia hacking the election, so what we need to do is … protect our users from fake news; we need to protect our users from the damaging effects of Russian trolls and bots.”
It didn’t take long before Google got into the business of filtering out what it considered “fake news.” However, as pointed out by Vorhies, “What exactly is fake news?”
Perusing the network available to all full-time Google employees, he discovered a PowerPoint presentation describing what Google deemed fake news, and among the examples, he found news reports of events that had, in fact, happened. In other words, they were not made up events, and therefore, logically, could not be classified as fake news stories.
The discovery led Vorhies to wonder, “Are they trying to filter fake news or are they trying to filter actual news by slandering it as fake news?” As he continued digging, he discovered the existence of a then-secret program called “Machine Learning Fairness.”3
Machine Learning Fairness — The Alteration of Reality
According to Vorhies, this program was slated to be “unleashed onto the world” without anyone’s knowledge. He also claims Google engaged in a deception campaign to make sure people wouldn’t find out about it.
“Project Dragonfly” — a completely fake project — was part of this deception campaign, he says. Its sole purpose was to distract the public from Machine Learning Fairness.
The more he learned about Machine Learning Fairness, the more terrified he got. According to Vorhies, “even if the search results reflected actual reality,” the program claimed “it can still represent algorithmic unfairness,” which would justify “product intervention.”
“In other words, what they’re saying is that if reality is unfair, then they’re going to change the nature of reality in order to make it fair and just,” Vorhies says. He draws parallels between the Machine Learning Fairness program and a number of classic books warning about how a totalitarian regime can take over by seizing control of what constitutes “political correctness” and indeed the overall narrative of “reality” itself.
By 2017, Vorhies had collected some 950 pages of Google documents, which paint a comprehensive picture of what’s really going on. You can find all of those documents on the Project Veritas’ website,4 under categories such as “censorship,” “politics,” “fake news” and “psychological research.”
Once Vorhies discovered that Google was deleting words from its Arabic to English translation dictionary, thereby making one of President Trump’s tweets (which included the Arabic word “covfefe”) appear as pure gobbledygook,5,6 he realized Google was completely out of control.
The lack of sensible translation of that word eventually led to media articles7 accusing the president of insanity, which would be cause for having him removed from office.
“[Google] is literally using magic to manipulate the information landscape of our culture, to remove a president that was elected by a democracy.”8 “This was more than bias, this was now a national security issue,” Vorhies says.9 That’s when he decided to release the documents he’d amassed to law enforcement, the public and media, to give us all “a last chance to course correct.”
The Rise of ‘Technofascism’
“Part of technofascism is to confuse people so their sense of memory is altered,” Henein says. “They don’t know what is real and what is not real. We’re now living in confusing times with fake news and alternative facts, and that is all part of it.” As noted by Henein, “Google has become a digital thought police” — just as described in chilling detail in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Vorhies agrees, saying the ultimate plan is to make you doubt your own memory and thus teach you to turn to the established authorities to learn “the facts,” which will be whatever is considered best in the moment. As Orwell wrote in “1984,” “The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”10 That, in a nutshell, is exactly what Google is doing right at this moment.
So, who’s behind this rise of “technofascism”? Henein suspects Big Pharma has a hand in it, considering the fact that drug advertising is a major profit center for Google, and the fact that alternative and holistic news sites have been actively shadow banned, to where you can no longer find them in Google’s search results.
Indeed, the traffic to my own site from Google has dropped by 99.9% since its June 3, 2019, broad core update.11 Vorhies agrees, pointing out that the drug industry by and large own the very organizations that are promoting things that are known to be harmful to health, be it fluoride, mercury amalgam fillings, one-size-fits-all vaccine policies, sugar or junk food.
Google Is Promoting Illness for Profit
The simple reality is that conventional health care is a for-profit business and as such it depends on repeat customers. There’s no money in wellness. The money is in chronic disease.
Promoting disease prevention and low- or no-cost treatments is not part of the drug industry’s agenda — it’s diametrically opposed to and a direct competitor to it. As noted by Vorhies, what we’re seeing is the creation of an artificial demand for products and services that aren’t in our best interest.
