The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
A secret U.S. government watchlist is forcing companies to place orders on hold, according to an Australian named David Jones, whose name was flagged up as suspicious when he tried to purchase computer parts.
After Jones processed an “innocuous” order with Element 14, a large distributor of electronic and computer parts in Australia, he arrived at the company’s trade counter to pick up the goods only to be told that his order had been placed “on hold”.
After confirming that the hold was not due to the parts being restricted or suspicious in any way, Jones was told, “that it wasn’t the parts that had been flagged, it was my NAME that was flagged. And they said it was a US government watch list of some description.”
Staff told Jones that the system was designed to only flag up suspicious names, no matter how common, and they didn’t have to be linked to a specific address. The “hold” was cleared and Jones was given the parts within 5 minutes. The incident prompted Jones to recall that numerous previous orders had also been mysteriously placed on “hold” with no explanation.
Jones notes that the system is “yet another stupid procedure forced upon the world and corporations by the US government,” because all it takes to clear the “hold” instruction is for an Element 14 employee to press a button.
“An Australian subsidiary, owned by a UK parent company, listed on the UK stock exchange, has an ordering system that automatically matches generic names against some secret US Government watch list, and flags those orders and puts them on hold, for parts that are already stocked in Australia, are likely not made in the US, and likely have come from the main UK warehouse. Call me stupid, but something doesn’t seem right with that,” writes Jones.
The fact that the orders being put on hold relate to computer parts serves as a reminder of a recent revelations concerning how the NSA works with the FBI and CIA to intercept physical deliveries of computers and other hardware in order to take the laptop, “to a secret workshop where it could be discretely fitted with espionage software before being sent on its way.”
The operation and maintenance of U.S. government watchlists is notoriously ham-fisted. The no fly list is merely one component of a 500,000-750,000 strong government “watch list” that has ensnared people like the late former Senator Ted Kennedy, former presidential candidate John Anderson, and many others including a Vermont college student, a retired Presbyterian minister and an ACLU employee.
In 2012 it emerged that an 18-month old daughter of two New Jersey-born Americans of Middle Eastern descent was also added to the list.
The list has generated innumerable false positives which has led to widespread condemnation, especially given that the government has refused to amend its mistakes. A judge recently ruled that the no fly list was unconstitutional, but the federal government is fighting tooth and nail to keep it in place.
CNN journalist Drew Griffin was put on a TSA watchlist after he filed reports critical of the federal agency. Activists have also been arbitrarily placed on watchlists in order to prevent them from protesting at certain events.
Is it possible to build a decently fast computer these days where the hardware is not bugged?