Publicly for privacy, Clark
benefits from a company called Acxiom -- which gets big bucks
to violate privacy.
Wesley Clark Publicly for
Privacy, Profits from Patriot Act in the Background
[October 1, 2003 evote.com]
Wesley Clark questioned the
merits of the Patriot Act and said he is concerned about violations of
privacy of Americans in the fight against terrorism – except when it
comes to his own personal life and the financial gain obtained by a
company called Acxiom, a company he helps lead.
Within just two weeks the democratic primaries have turned upside
down by the juggernaut of the Wesley Clark campaign. After having
declared his intention to seek the Democratic nomination on September
17, polls indicate this 58 year-old former four-star general, NATO
Supreme Allied Commander and conqueror of the Yugoslav dictator,
Slobodan Milosevic, is a top-tier candidate among a group that have been
campaigning all year.
He is relatively unknown, partially a blank-slate candidate--and
blank-slate candidates are often appealing to those who have not yet
found a home among the others. Clark has not answered many questions on
where he stands on major issues, nor does his web site list his
positions. Should he win the Democratic nomination, he will be the first
general to do so since Winfield Scott Hancock in 1880.
Interestingly this Arkansas-raised career military man said he became
a Democrat only within the last few weeks. Before that he voted for two
Republican presidents and strongly praised President George Bush’s
Administration in a May 2001 speech. But over the course of the last few
months, Clark has been making statements that appeal to some Democrats,
such as negatively criticizing Bush’s policies towards Iraq.
And Clark also recently spoke about another issue to Rolling Stone
Magazine, suggesting he is opposed to the Patriot Act and in support of
the protection of privacy, the kind of perspective that has helped spur
his meteoric rise among Democrats and civil libertarians.
Regarding Bush’s urging of Congress to grant him wider powers to wage
war on terrorism at home the October 16, 2003 Rolling Stone quoted
Clark’s position as: “Come on, give us a break. The Patriot Act, all
1,200 pages of it, was passed without any serious congressional
discussion. There was no public accountability, and now he wants more?
What does he think this country is? We shouldn’t do anything with the
Patriot Act until it is unwrapped. I would like to see what violations
of privacy it entails, and whether those violations are in any way
justified by their preventing terrorism in this country. And we need to
do it now before we take another step forward and pay for that.”
Those are his words—but here are his actions are different.
Corporation a Privacy Violating Powerhouse
Since December of 2001 Clark has been a member of the Board of Directors
of Acxiom Corporation of Little Rock, Arkansas, a position conspicuously
not mentioned on his web site. This company that peddles consumer data
provided people’s Social Security numbers, addresses, income levels and
vehicle ownership information to a company called Torch Concepts of
Huntsville, Ala. This army contractor merged Acxiom’s data with airline
passenger information provided by the Kew Gardens, New York-based
JetBlue Airways to asses the security risk for particular individuals
for the U.S. military in its fight against terrorism.
Clark reportedly helped Acxiom, a data powerhouse that has “the
largest collection of U.S. consumer and telephone data available in one
source” win this contract, one of the most extensive American
surveillance programs ever. After September 11, 2001, Clark contacted
dozens of government and industry officials for Acxiom. His salary from
the company last year was $300,000 and may earn $150,000 this year plus
commissions. He also owns upwards of $67,000 worth of Acxiom stock.
Company officials have denied Clark played a role in arranging this
project. But Jerry Jones, Acxiom’s general council and business
development leader, has said the company “reached out to Clark as
someone who might get the attention in Washington of our capabilities.
He was looking for ways to help make the country safer and more secure.”
The company also reached out to Thomas F. (Mack) McLarty, III, who
was President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff, among other positions, and
William J. Henderson, U.S Postmaster General starting in 1998, both of
whom are members of its Board of Directors.
Clark has said his military expertise would blend well with Acxiom’s
efforts to become a major business in global security research,
particularly since the Sept. 11 attacks. Acxiom’s computer archives have
been “very beneficial to the F.B.I."
From the Torch Report, a screen of
a presentation on what Acxiom provides.
Sue Acxiom and Jet Blue
A Washington D.C. based privacy advocacy group called the Electronic
Privacy Information Center last week filed a complaint with the Federal
Trade Commission against Acxiom and JetBlue, which airline officials
information for about five million passenger records.
"Such action violated the publicly posted privacy policies of both
companies and misled consumers in a very unfair and deceptive manner,"
EPIC staff counsel Marcia Hoffman reportedly told reporters in a
conference call. An Acxiom company spokesman has said the release of the
David L. Sobel, general counsel at the EPIC reportedly said “the
privacy effect of anti-terrorism initiatives is certain to be a major
issue in the presidential campaign. The public is extremely skeptical.
Clark owes the public an explanation as to how, if elected, he would
limit the government’s expanding collection of personal information
Edwards made the charge that Clark
is not as privacy friendly as he appears, but little has been
made of the offhand remark so far.
Plays Dumb, Refuses Comment
On Fox News last Sunday, presidential candidate Senator John Edwards
(D-NC) said he was concerned about Clark and Acxiom.
“A lot of us are concerned about general privacy issues in this
environment after September the 11th,” said Edwards. “And I understand
that General Clark, while campaigning this week, said very strongly that
he believed we need to be careful about making sure people’s privacy was
protected. And the fact that he serves on the board and has worked with
and for a company that is involved in this, and specifically I think had
some involvement with Jet Blue and some problems with people’s privacy
being violated, I think those are just all questions, since he is new to
the race, that he will have to respond to. And there may be answers, but
I think he has to give the American people those answers.”
Clark consistently declines repeated requests to comment on his
lobbying and perceptions of information policy, and his campaign refused
to answer EVOTE.COM’s inquiry on Acxiom. After starting his campaign for
president, Clark stopped working as an Acxiom consultant, but maintained
his seat on the board.
Clark reportedly also assisted Acxiom in obtaining a government
contract to provide data and consulting services to the CAPPS II
program, a passenger screening system. Norman Y. Mineta has described
this network as “the foundation” on which all other, far more public
aviation security measures depend.
Clark also arranged for Acxiom executives to speak with Treasury
Department officials of Fin CEN, an agency responsible for gathering
financial information and efforts to fight money-laundering. He also met
with officials at the Justice Department, the Department of
Transportation, the Transportation Security Administration and Lockheed
Martin Corp, the defense contractor that is running CAPPS II.
Jones has said that Clark repeatedly stressed the need to “properly
balance legitimate privacy interests and the need for security.” It was
a core theme of Acxiom’s effort to win government contracts.
In a reported meeting at the DOT in January 2002, according to
participants, Clark described a system that would combine personal data
from Acxiom with information about the seating records and reservations
of all passengers in the United States. Clark said the computers would
examine the data; huge amounts of information about telephone numbers,
housing and vehicle ownership for indications of terrorist activity.
When this reluctant warrior threw his epaulettes into the ring with a
short speech at a boy’s and girl’s club in Little Rock, he said his plan
is to clarify his positions on various topics. You can be sure civil
libertarians will be asking for clarification on this one.
[John Pike is a
veteran journalist based in Boston and is currently checking his travel