Meanwhile, there are countless of examples of inexpensive lifestyle-based strategies putting serious diseases into remission, yet you never hear about them because, as Vorhies points out, “Big Pharma is colluding with Google to shut down these counter-narratives.” In an October 2, 2019, article12 in The Epoch Times, Henein writes:
“What if I told you that social media platforms are manipulating you, steering you toward health information that they think is right, rather than letting you evaluate content for yourself?
Accredited professionals … who stand for health freedom … are losing posting privileges, getting banned or buried, finding themselves deranked, and getting digitally assassinated. Content is literally disappearing from the internet along with our health choices. It sounds conspiratorial because it is.”
Vorhies goes a step further, saying:13
“The censorship that is being applied to alternative health is nothing less than demonic. That may seem extreme, but I’ve been following the happenings in the new cures that are being suppressed.
At the same time, establishment, big corporate pharma websites like WebMD are monopolizing the first page of results. What’s terrifying is that many of these establishment medical articles landing on the first page do not even have a stated author and make assertions that are contradicted by science.”
Google Autosuggestions Reveal the Agenda
If you’re still confused about which way Google is leaning when it comes to certain topics, all you have to do is check out its auto complete feature. This is a list of “suggested” searches that pops up when you type in one or more keywords.
In her Epoch Times article,14 Henein shows a screen shot of a Google search done on September 1, 2019, starting with the words “supplements are.” The list of autosuggestions contained nothing but negative-biased searches, such as:
- Supplements are bad
- Supplements are useless
- Supplements are not regulated
- Supplements are dangerous
- Supplements are scams
This is a very effective way to spread propaganda and manipulate people, as most believe that these results are what others are typing into the search engine. This way, they’re lead to believe all the negative and ludicrous attributes being attached to supplements. Interestingly they have not yet rigged the results for my name as they only display benign terms like:
So, ask yourself, who might benefit from people everywhere believing nutritional supplements are useless at best and dangerous at worst? This auto-completion used to be populated with search terms based on what people were actually searching for, but not anymore.
Now it’s just another social engineering device by Google’s self-proclaimed “thought police” that has no basis in objective reality. It is in fact part of the Machine Learning Fairness program.
What’s worse, hacking of the autocomplete function is also taking place, Vorhies warns in his American Thought Leaders’ interview15 (below), and this becomes really insidious, as people still believe these autosuggestions are a reflection of what’s being searched for. By essentially faking “public consensus,” the fake autosuggestions can have a significant yet hidden influence over people’s opinion.
Google Seeks to Control Political Landscape
Health isn’t the only reality narrative Google is trying to reshape, however. One of the documents released by Vorhies, “News Blacklist Site for Google Now,”16 lists hundreds of websites that Google has singled out for elimination from its Google Feed (previously Google Now), a majority of which are political and financial investment-type sites.
However, false narratives are pumped out to make you distrust those who point out there’s something askew with Google’s political meddling. Henein writes:17
“Take, for instance, this quote on ThinkProgress concerning evidence of Google’s preferential leanings:
‘What appears to be happening is that some conservatives are massively distorting tech companies’ attempts to protect against foreign election interference or restrict the distribution of hateful views, stirring up conspiracy theories that the companies are demonstrating blanket bias against conservatives.’
Nonsense. Don’t believe that the algorithmic changes are being made only to protect you from another ‘rigged’ election or to save you from four more years of Trump. And don’t believe that tech companies haven’t been allowed to cross a line. This is a perfect example of both a red herring and a false narrative.”
In fact, in June 2019, Project Veritas published an undercover video recording in which Jen Gennai, Google’s head of responsible innovation, admits the company is trying to prevent “the next Trump situation.”18
Google’s Power to Shift Elections
In this American Thought Leaders’ video by The Epoch Times, Vorhies is featured along with Greg Coppola, another Google whistleblower, and Robert Epstein, former editor of Psychology Today, introduced as “a leading expert on Google search engine bias.”Does Google really have the power to shift an election? Gennai certainly seems to believe they do, as does Vorhies and many others. I suspect there’s not a single company in existence that could influence elections as effectively and unobtrusively as Google.
