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Webb Hubbell and Big Brother (WHODB)

by J. Orlin Grabbe


The role of Webb Hubbell in the creation of the White House "Big Brother" software system (WHODB, for White House Office Data Base) is not well known. Big Brother, you will recall, is used to manage Bill Clinton's master "Christmas card" list by which he keeps track of White House visitors, friends, Democratic party donors, and political enemies.

In a nutshell: it's used to manage the money, the votes, and the dirt.

When a copy of Big Brother was downloaded by the Fifth Column, it was found to contain 2045 FBI files (and some IRS files), mostly of Republicans but also of some Democrats. A complete list of the FBI files were provided to a House committee and to several senators. Many of the individuals whose FBI files were pulled are named in a Clinton White House "hit list," conveniently recorded in Big Brother.

Much of the current information on the funding scandals of the Democratic National Committee came to light because the donors, and donation amounts, were contained in the downloaded copy of WHODB. The presence of Democrat donation information shows there was never, at any time, a separation between Clinton's personal re-election campaign, and the fund-raising activities of the Democratic National Committee.

Well, the Big Brother saga continues, and the story contains all the essential computer-and-dagger story ingredients. We begin with ex-CIA agent Michael Riconosciuto, imprisoned in Florida, who recently told the German magazine Der Spiegel that a German company, Software AG, was converting a version of the PROMIS software to run on mainframe computers.

To put this revelation in context, recall that a GAO report had criticized WHODB for having an inactivated audit trail. This was understandable given that it was running in Windows NT. The conversion to a different computer environment was therefore justified by the GAO request for an audit trail.

The original White House office record-keeping system had been set in motion with a $20 million contract made with Planning Research Corp. in 1992, the last year of the Bush administration. The contract was for five years, ending in 1997. Notably, however, the Clinton White House apparently concealed the WHODB procurement-related activities from the GAO when GAO probed Executive Office of the President procurement in 1993.

Planning Research Corp. had previously produced the TEC II system for Customs. The TEC II system was derived from PROMIS, according to an affidavit given to Inslaw, Inc.

Planning Research Corp. kept the WHODB general maintenance contract for itself, and farmed out the rest of the work to three companies: Pulsar Data Systems, Subsystems Tech Inc., and Integrated Data Systems. Integrated Data did the schematics for setting up WHODB for its intended purposes, while Pulsar Data Systems supplied the actual software.

WHODB was set up to also provide access to other data bases, such as those of the Secret Service and FinCEN. WHODB can log onto the FBI computer, but the FBI system contains a block preventing any direct White House access to its files. To get an FBI file, the White House must submit a "request" in the front end of the FBI system. A designated FBI employee then looks at the request, and uploads the appropriate file directly into WHODB. (No White House request for FBI files has been denied.) No paper records are normally involved in this transfer. If a White House Craig Livingstone-type wants a hard copy of someone's FBI file, he hits the print button and produces one on a White House laser printer.

What was the true role of Pulsar Data Systems in creating WHODB? This question arises because it is common gossip and common knowledge that Jackson Stephens provided Bill Clinton with the Big Brother system. Moreover, the software provided by Pulsar Data Systems contained a "back door" often found in software provided by Jackson Stephens' software firm Systematics. This back door is present in many systems based on PROMIS (including, for example, software used in Goldman Sachs' London office). It is evident that Systematics (now Alltel Information Services) in some sense provided the basic program which Pulsar Data Systems may have modified. Systematics has been a major supplier of banking software, and the recipient of numerous NSA contracts. Systematics was represented at the Rose Law Firm by Vince Foster, Webb Hubbell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In short, the WHODB is based on PROMIS, and bears a definite connection to Jackson Stephens. Thus it will come as no surprise to find Stephens' associates involved in the WHODB conversion.

When alerted by Michael Riconosciuto about PROMIS being ported to a mainframe environment, Der Spiegel made inquiries at the headquarters office of Software AG in Darmstadt, Germany. That office, in turn, passed the question to Software AG Americas in Reston, Virginia, who reported back that, yes, they were involved in rewriting PROMIS to use Software AG's ADABAS data management system and its NATURAL client/server application development product.

