Last Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys, law enforcement agencies and top ranking Justice Department officials announcing the imminent implementation of a new “national disruption and early engagement program” aimed at detecting potential mass shooters before they commit any crime.
Per the memorandum, Barr has “directed the Department [of Justice] and the FBI to lead an effort to refine our ability to identify, assess and engage potential mass shooters before they strike.” The Attorney General further described the coming initiative, slated to be implemented early next year, as “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.” More specific information about the program is set to follow the recent memorandum, according to Barr, though it is unclear if that forthcoming document will be made public.
Barr also requested that those who received the memorandum send their “best and brightest” to a training conference at FBI headquarters this coming December where the DOJ, FBI and “private sector partners” will prepare for the full implementation of the new policy and will also be able to provide “new ideas” for inclusion in the program.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the memorandum is Barr’s frank admission that many of the “early engagement” tactics that the new program would utilize were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats.” In other words, the foundation for many of the policies utilized following the post-9/11 “war on terror” are also the foundation for the “early engagement” tactics that Barr seeks to use to identify potential criminals as part of this new policy. Though those “war on terror” policies have largely targeted individuals abroad, Barr’s memorandum makes it clear that some of those same controversial tactics will soon be used domestically.
Barr’s memorandum also alludes to current practices by the FBI and DOJ that will shape the new plan. Though more specifics of the new policy will be provided in the forthcoming notice, Barr notes that “newly developed tactics” used by the Joint Terrorist Task Forces “include the use of clinical psychologists, threat assessment professionals, intervention teams and community groups” to detect risk and suggests that the new “early engagement program” will work along similar lines. Barr also alludes to this “community” approach in a separate instance, when he writes that “when the public ‘says something’ to alert us to a potential threat, we must do something.”
However, the memorandum differentiates suspected terrorists from the individuals this new program is set to pursue. Barr states that, unlike many historical terrorism cases, “many of today’s public safety threats appear abruptly and with sometimes only ambiguous indications of intent” and that many of these individuals “exhibit symptoms of mental illness and/or have substance abuse problems.”
Thus, the goal of the program is ostensibly to circumvent these issues by finding new and likely controversial ways to determine intent. As will be shown later in this report, Barr’s recent actions suggest that the way this will be accomplished is through increased mass surveillance of everyday Americans and the use of algorithms to analyze that bulk data for vaguely defined symptoms of “mental illness.”
Barr also suggested the likely courses of action that would follow the identification of a given individual as a “potential mass shooter.” The Attorney General notes that in past cases individuals deemed a violent or terroristic threat before they commit a crime are subject to “detention, court-ordered mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, electronic monitoring”, among other measures. Ostensibly, the new program would then apply these same practices to individuals in the U.S. that federal authorities believe are “mobilizing towards violence,” as Barr put it.
Bill Barr’s been busy
The memorandum, despite heralding a new era of Orwellian surveillance and “pre-crime” on a national level, has been sparsely covered by the mainstream media. One of the few reports that did cover the new Justice Department policy, published Wednesday by the Huffington Post, framed the new Barr-led initiative as largely positive and asserted that the “anti-terror tactics” to which Barr alluded could “help thwart mass shooters.” No mention was made in the piece of the threat such a program is likely to pose to civil liberties.
Furthermore, no mention was made of Barr’s clear push over the past few months to lay the groundwork for this recently announced program. Indeed, since becoming Attorney General under President Trump, Barr has spearheaded numerous efforts to this end, including pushing for a government backdoor into consumer apps or devices that utilize encryption and for a dramatic increase of long-standing yet controversial warrantless electronic surveillance programs.
On July 23rd, Barr gave the keynote address at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) and mainly focused on the need for consumer electronic products and applications that use encryption to offer a “backdoor” for the government, specifically law enforcement, in order to obtain access to encrypted communications as a matter of public safety.
Barr went onto say that “warrant-proof encryption is also seriously impairing our ability to monitor and combat domestic and foreign terrorists.” Barr stated that “smaller terrorist groups and ‘lone wolf’ actors” — such as those involved in the series of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that occurred in the weeks after his speech — “have turned increasingly to encryption.” Barr later noted that he was specifically referencing encryption used by “consumer products and services such as messaging, smartphones, email, and voice and data applications.”
To overcome the resistance by some private companies — who do not want to renege on their right to privacy by giving the government backdoor access to their devices — and American consumers, Barr tellingly anticipated “a major incident may occur at any time that will galvanize public opinion on these issues.” Shortly after this speech, several mass shootings, including one at an El Paso Walmart took place, which again brought the issue to the forefront of political discourse.
As MintPress reported at the time, Barr’s uncanny prediction and a litany of other oddities related to the El Paso shooting left many answered questions about the FBI’s foreknowledge of the event. In addition, the tragedy did appear to serve as the very “galvanizing” event that Barr had anticipated, as the solution offered by President Trump in the wake of the shootings was the creation of a government backdoor into encryption as well as calling for the very pre-crime system Barr formally announced just last week.