In this interview, Vorhies explains yet other ways in which Google is complicit in censoring individuals. For example, he explains how third parties can eliminate undesirable players through email account spoofing, resulting in the elimination of the target individual’s account.
According to Vorhies, this is a simple “bug” that can be fixed simply by tweaking the artificial intelligence responsible for the monitoring of spam. Yet Google choses to leave the gate open. Vorhies suspects this is exactly what happened to 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard.
“It’s not just Google censoring. They’ve got this complicated system of plausible deniability,” Vorhies says. How does this ability to take a person offline connect to Google’s ability to influence elections? Vorhies explains:
“The elections are all about whether someone has free, open and equal access to the channels of information distribution. So, if Tulsi Gabbard is being knocked offline, and other politicians are being knocked offline, then that’s de facto election interference.
And it’s being done by these entities that aren’t registering as lobbyists. So, we’ve got these tech monopolies that are acting as unregistered lobbyists that are making decisions and giving insiders information on how to take down targets. That’s essentially what’s happening. Google is allowing democracy to be hacked.”
Expert on Google Bias Weighs In
By June 2016, Google bias expert Epstein was already hot on Google’s trail, penning an article19 for U.S. News, titled “The New Censorship.”
“How did Google become the internet’s censor and master manipulator, blocking access to millions of websites?” the article asks, pointing out, “The company maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency.”
In the American Thought Leaders’ interview, Epstein stresses the importance of documents leaked by Vorheis showing that not only are Google’s blacklists real — a now provable fact the company has long denied — but they’re also reranking, deranking and fringe-ranking articles, using a so-called “twiddler system” (software that overlays the search engine algorithm) which makes reranking a rather simple affair.
Epstein points out that Google has vehemently denied reranking articles for political purposes, yet Vorhies’ document trove proves otherwise. There’s even a manual for the twiddler system among Vorhies’ documents.
This capability is far beyond what Epstein had thought possible. It didn’t surprise him, however. For years, Epstein has warned about Google’s power to influence opinion.
Now, he says, we have evidence that Google does in fact have the power to manipulate the flow of information and opinion, and we see more and more evidence that they are in fact wielding this considerable power to shape the worldview according to its own wishes. Epstein also expresses concern over the fact that mainstream media are ignoring Vorhies’ and Coppola’s leaks and aren’t reporting on them.
Google — A Threat to Health, Democracy and Freedom
While it’s quite clear that I’m on Google’s unacknowledged blacklist, I’m not and will never be willing to change what I believe in and stand for. I will never conform to “consensus reality” just to get my Google ranking back. It’s unfortunate, but the way it stands right now, we have to go old-school and encourage everyone to share information through word-of-mouth, by text and email.
We have built in simple sharing tools at the top of each article so you can easily email or text interesting articles to your friends and family. My information is here because all of you support and share it, and we can do this without Big Tech’s support. It’s time to boycott and share!
Here are a few other suggestions:
• Boycott Google by avoiding any and all Google products:
• Uninstall Google Chrome and use Brave or Opera browser instead, available for all computers and mobile devices.22 From a security perspective, Opera is far superior to Chrome and offers a free VPN service (virtual private network) to further preserve your privacy
• If you have a Gmail account, try a non-Google email service such as ProtonMail,23 an encrypted email service based in Switzerland
• Stop using Google docs. Digital Trends has published an article suggesting a number of alternatives24
• If you’re a high school student, do not convert the Google accounts you created as a student into personal accounts
• Sign the “Don’t be evil” petition created by Citizens Against Monopoly
Sources and References
- 1, 2 Namely Liberty, Google Whistleblower Zach Vorhies & Health Freedom Part 1
- 3 Developers.google.com Machine Learning Fairness
- 4 Project Veritas, Google Document Dump
- 5 The New York Times May 31, 2017
- 6 The New York Times June 1, 2017
- 7 The Atlantic October 3, 2019
- 8, 9 Youtube, American Thought Leaders, Google’s Power to Shift Elections, circa 36 minutes
- 10, 12, 13, 14, 17 The Epoch Times October 2, 2019
- 11 Twitter.com Google Search Liason June 3, 2019
- 15 Youtube, American Thought Leaders, Google’s Power to Shift Elections, circa 25 minutes
- 16 News Blacklist Site for Google Now
- 18 Project Veritas June 24, 2019
- 19 US News June 22, 2016
- 20 Fast Company, Inside DuckDuckGo
- 21 Startpage.com
- 22 Opera Browser
- 23 ProtonMail
- 24 Digital Trends April 28, 2017
Two Former Twitter Employees Charged With Spying For Saudi Arabia, May Be Involved In Khashoggi Murder
For all those still seeking details about Saudi Arabia's murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it may be time to give Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey a call.
