Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

The Journalists Who Would Be CEO

Brill's book offers some clues to the origins of the V-ID card. Soon after 9-11, he wrote, the Department of Homeland Security rejected the idea of a government-issued ID card because it would be opposed by libertarians in the GOP. Two options surfaced: a driver's license that would be linked to government databases (later nixed), and the project now under development at the Transportation Security Administration, which will subject all airline passengers to a mandatory background check. By the spring of 2002, Brill reported, airline industry CEOs were lobbying heavily for the TSA to set up some kind of "trusted traveler" program as a supplement to the mandatory background check.

It's obvious why the airline industry supports such a card, but less obvious to a reader why Brill endorsed the concept in his book. In the epilogue to After, he proposes a security measure for locations likely to be targeted by terrorists: It would be "a system based on some kind of credible but voluntary nationally accepted identification card. . . . The [ID card] need not be a government program. . . . Reliable [ID cards] could be issued by private companies," and so on.

The book does not mention that in October 2002, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that ChoicePoint was deep in talks with Homeland Security and the TSA about developing the technology for the voluntary ID card. Asked about this, Brill first responded, "ChoicePoint was never in talks with anyone in the government about running such a project, or if they were, I was never aware of it." When presented with the article, he said, "I was not aware of this clip, and I was more aware than anyone on the planet of what TSA was doing at the time—which was talking to all the data miners about this."

According to Brill, he began talking to prospective partners in February 2003, first met with Choice-Point in April, and decided to sign on a few months ago, whereupon he resigned from his gig at Newsweek. As for ChoicePoint, he says, "I checked them out very carefully." Indeed, Brill is so confident that the V-ID will fly that he predicts, "In six months, I could get Nat Hentoff to be my ombudsman."


cc@villagevoice.com

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