Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

SENDING CARNIVORE TO COLLEGE

Assistant Attorney General Steve Colgate has now imposed some structure on the much-touted review process for Carnivore, the FBI’s e-mail snooping software.

As I mentioned last week, he’s the top career guy who Attorney General Janet Reno relies on for the most impossible tasks, and he’s now saddled with this multi-step process to dig the FBI out of the public relations abyss.

Colgate says he’s reaching out to about nine major universities in the search for one with the expertise and capability to review all of Carnivore, software and hardware, source code, the works. He will vet potential candidates with the FBI and state and local law enforcement types, as well as the civil liberties community. Colgate says he’s pleased with the response so far, with some universities even volunteering to do the review for free. He hopes to have the university picked out within the next 10 days; Reno herself will make the final call on the chosen one.

Colgate believes the university team won’t take a very long time, and he anticipates the university chosen may bring in outside experts in the fields of computer security, telecommunications, or with ISP expertise.

They will probably have to sign non-disclosure agreements since the software is a commercial product and the manufacturer wants its trade secrets protected. That team will produce a report that Colgate fully intends to make public on Justice’s Web site.

The report will also be distributed to interested parties in the communications, privacy and civil liberties fields for comment. Those comments will then by synthesized with the report by a Justice review panel chaired by Colgate. Serving on the panel will be the head of the FBI lab, Justice’s chief privacy officer, Justice’s science and technology adviser, and a high-level representative from the Criminal Division.

Their report will then be submitted to Reno, and Colgate hopes that can be done by Dec. 1. As we know from long experience, there’s no telling how long something can sit on her desk while she ponders and considers. However, the FBI has not stopped using Carnivore during the process.

And all of this production, with multiple actors, reports, reviews, stages, and procedures, was all necessitated because the FBI couldn’t figure out how to explain in a non-threatening way that it’s doing on the Internet what it has always done on the phone.

PLAYING CHICKEN IN THE WEN HO LEE CASE

At least two days of hearings are scheduled in Albuquerque, N.M., next week to deal with three major issues in the Wen Ho Lee case.

Potentially most significant, although no resolution is expected for several weeks, are the closed hearings on classified information. Using a law called CIPA, for Classified Information Procedures Act, both sides will play a sophisticated game of chicken.

The defense wants to terrify the government with a promise or threat to reveal so much secret information at trial that prosecutors will drop the case rather than jeopardize national security. That’s called “graymail.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, try to build a picture of a case so overwhelming, of a government juggernaut so daunting, that the defendant will crumple and plead guilty without the necessity of going to trial — and revealing all those secrets.

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