Two former Twitter employees were charged with spying for Saudi Arabia, the Justice Department unveiled on Wednesday in San Francisco, in a case which the WaPo said "raises concerns about the ability of Silicon Valley to protect the private information of dissidents and other users from repressive governments."
The complaint unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi officials to recruit employees at the social media giant to look up the private data of thousands of Twitter accounts. The accounts included those of a popular journalist with more than 1 million followers and other prominent government critics.
The charges come one day after the arrest of one of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who is alleged to have spied on the accounts of three users, including one whose posts discussed the inner workings of the Saudi leadership, on behalf of the government in Riyadh. Abouammo was also charged with falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation.
The second former employee, Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015.
And here is the punchline: one of those accounts that was accessed belonged to a prominent dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to Jamal Khashoggi, the WaPo columnist who was killed by Saudi government agents last year.
A third individual, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, allegedly acted as an intermediary between Saudi officials and the Twitter employees. He is also charged with spying. Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Analysts said it is the first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused Saudis of spying in the United States.
The DOJ alleged that the employees — whose jobs did not require access to Twitter users’ private information — were rewarded with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts.
It gets better: the three men are accused of working with a Saudi official who leads a charitable organization belonging to MbS. Based on a description of the charity, the official is Bader Al Asaker. Asaker’s charity, MiSK, belongs to Mohammed bin Salman, who is referred to in the complaint as Royal Family Member 1. Asaker began cultivating Twitter employees in 2014 in an effort to gather user information the Saudi government could not obtain elsewhere, the complaint alleged.
According to the complaint, Asaker was “working for and at the direction of” Mohammed “with respect to his online presence” on Twitter. In 2015, when most of the activity took place, Mohammed was a rising figure in the Saudi royal family.
Abouammo, who was arrested in Seattle, worked for Twitter as a media partnerships manager. He met Asaker in London in late 2014. Within a week, he began illicitly accessing data for the Saudis. One of his targets was referred to in the complaint as “Twitter User 1,” a “prominent critic” of the Saudi kingdom and royal family with more than 1 million followers. The description matches the account of @Mujtahidd, the Twitter handle for an anonymous individual whose disclosures about corruption in the Saudi leadership have angered officials there. The identity of the targeted account was confirmed by the person familiar with the case.
Asaker paid Abouammo at least $300,000 for his espionage and also gave him a watch worth about $20,000, the complaint alleged. In May 2015, Abouammo resigned from Twitter and moved to Seattle. Last fall, an FBI agent interviewed Abouammo at his home about the watch and his communications with Asaker and others. According to the complaint, Abouammo created a false receipt using his home computer during the interview to show a $100,000 payment received from Asaker to disguise the payments as media strategy work.
In short, MbS was using twitter spies to crackdown on his enemies, which ironically included Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was one of Twitter's largest shareholders at the time and who was held captive by MbS at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton in the infamous 2017 royal shakedown.
"The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson. “We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”
Suddenly finding itself in the middle of a firestorm, Twitter told the WaPo that it restricts access to sensitive account information "to a limited group of trained and vetted employees."
“We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work.”
The charges also reflect the wealth of data tech firms compile on their users, including email addresses, payment methods, and IP addresses that can give up a user’s location.
The case “is incredibly significant,” said Adam Coogle, a Human Rights Watch researcher who just published a study on Saudi Arabia’s targeting of dissidents. “Twitter is the de facto public space of Saudi Arabia — the place where Saudi citizens come and discuss issues. It’s a space in which the Saudi authorities have used various means to curtail critical voices, including by seeking to unmask anonymous accounts.”
