PROMIS is believed by some to be the forefunner to the now infamous “Prism” program by the National Security Agency (NSA). The “Prism” program was brought to light by leaker Edward Snowden, yet it is now coming to light, that a program has existed long before this new revelation. It was known as PROMIS.
PROMIS is also the name for a Department of Justice computer software program. In the mid-1970s, Inslaw, Inc., a small Washington D.C. software development company, created for the a highly efficient, people-tracking, computer program known as Prosecutor’s Management Information System (Promis). Inslaw’s principal owners, William Anthony Hamilton and his wife, Nancy Burke Hamilton, later sued the United States Government (acting as principal to the Department of Justice) for not complying with the terms of the Promis contract and for refusing to pay for an enhanced version of Promis once delivered. This allegation of software piracy led to three trials in separate federal courts and two congressional hearings.
The following article excerpt is used to best explain the program as connected to the NSA – while the FOIA documents follow below.
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.”
The FOIA Documents
Department of Justice (DOJ)
Report of Special Counsel Nicholas J. Bua to the Attorney General of the United States Regarding the Allegations of INSLAW, Inc., March 1993, and the 1994 DOJ Report on INSLAW/PROMIS matter, released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Information Policy (OIP) [465 Pages, 11MB] – Special thanks to GovernmentAttic.org for this record.
National Security Agency (NSA)
NSA Documents Regarding PROMIS, Released 4 October 2018 [17 Pages, 2.7MB] – In March of 2016, see below, the NSA required a $440 payment in order to continue to process my request on PROMIS. Although I did not respond, I was surprised to receive this in October of 2018. It appears that this is only part of what the NSA has on PROMIS, and additional records are still being processed. I will add them when they are released to me.
ARCHIVED (Read Above) Letter regarding the NSA use of the PROMIS System [4 Pages, 1.1MB] – The NSA did find a considerable amount of documents, however, they are requiring a payment of $440 for the release of the material.