Before the crime.

Not just any sort of thief, but an embezzler.  But the stated purpose of all the US spy programs isn’t to catch any sort of terrorists either, but fundamentalist Muslim terrorists that want to bomb US targets.

As embezzlement was at the time considered to be one of the leading causes of business failures, managing this risk was important.

Like the federal spy programs, American businesses, particularly financial service companies, “outsourced” the risk and task to professional analysts.  These analysts would pore over the individual employee applications looking for the red flags of thieves.  Those deemed suspicious but lacking anything tangible would be tossed over to the investigation unit for further scrutiny and sometimes employing outside detectives.

What was considered “moral turpitude” at the time was one of those red flags.  And if the analyst said no to an applicant, she or he wasn’t hired.  It was both a naïve and cruel time in America.  There were more false positives than false negatives because the red flag net was large and captured very few potential embezzlers and employee dishonesty was rare, but those analysts were more likely to have cited the infrequency of embezzlements as proof that they were doing a good job denying employment to thieves.  

This whole process/system didn’t fracture or fray as the investigation units got larger and more costly.  Or that someone noticed that the crime of embezzlement didn’t decline as too many “bad guys” weren’t detected.  New anti-discrimination laws began to limit what could be asked on those applications.  Then someone had the insight that under the right conditions, most people would steal.  Underwriting the business operations and instead of individual employees was far more cost efficient.  Those investigative units disappeared, but the employee applications that were reduced to asking if she/he had a prior arrest and conviction remained routine for another decade.  (Until that folly was highlighted by a NY stockbroker who embezzled better the second time.)

The NSA/DOD/FBI/etc. communications dragnets and algorithm sorting to catch a terrorist is high-tech, costly, and not working.  But someday they will – it’s just not yet clear what for.  History only tells us that the odds are against it being for the good of the people.  And when we get there, the people will likely be blamed for having freely given all their personal information to “friends” and for “rewards.”

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