Amusingly, Twitter also "thanked" the DOJ for its criminal probe of Saudi spies... who were until recently employed by Twitter, which was used to datamine an unknown number of individuals on behalf of Riyadh.
Facebook fought to keep a trove of thousands of explosive internal documents and emails secret. They were just published online in full.
By ROB PRICE - 07.
- Thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents were published on Wednesday, shedding new light on how the company profited from user data and grappled with rivals.
- The documents were collected as part of a lawsuit involving Facebook and a developer it took action against, and subsequently leaked.
- Facebook has fought vigorously against the release of the documents, arguing that they presented an unbalanced picture of the company.
- Here are the key details you need to know about the unprecedented leak.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
An explosive trove of nearly 4,000 pages of confidential internal Facebook documents has been made public, shedding unprecedented light on the inner workings of the Silicon Valley social-networking giant.
On Wednesday, the investigative reporter Duncan Campbell released a vast swathe of internal emails, reports, and other sensitive documents from the early 2010s that detail Facebook’s internal approach to privacy and how it worked with app developers and handled their access to user data.
The documents were originally compiled as part of a lawsuit that the startup Six4Three brought against Facebook for cutting off its bikini-photo app’s access to the developer platform. The documents were supposed to remain under seal – but they were leaked.
Some of the documents had already been made public before Wednesday. The British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee published hundreds of pages in a report in December; they were seized from Six4Three’s founder, Ted Kramer, when he visited the UK.
And in the months before he put the entire trove of documents into the public domain, Campbell shared them with journalists at NBC News and other outlets, who then published several stories about them. (Campbell said that he was sent the documents in February, the same day that the committee published its final report, and that the sender was anonymous.)
Facebook has fought vigorously against the release of the documents, arguing that they do not paint a balanced picture of its activities. In an emailed statement, a company representative told Business Insider: “These old documents have been taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook, and have been distributed publicly with a total disregard for US law.”
Business Insider is combing through the documents and will update this story with our findings.
Here are some of the key revelations from the document dump, including from reports published from earlier leaks:
- Facebook wielded its control over user data to hobble rivals like YouTube, Twitter, and Amazon. The company benefited its friends even as it took aggressive action to block rival companies’ access – while framing its actions as necessary to protect user privacy.
- Facebook executives quietly planned a data-policy “switcharoo.” “Facebook began cutting off access to user data for app developers from 2012 to squash potential rivals while presenting the move to the general public as a boon for user privacy,” Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing the leaked documents.
- Facebook considered charging companies to access user data.Documents made public in late 2018 revealed that from 2012 to 2014, Facebook was contemplating forcing companies to pay to access users’ data. (It didn’t ultimately follow through with the plan.)
- Facebook whitelisted certain companies to allow them more extensive access to user data, even after it locked down its developer platform throughout 2014 and 2015.TechCrunch reported in December that it “is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.”
- Facebook planned to spy on the locations of Android users.Citing the documents, Computer Weekly reported in February that “Facebook planned to use its Android app to track the location of its customers and to allow advertisers to send political advertising and invites to dating sites to ‘single’ people.”
The leak includes nearly 4,000 pages of internal Facebook documents, nearly 3,000 pages of other exhibits from the case, and hundreds of pages of other pieces of legal documentation.
This story is developing…
Do you work at Facebook, or a company that interacts with it? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at , Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.)
- Read more:
- Instagram’s lax privacy practices let a trusted partner track millions of users’ physical locations, secretly save their stories, and flout its rules
- Mark Zuckerberg’s personal security chief accused of sexual harassment and making racist remarks about Priscilla Chan by 2 former staffers
- Facebook says it ‘unintentionally uploaded’ 1.5 million people’s email contacts without their consent
- Years of Mark Zuckerberg’s old Facebook posts have vanished. The company says it ‘mistakenly deleted’ them.
EXCLUSIVE: This Is How the U.S. Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works
Documents obtained by OneZero show how the military captures biometric data around the worldBy Dave Gershgorn - 06. November 2019
Over the last 15 years, the United States military has developed a new addition to its arsenal. The weapon is deployed around the world, largely invisible, and grows more powerful by the day.
