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TrapWire: The Truth Behind The Hype

New emails released by WikiLeaks indicate that TrapWire, a defense contractor owned and operated by ex-CIA operatives, plays a key and troubling role in coordinating government and corporate surveillance . Many activists have gotten carried away, however, vastly overstating the scope of TrapWire.


  1. I. The Bottom Line:
    TrapWire's Role In International Intelligence Too Important To Stay Cloaked
    II. Introduction
    III. What Does TrapWire Do?
    Cutting Through The Hype: TrapWire Myths
    V. Who Uses TrapWire?
    VI. Who/What Is
    VII. Stratfor and TrapWire's Troubling Revolving Doors
  2. I. The Bottom Line: TrapWire's Role In International Intelligence Too Important To Stay Cloaked

  3. After 9/11, when agencies failed to "connect the dots" to prevent the World Trade Center attacks, it was common knowledge that coordination between law enforcement agencies became a priority. What has not been clear until now is that a private company run by ex-CIA operatives is at the heart of it.

    According to newly released WikiLeaks documents, private security company TrapWire has made itself an under-the-radar player in information sharing between federal agencies, local law enforcement, the military, and corporations. TrapWire's software is designed to help CCTV cameras identify suspicious patterns of behavior and standardize and cross-reference reports of suspicious activity from different locations and different time periods.
  4. Many cities encourage citizens to call and report suspicious persons and activity; what callers may not know is that if they live in Las Vegas, DC, Los Angeles, or New York City (poster below), their report is processed by a private company (TrapWire), and then forwarded to a national database accessed by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security if analysts believe it to be necessary. The same goes for "suspicious activity reports" generated by surveillance cameras integrated with TrapWire's threat detection software, such as in 500 locations in the New York Subway system. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Times, "we don't use TrapWire."]
  5. TrapWire is also noteworthy because it maintains a centralized database of all these reports submitted by citizens or TrapWire-enabled CCTV cameras. TrapWire not only collects these reports but cross references them across geographic and territorial boundaries; for instance, a report from the London Stock Exchange might be cross referenced with a report from the LAPD, or a citizen's phone call in Washington, DC. That an intelligence network connecting private businesses, military bases, civilian police, and federal agencies has managed to escape attention for so long is surprising, to say the least.
  6. Finally, TrapWire is raising concerns because of its close ties to the CIA. Its CEO, President, and two of its top three managers are all ex-CIA, with more than 10 years experience each. The CIA is generally "prohibited from collecting intelligence concerning the domestic activities of U.S. citizens." While the emails released by WikiLeaks do not indicate that information obtained by TrapWire has been shared with the CIA, TrapWire's former parent company (also run by TrapWire's CEO) was involved with a number of CIA contracting operations, and there are concerns that information on American citizens could wind up reaching members of the agency.
  7. In any case, it seems clear that TrapWire's role in the US and international intelligence community bears scrutiny, scrutiny it has largely avoided until WikiLeaks' latest release.
  8. II. Introduction

  9. According to internal emails from global intelligence firm Stratfor newly released by WikiLeaks, TrapWire's surveillance analysis system seems to be near the center of the intelligence world. "Designed to provide a simple yet powerful means of collecting and recording suspicious activity reports," it collects information from and shares information with local police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and in some cases private businesses such as Las Vegas casinos.
  10. TrapWire, run by ex-CIA operatives, is a software program that seeks to prevent terrorist attacks by recognizing patterns in activity. The hope, according to Stratfor Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton, is that, "a suspect conducting surveillance of the NYC subway can also be spotted by TrapWire conducting similar activity at the DC subway." There are at least 500 TrapWire-connected surveillance cameras in the New York subway system, according to this email from Mr. Burton. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: NYPD spokesman Paul Browne has denied that the NYPD uses TrapWire.]
  11. It's in place at the White House and the London Stock Exchange. If you "see something, say something" in a New York subway, your "suspicious activity report" (SAR) goes through TrapWire. TrapWire is used by the DC Police, the LAPD, and the Las Vegas Police Department. It's in place at Fort Meade, and at over 60 Las Vegas casinos.
  12. Suspicious activity reports (SAR's) generated by TrapWire systems are distributed to local law enforcement agencies, local partner corporations (in some circumstances), and to the local Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fusion center, as well as to a national database used by DHS fusion centers nationwide as well as the FBI.
  13. According to a leaked email from TrapWire's Director of Business Development, all of the information provided by its corporate, national, and international clients "feed a centralized database", and TrapWire attempts to make connections between events in different locations. This means that while TrapWire's clients only have access to relevant and nearby reports, the company has access to everything submitted by its partner law enforcement entities and reported by citizens.
  14. TrapWire's goal: when a casino camera spots something suspicious, or a Las Vegas resident 'sees something' and 'says something', that information is quickly in the hands of nearby resorts, the Las Vegas Police Department, DHS, and the FBI. The TrapWire company itself also has access to all suspicious activity reports, whether they come from a New York City citizen's phone call or directly from the White House.
  15. In a 2007 white paper, TrapWire says, "it does not capture, store, or share any sensitive or personally identifiable information." It is unclear how TrapWire defines sensitive information, as the company is unquestionably in control of an enormous amount of valuable intelligence data from around the world.
  16. III. What Does TrapWire Do?

  17. TrapWire has three distinct components:

    1. TrapWire Critical Infrastructure is installed at sensitive locations, such as the White House and the London Stock Exchange, to analyze security footage to "detect patterns of behavior indicative of pre-operational planning." The software integrates with surveillance cameras "to capture photographs or video evidence of suspicious activity."

    2. TrapWire Community Member operates New York's and Las Vegas' "See Something Say Something" campaigns, as well as the iWatch citizen reporting programs in DC and Los Angeles (promotional video below). Information obtained from citizen reports is compared to reports from other cities and analyzed, then forwarded to law enforcement and the local DHS fusion center.
  18. Mayor iwatchla (English) PSA

  19. 3. TrapWire Law Enforcement provides coordination and information sharing for law enforcement agencies, including the sharing of information obtained through TrapWire's other two services. For instance, according to Emergency Management Magazine, in Las Vegas TrapWire operates "a citywide database linking surveillance systems of most resorts and the fusion center
  20. When a suspicious activity report (SAR) is made by a TrapWire system, for instance when a security camera spots something or a citizen makes a report on, that information is meant to spread quickly. According to congressional testimony (below, p. 5) from DCPD chief Cathy Lanier, a DC TrapWire SAR is automatically forwarded to Washington's local Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fusion center, where it is analyzed. When DHS analysts verify that incidents "meet the established standards for suspicious activity reporting," they are added to a network accessible to all DHS fusion centers nationwide, and "are forwarded to the FBI's eGaurdian system."
  21. IV. Cutting Through The Hype: TrapWire Myths