Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jack Bauer And The Super Snoops

News & Commentary

The Cool Justice Report
Feb. 8, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

Every Monday night, religiously, we tune in to Fox’s hit 24 to watch the fictional hero, Jack Bauer, bend all the rules to once again save life as we know it and the American Way.

CTU (the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit) employs geeky techies, who with several deft keystrokes access satellites and street surveillance cameras to track terrorists being pursued by the indestructible Jack. Having a PDA that drops calls and freezes most times when I try to access a website, I watch in amazement as Jack downloads the schematics to nuclear devices or complex blueprints as he pursues the bad guys through endless mazes. Over the course of 24 hours governments are toppled, terror plots are thwarted and of course Jack never sleeps, but what about the CTU technology featured? Is it some Orweillian fantasy or is there really such super sleuth computer technology?

After 9-11 word began to filter out that the FBI had developed several cyber sleuthing tools to intercept and analyze emails. With names like Omnivore, Carnivore and Magic Lantern, George Orwell’s world of 1984 and Big Brother morphed from the pages of science fiction to the reality of science fact. Civil libertarians led by the ACLU were quick to react to the news.

Debate raged about the need to balance national security against individual privacy rights. The FBI faced a public relations debacle over its choice of names for the cyber sleuth programs, eventually renaming Carnivore “DCS-1000.”

Concerned over the predatory images conjured up by the names, in 2005 the bureau announced it had abandoned DCS-1000. But, with the Bush administrations never ceasing efforts to expand domestic and foreign secretive surveillance, we would be naive to think the concept of cyber sleuthing has been abandoned.

Omnivore was an earlier version of the ISP searching program that ultimately became Carnivore. Omnivore searched through e-mail traffic over a specific Internet service provider (ISP) and captured e-mail from a targeted source, allowing it to be downloaded to a tape drive or read in real-time. Omnivore was retired in 1999 in favor of a something called the DragonWare Suite, which allowed the FBI to reconstruct e-mail messages, downloaded files or even Web pages.

Next came Carnivore, which was installed between the suspect's PC and the Internet, typically on hardware under the control of the suspect's Internet service provider. ISP’s cooperated with the feds, allowing even greater access to a suspect’s emails.

After Carniovre the next revelation was the existence of Magic Lantern. This was created under an initiative called Cyber Knights. Taking its lead from high tech computer hackers the FBI created a type of computer virus to infect computers.

The virus, called Magic Lantern, recorded every keystroke typed on a targeted computer. The FBI then used this information to extract passwords allowing the feds access to a suspects emails and encrypted documents. Access was also gained to other computers contacted by the suspect through the Net.

Like most viruses, Magic Lantern could be potentially detected and defeated by most updated anti-virus programs. Software companies that produced such programs largely resisted efforts to exclude Magic Lantern from anti-virus protocols.

Whether it still exists and to what extent cooperation has now been forged with ISP’s and anti-virus manufacturers is not known. Nor do we know what the new “Carnivore” is or whether it exists at all. What is certain, however, as Jack Bauer continues in his one man war against terror, is that sophisticated means of cyber surveillance will continue to evolve.

Television fosters a skewed sense of reality, and this is no exception. The popular TV drama, CSI, and all of its progeny has led potential criminal juries to believe that every crime requires trace evidence analysis, to the chagrin of prosecutors who sometimes have nothing more than a reluctant eyewitness.

In the same respect how many people have come to view Jack Bauer as the model for today's anti-terrorist agent, complete with his disregard for law and human rights. One youngster I know even sends out emails with the over/under on how many terrorists Bauer will annihilate in any given episode. The battle against terror often must be fought on fronts that we can't know about and would find difficult to accept. We should not lose sight of the individual liberties we have abandoned under the guise of national security.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim’s corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and is a Charter Fellow, American Academy of Trial Counsel.Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV.
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Thibault also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, and Blog,

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    Connecticut Man 1 said...

    OK... This is a really nice Blog. How come I have never seen it before?

    Anonymous said...

    Has there ever been any reports or release of FOIA records concerning the misuse, misconduct or possible illegal activities by Law Enforcement or the Department of Defense concerning the misuse of Carnivore, Magic Lantern, Policeware, or ECHELON?

    I know of no situations. I know every year there are bad shootings, other kinds of misconduct by government employees and members of our DoD and that include assaults by persons that we read about in the paper every day.

    Is there a system of checks and balances placed on Law Enforcement and the DoD concerning the use of Carnivore, Magic Lantern, Policeware, ECHELON and other spy programs?

    Who polices the Department of Defense and Law Enforcement when they violate peoples privacy or should US Citizens forget about any aspect of privacy on the internet / the use of computers?