That weapon is a vast database, packed with millions of images of faces, irises, fingerprints, and DNA data — a biometric dragnet of anyone who has come in contact with the U.S. military abroad. The 7.4 million identities in the database range from suspected terrorists in active military zones to allied soldiers training with U.S. forces.
“Denying our adversaries anonymity allows us to focus our lethality. It’s like ripping the camouflage netting off the enemy ammunition dump,” wrote Glenn Krizay, director of the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency, in notes obtained by OneZero. The Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA) is tasked with overseeing the database, known officially as the Automated Biometric Information System (ABIS).
DFBA and its ABIS database have received little scrutiny or press given the central role they play in U.S. military’s intelligence operations. But a newly obtained presentation and notes written by the DFBA’s director, Krizay, reveals how the organization functions and how biometric identification has been used to identify non-U.S. citizens on the battlefield thousands of times in the first half of 2019 alone. ABIS also allows military branches to flag individuals of interest, putting them on a so-called “Biometrically Enabled Watch List” (BEWL). Once flagged, these individuals can be identified through surveillance systems on battlefields, near borders around the world, and on military bases.
“It allows us to decide and act with greater focus, and if needed, lethality.”
The presentation also sheds light on how military, state, and local law enforcement biometrics systems are linked. According to Krizay’s presentation, ABIS is connected to the FBI’s biometric database, which is in turn connected to databases used by state and local law enforcement. Ultimately, that means that the U.S. military can readily search against biometric data of U.S. citizens and cataloged non-citizens. The DFBA is also currently working to connect its data to the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric database. The network will ultimately amount to a global surveillance system. In his notes, Krizay outlines a potential scenario in which data from a suspect in Detroit would be run against data collected from “some mountaintop in Asia.”
The documents, which are embedded in full below, were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. These documents were presented earlier this year at a closed-door defense biometrics conference known as the Identity Management Symposium.
ABIS is the result of a massive investment into biometrics by the U.S. military. According to federal procurement records analyzed by OneZero, the U.S. military has invested more than $345 million in biometric database technology in the last 10 years. Leidos, a defense contractor that primarily focuses on information technology, currently manages the database in question. Ideal Innovations Incorporated operates a subsection of the database designed to manage activity in Afghanistan, according to documents obtained by OneZero through a separate FOIA request.
These contracts, combined with revelations surrounding the military’s massive biometric database initiatives, paint an alarming picture: A large and quickly growing network of surveillance systems operated by the U.S. military and present anywhere the U.S. has deployed troops, vacuuming up biometric data on millions of unsuspecting individuals.
The military’s biometrics program, launched in 2004, initially focused on the collection and analysis of fingerprints. “In a war without borders, uniforms, or defined lines of battle, knowing who is an enemy is essential,” John D. Woodward, Jr., head of the DoD’s biometrics department, wrote in a 2004 brief.
That year, the Department of Defense contracted Lockheed Martin to start building a biometrics database for an initial fee of $5 million. Progress was slow: by 2009, the DoD Inspector General reported that the biometrics system was still deeply flawed. The department indicated that it was only able to successfully retrieve five positive matches from 150 biometric searches. A later contract with defense industry giant Northrop resulted in similarly disappointing results with reports of “system instability, inconsistent processing times, system congestion, transaction errors, and a 48-hour outage.”
By 2016, the DoD had begun to make serious investments in biometric data collection. That year, the Defense Department deputy secretary Robert O. Work designated biometric identification as a critical capability for nearly everything the department does: fighting, intelligence gathering, law enforcement, security, business, and counter-terrorism. Military leaders began to speak of biometric technology as a “game changer,” and directives from the DoD not only encouraged the use of the technology by analysts, but also by soldiers on the ground. Troops were instructed to collect biometric data whenever possible.
The same year, a defense company named Leidos, which had acquired a large portion of Lockheed’s government IT business, secured a $150 million contract to build and deploy what is now known as the DoD ABIS system.
Between 2008 and 2017, the DoD added more than 213,000 individuals to the BEWL, a subset of DoD’s ABIS database, according to a Government Accountability Office report. During that same period, the Department of Defense arrested or killed more than 1,700 people around the world on the basis of biometric and forensic matches, the GAO report says.
