PRISM’s Controversial Forerunner
By Richard L. Fricker
Long before Edward Snowden’s claims or revelations that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency were monitoring and tracking the Internet, cell phones, e-mails and any other electronic communication they could get their hands on using a program known as PRISM, there existed PROMIS [Prosecutors Management Information Systems].
PROMIS was designed in the late 1970s and ‘80s to bring Department of Justice criminal case management from the dark ages into the light of the computer age. In the spring of 1981, the Reagan Administration hailed PROMIS as one of law enforcements greatest assets. By 1983, PROMIS had morphed into the behemoth of intelligence gathering. It was not state of the art – it was the art.
Over the ensuing decades PROMIS is reported to have been used by the DOJ, CIA, NSA, and several foreign intelligence agencies including Israel’s Mossad. The ownership of PROMIS has been the subject of federal court hearings and a congressional investigation.
The capabilities of PROMIS as a data collection and tracking program have never been a secret. But the only discussion of PROMIS has been about theft and black-market sales. Neither the courts nor Congress have ever inquired as to privacy issues or the ethics of the program. There has been no rending of political robes as seen with the Snowden case. In fact, the function of PROMIS has been discussed in open court and various public arenas.
PROMIS is a tracking program with enhancements by Washington, DC-based Inslaw Inc., owned by Bill and Nancy Hamilton. PROMIS was developed under a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration [LEAA] grant. Bill Hamilton was employed by NSA for six years. He left the agency in 1966.
PROMIS was designed to track the vast amount of criminal cases piling up in DOJ offices across the country. Bill Hamilton, in an interview for this story, recounted, “It was always a tracking program. It was designed to keep track of cases in local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, which means street crimes, keep track of the scheduled events in court, what actually takes place, who’s there, witnesses, police officers, conclusions, convictions, acquittals, whatever.”