"Buying falafel mix does not a terrorist make." The FBI might do well to write that in chalk 500 times, and hope that it sinks in, as they're wasting our money, their time, and invading our privacy while they're at it by trawling through credit card records to find people who shop at middle eastern markets and/or buy middle eastern style food from the larger chains. No, seriously:
Bay Area FBI agents wanting to find Iranian secret agents data-mined grocery store records in 2005 and 2006, hoping that tahini purchases would lead them to domestic terrorists, according to Congressional Quarterly’s Jeff Stein. The head of the FBI’s criminal investigations unit - Michael Mason - shut down the Total Falafel Awareness program, arguing it would be illegal to put someone on a terrorist watch list for simply sticking skewers into lamb, Stein reports.
More from Congressional Quarterly:
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson would neither confirm nor deny that the bureau ran such data mining, or forward-leaning â€œdomain management,â€� experiments, but said he would continue to investigate. â€œIt sounds pretty sensational to me,â€� he said, upon his initial review of the allegation. The techniques were briefly mentioned last year in a PBS Frontline special, â€œThe Enemy Withinâ€�.
Mason, who is leaving the FBI to become security chief for Verizon, could not be reached for comment.
The FBI denies that sifting through consumer spending habits amounted to the kind of data mining that caused an uproar when the Pentagon was exposed doing it in 2002.
â€œDomain management has been portrayed by the bureau as a broad analytic approach, not specific data mining activities,â€� says Amy Zegart, author of the much-praised recent book, â€œSpying Blind: The CIA, the FBI and the Origins of 9/11.â€� â€œIt is a methodology to determine what is known about a problem, develop indices to measure it, and take steps to close knowledge gaps.â€�
Zegart said her recent interviews with FBI officials â€œsuggest that domain management has been implemented in a spotty fashion; L.A. and New York appear to be ahead of the curve, but some other field offices are not using it and at least one had never heard of it.â€�
As ridiculous as it sounds, the groceries counting scheme is a measure of how desperate the FBI is to disrupt domestic terrorism plots.
The possibility of Iranian-sponsored terrorism in the United States has drawn major attention from the FBI because of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran over Iranâ€™s nuclear program.
At least they skewered the program, but it's a pita that it was allowed to olive for this long.