The case for Big Brother?
“On Aug. 28, 2001, a 33-year-old Egyptian flight-school student named Mohamed Atta walked into a Kinko’s copy shop in Hollywood, Fla., and sat down at a computer with Internet access. He logged on to American Airlines’ Web site, punched in a frequent-flyer account number he’d signed up for three days before, and ordered two first-class, one-way e-tickets for a Sept. 11 flight from Boston to Los Angeles. Atta paid for the tickets — one of which was for Abdulaziz Alomari, a Saudi flight student also living in Florida — with a Visa card he had recently been issued.
The next day, Hamza Alghamdi, a Saudi man who was also training to become a pilot, went to the same Kinko’s. There, he used a Visa debit card to purchase a one-way seat on United Airlines Flight 175, another Sept. 11 flight from Boston to Los Angeles. The day after that, Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza’s brother, used the same debit card to purchase a business-class seat on Flight 175; he might have done it from the Hollywood Kinko’s, too. And at around the same time, all across the country, 15 other Arab men, several of them flight students, were also buying seats on California-bound flights leaving on the morning of Sept. 11. Six of the men gave the airlines Atta’s home phone number as a principal point of contact. Some of them paid for the seats with the same credit card. A few used identical frequent-flyer numbers.
It’s now obvious that there was a method to what the men did that August; had someone been on their trail, their actions would have seemed too synchronized, and the web of connections between them too intricate, to have been dismissed as mere coincidence. Something was up. And if the authorities had enjoyed access, at the time, to the men’s lives — to their credit card logs, their bank records, details of their e-mail and cellphone usage, their travel itineraries, and to every other electronic footprint that people leave in modern society — the government might have seen in the disparate efforts of 19 men the makings of the plot they were to execute on Sept. 11, 2001. Right?
We could have predicted it. That’s the underlying assumption of Total Information Awareness, a new Defense Department program that aims to collect and analyze mountains of personal data — on foreigners as well as Americans — in the hope of spotting the sort of “suspicious” behavior that preceded the attacks on New York and Washington….”.