The pre-crime dragnet takes shape
More recently, Barr and U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a data access agreement on October 3rd that allows both countries to demand electronic data on consumers from tech companies based in the other country without legal restrictions. It is the first executive agreement reached as part of the controversial Clarifying Overseas Use of Data Act or CLOUD Act passed by the U.S. Congress last year.
The CLOUD Act has come under fire from rights groups who have warned that the legislation gives “unlimited jurisdiction to U.S. law enforcement over any data controlled by a service provider, regardless of where the data is stored and who created it” and that this also “applies to content, metadata, and subscriber information”, including private messages.
Yet, Barr and Patel claimed that the data access agreement will instead “enhance” civil liberties and further asserted that the agreement would be used to go after “pedophiles” and “organized crime”, even though both Barr and his U.K. equivalent have shown minimal interest in pursuing the co-conspirators of child sex trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, whose sex trafficking network has been linked to both organized crime and the intelligence agencies of both the U.S. and Israel. Some have charged that the lack of interest on the part of William Barr is due to the fact that Barr’s father once hired the now deceased pedophile.
Notably, Jeffrey Epstein also had an apparent interest in pre-crime technologies, and was a key funder of the controversial technology company Carbyne911, along with former Israeli Prime Minister and close Epstein associate Ehud Barak. Carbyne911 is one of several Israeli companies that market their software products to the U.S. as a means of reducing mass shootings and improving the response times of emergency service providers. These companies boast numerous and troubling connections to the governments and intelligence communities of both the U.S. and Israel. Epstein, himself linked to the intelligence apparatuses of both nations, invested at least $1 million in Carbyne911 through a “data mining” company he controlled.
As was detailed in a recent MintPress exposé on these companies, Carbyne911 and similar companies extract any and all data from consumer smartphones for merely making emergency calls and then use it to “analyze the past and present behavior of their callers, react accordingly, and in time predict future patterns,” with the ultimate goal of smart devices making emergency calls to the authorities, as opposed to human beings.
Data obtained from these software products, already used by several U.S. counties and slated to be adopted nationwide as part of a new national “next generation” 911 system, will then be shared with the same law enforcement agencies who will soon be implementing Barr’s “national disruption and early engagement program” to target individuals flagged as potentially violent based on vague criteria.
Notably, following the El Paso shooting, President Trump has been mulling the creation of a new federal agency known as HARPA that would work with the Department of Justice to use “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence,” specifically “advanced analytical tools based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.” The data to be analyzed would be harvested from consumer electronic devices as well as information provided by health-care providers to identify who may be a threat.
It is important to point out that such initiatives, whether HARPA or Barr’s newly announced program, are likely to define “mental illness” to include some political beliefs, given that the FBI recently stated in an internal memo that “conspiracy theories” were motivating some domestic terror threats and a series of questionable academic studies have sought to link “conspiracy theorists” to mental illnesses. Thus, the Department of Justice and “mental health professionals” have essentially already defined those who express disbelief in official government narratives as both a terror threat and mentally ill — and thus worthy of special attention from pre-crime programs.
Sleepwalking into a nightmare
This widely overlooked background is crucial to understanding William Barr’s recent memorandum and the massive and greatly underreported shift in the policy it heralds. Over a period of several months, Barr — aided by “private sector partners” as well as other current and former government officials — has been laying the groundwork for the system he has now formally announced.
Through the software products offered by companies like Carbyne911 and through Barr’s personal crusade to mandate government backdoors into encrypted software and products, Barr’s new pre-crime program already has the tools for the mass extraction and storage of consumer data by means of both private tech companies and public services like emergency call centers.
Through the already drafted plan for HARPA and its proposed solution to identifying “mental illness” via artificial intelligence and machine learning, this newly announced “pre-crime” program will have the means to analyze the mass of data harvested from consumer electronic devices from Carbyne and other means using vague “mental health criteria.”
While many of the specifics of the program remain unknown, the actions of Barr and others in government and private sectors show that this newly announced initiative is the product of years of careful planning and many of the tactics and tools it is poised to use have been in the works for months and even years.
In recent decades, and especially after the September 11 attacks, Americans have quietly traded an increasing number of civil liberties for increased government “counter-terrorism” programs and wars purportedly waged to “keep us safe.” Now, those same policies used to target “terrorists” are set to be used against ordinary Americans, whose electronic lives and communications are now set to be scoured for evidence of “mental illness.” If these untransparent algorithms flag an individual, that could be enough lead to court-ordered “mental health treatment” or even imprisonment regardless of whether or not a crime was committed or even planned.
As a consequence, William Barr’s coming “pre-crime” program is arguably worse than the stuff of dystopian science fiction novels and films as it not only aims to detain Americans who have committed no crime but will expressly target individuals based on their use of electronic consumer products and the contents of their communications with their friends, family, co-workers, and others.
Feature photo | Graphic by Claudio Cabrera
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.