Krizay’s presentation indicates that the United States used biometric matching to identify 4,467 people on the BEWL list in the first two quarters of 2019. The presentation slide breaks down the numbers: 2,728 of those matches were of opposing forces carried out in the “theater,” or area of where U.S. troops are commanded.
DFBA claims that it has data on 7.4 million unique identities within its ABIS database, a majority of those sourced from military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the agency’s website.
That number is constantly growing. The documents suggest the DoD can collect biometric data from detainees, voter enrollments, military enlistments in partner countries, employment vetting, or information given to the military.
“Almost every operation provides the opportunity to collect biometrics,” a 2014 document on military biometrics says. “While quality is desired over quantity, maximizing enrollments in the database will likely identify more persons of interest.”
ABIS also enables different operations and missions to create their own biometric watchlists. These databases can be be plugged into custom-built military mobile devices used to scan fingerprints, irises, and match faces against databases, according to a 2014 document outlining biometric procedures across the branches of the armed forces.
“Fusion of an established identity and information we know about allows us to decide and act with greater focus, and if needed, lethality,” Krizay wrote in his presentation.
But much is still unknown about how the DFBA and defense agencies use facial recognition and biometric data. A FOIA request which would return information about these systems was denied in part by the U.S. Army.
“Public release would be tantamount to providing uncontrolled foreign access,” the response letter said.
In his presentation notes for the Annual Identity Management Symposium, Krizay hints at the future of DFBA and ABIS.
“We will still need to reveal adversary agent networks, identify and track proxy forces, protect our rear areas and lines of communication, account for enemy prisoners of war, and identify high value individuals,” he wrote.
The presentation suggests that the department hopes to incorporate biometrics widely into security measures.
“We’ve already shown we can’t secure our personnel systems,” he wrote. “If Wikileaks can obtain over a half a million of our reports, what can the likes of China or Russia do?”
DFBA also plans to better integrate ABIS with other similar databases across the government. Despite DFBA being pitched as the central point of digital biometrics for the military, the department is still unable to share information with the Department of Homeland Security’s biometrics system because of formatting issues. In 2021, the DoD is expected to grant a contract for a new version of its biometrics program, one that brings identification software to the cloud and adds even more capabilities.
“If Wikileaks can obtain over a half a million of our reports, what can the likes of China or Russia do?”
Meanwhile, critics of facial recognition and biometric technology both in and out of government worry about the accuracy of the technology and how it is being used, especially in regards to bias inherent in much of machine learning, as well as privacy violations.
The U.S. Commerce Departments’ National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tests have shown that black females are 10 times more likely to be misidentified than white males. When applied in combat scenarios, such discrepancies can have lethal consequences for individuals misidentified by automated systems.
“It’s unlikely that we will ever achieve a point where every single demographic is identical in performance across the board, whether that’s age, race or sex,” Charles Romine, director of the Information Technology Lab at NIST, told the House Homeland Security Committee in June 2019. “We want to know just exactly how much the difference is.”
Executives at Leidos, the contractor that built ABIS, do not share similar concerns about the accuracy of their data. “Interestingly, the latest U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tests show that the top-performing algorithms actually work better with black faces than with white faces,” Leidos Vice President John Mears wrote on the Leidos website.
It’s not clear which tests Mears is referring to on the NIST website, but when contacted regarding that quote, NIST did not support his claim.
“As a broad blanket statement it is not correct,” a NIST spokesperson told OneZero, adding that a report studying demographics in facial recognition is currently underway.
Leidos declined to comment for this story, and referred all questions to the DoD when asked how it vetted for bias in its facial recognition algorithms.
This technical challenge is not slowing down the adoption of biometrics. It’s unclear how many identities have been added to ABIS since Krizay’s presentation, or since DFBA last updated its website. Every indicator suggests the military is only growing its capability of collecting more and more data.
As that data is further connected to sources like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military’s surveillance system grows stronger.
“We are not wandering in the dark,” Krizay wrote in his presentation. “We know who people are and more of what they have done.”