The Reston office declined to name the client for whom the work was being done, but suggested inquiries be directed to the "U.S. Secret Service". All this led observers to conclude that the PROMIS system being ported was in fact WHODB.

The Clinton White House was irate that the information had leaked out, and subsequently fired a Secret Service Agent named David Butler, who worked in Internal Affairs, holding him responsible for the leak. (His role is not clear, but it apparently involved the transmission of an email message that was considered excessively revelatory.)

The software conversion is said to be taking place not at Software AG's Reston office, but rather at the Reston office of The Analytical Sciences Corporation (TASC). Why is not clear, but a plausible assumption is TASC is also involved in the conversion.

Various names have been reported to me as having something to do with the conversion project. These include Harry Wexler of Boston Systematics (whose daughter is a Forbes Senior Editor) and David Pearson. Two other people said to be floating about are David Blake and Frank Grier, who are described as "rubber ducks" for Jackson Stephens and Bill Clinton. A source reports that Frank Grier was recently seen meeting with spy-handler Rafi Eitan (the same individual who ran the Jonathan Pollard spying operation).

Webb Hubbell has floated in and out of the INSLAW affair for some time, because of his association with Jackson Stephens and Systematics. Let's back up a bit in time.

In the 1980s when Earl Brian made an attempt to buy out Inslaw, the money was to be provided through the investment banking firm of Allen & Co. Sources indicate that half of this money was to be provided by Robert Maxwell, while the other half was to be provided by Jackson Stephens via Web Hubbell.

Later, when the Clinton administration appointed Webb Hubbell to the Justice Department, Hubbell was placed in charge of issues pertaining to the on-going litigation between the Justice Department and Inslaw, Inc. Hubbell authorized a source code comparison between the PROMIS software and the FBI's FOIMS system, one of the systems Inslaw claimed was an illegal appropriation of its intellectual property.

A previous comparison had been assigned to Dorothy Denning, Chair of the Computer Science Department of Georgetown University. Denning is well- known for her support of the Clipper Chip proposal, and her general advocacy of GAK--government access to private cryptographic keys. (See, for example, Dorothy Denning, "The Future of Cryptography," Internet Security Review, October 1995.) Denning, however, said such a comparison "would be a waste of her time and the government's money."

Because it is extremely difficult to convert software that runs one application into software that runs an entirely different application, the differences in just the FOIMS and PROMIS application domains show almost conclusively that FOIMS was not derived from PROMIS. ("Analysis of FOIMS and PROMIS," by Dorothy E. Denning, January 10, 1993.)

Webb Hubbell decided that this conclusion (which doesn't appear to make much sense in the first place) needed shoring up, and brought in Randall Davis of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Davis had done work at the Laboratory for the Clinton-Gore campaign. He proceeded to compare a 1978 version of FOIMS with a 1983 version of PROMIS, and wisely concluded the former was not derived from the latter.

That someone from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab was used to make the code comparison may, outside the obvious political connections to ensure the "right" conclusion from the point of view of the Justice Department, be coincidental. However, a man named Barry Comnick, who once worked at Systematics, has been identified as having integrated some aspects of artificial intelligence with PROMIS. The result was called SMART--Special Management Artificial Reasoning Tool.

Comnick was one of dozens of individuals that "Octopus"-researcher Danny Casolaro was in communication with at the time of Casolaro's death.

A contract made between Webb Hubbell and the Indonesian Lippo Group, after Hubbell left the Justice Department, has been the subject of much recent speculation as to its purpose and dollar amount. The contract appears to be a pay-off made to Hubbell to ensure his silence, as it involves a $500,000 payment to Hubbell for unspecified "legal services." What is not common knowledge is that Jackson Stephens is also a party to the contract, according to Charles Hayes who turned a copy of the contract over to Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

January 25, 1997
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