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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


November 13, 2003

Not a Movie: Secret MATRIX Revives TIA at the State Level


Congress killed funding for the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, hastily renamed the "Terrorist" Information Program by the Pentagon when the civil liberties poop hit the fan. That's the super-surveillance program cooked up by convicted Iran-Contra felon John Poindexter, who was finally forced to resign when word got out about his terrorism futures market idea (a story for another day).

But it seems you can't keep a horrible idea down. Turns out the Justice Dept. and the Dept. of, I mean Homeland Security is funding a new program called MATRIX -- an acronym that stands for "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange". [See the official site at ] Much like Mr. Smith in it's movie namesake, the idea is to overwhelm the opposition by replicating TIA across the country at the state level.

On Oct. 30, the ACLU announced it has filed lawsuits in five states to force them to reveal details about their participation in the secretive program. As the ACLU's press release explains, MATRIX is almost a perfect clone of TIA:

"According to Congressional testimony and news reports, The Matrix...creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans’ activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, Matrix workers comb through the millions of files in a search for 'anomalies' that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

"While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver’s license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates."

The ACLU has published an Issue Brief explaining MATRIX and the threat it poses to civil liberties. Download it from

States known to be participating are: Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Florida. A story published by The Olympian newspaper in August states that Oregon and five other unnamed states were also participating in the MATRIX pilot program. But curiously, the official MATRIX web site does not mention any of Oregon or any of these other sites. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear.

MATRIX is run by a private company in Boca Raton, FL called Seisint Inc. Incredibly, the company's founder, millionaire Hank Asher, was a pilot in a large drug smuggling ring in 1980s that was base in the Bahamas. He turned informant and was never charged. However, when the St. Petersburg (FL) Times revealed prosecutors' documents filed in Chicago which identified Asher as a drug runner, Seisint's board forced Asher to resign. [See and] Asher is also a major donor to the Republican Party.

Just in case you've been living under a rock for 20 years, during the 1980s the CIA protected Nicaraguan Contras who smuggled tons of Colombian cocaine into the US in order to help finance the illegal "covert" war against the Sandinista government, a war which also intentionally targeted the civilian population. One of the known transshipment points in the Contra drug smuggling was, in fact, the Bahamas.

But wait, it gets better. Drug-runner Asher's first company was none other than DBT Online, the very company that played such a crucial and controversial role in the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

DBT Online (which merged with ChoicePoint just before the 2000 election) had the contract to purge Florida's voting rolls of convicted felons. As first revealed by journalist Greg Palast, DBT/ChoicePoint used a fraudulent list that originated in the state of Texas to wrongly "scrub" some 8,000 voters -- overwhelming black and/or Democrat -- of their voting rights, people who never should have been purged.

For another overview of the scandal, see

Related Links:

  • ACLU info page on MATRIX - includes links to ACLU materials, copies of their state FOIA lawsuits, and a few links to related news stories.

Background: Hank Asher

The following is by Dick McManus, and is excerpted from the 11/5/03 edition of his email newsletter, News and Views You Don't Have to Lose.

Hank Asher, 48, a computer technology expert who lives in a $3-million Boca Raton house, has founded several companies that retrieve huge amounts of electronic information about individuals.[4]

Asher, was a pilot in a large drug smuggling ring in 1980s that was base in the Bahamas. One of the known transshipment points in the Contra drug smuggling was, in fact, the Bahamas. According to a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Asher admitted to smuggling drugs in 1982 but refused to elaborate. Agents developed "corroborating information" that "during 1981 and 1982, Asher piloted five to seven plane loads of cocaine from Colombia to the United States,"

In 1987, Asher was granted immunity from prosecution after he was named an unindicted conspirator in a drug smuggling case involving the importation of cocaine valued at more than $150-million.[8]

A summary of a background investigation also raised questions about Asher's alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega. [10]

"This is the most problematic of the issues and cannot be corroborated," the report noted. Asher told investigators he was approached by a former business associate and asked to help free "contract" government employees imprisoned in Nicaragua. Asher told investigators he withdrew after he was told they might have to kill some people. [10]

Investigators said they also looked at some "suspicious financial transactions" but found no criminal or suspicious conduct. They also found no evidence to support a Broward County deputy's allegation that Asher was selling investigative information to drug smugglers in 1995.[10]

The St. Petersburg Times reported Aug. 2 that documents filed by prosecutors in Chicago identified Asher as a pilot and former smuggler in the Bahamas. He lived on Great Harbour near Cistern Cay, a small island airport once used by smugglers.[4] He served as an informant and witness in several trials.[3] FDLE files say informants identified Asher as a person who provided police protection for smuggling operations in the Bahamas.[4]

Asher never has been a witness in several drug cases after he was implicated in the Bahamas drug smuggling ring in the mid-1980s.[4]

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) began doing business with DBT Online in 1993. It is clear from 1993 records that FDLE officials knew they were dealing with a drug smuggler. Some officers questioned whether Asher's company could be trusted.[4]

DBT Online Inc. bought Asher out for $147 million in 1999 after the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Administration ended contracts with the company because of Asher's past drug smuggling ties. Federal officials were concerned that any investigation could be compromised if Asher or others knew the target of the investigation.[4]

Asher has donated more than $735,000 to political parties and candidates in the past five years. [1] Most of his money has gone to Democrats: $505,000 in the past five years and $65,000 to U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's 2002 initiative campaign to re-establish the state Board of Regents.[7]






  5. Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, on the subject of Hank Asher.







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