Patrick Ryan is running for US Congress in the Democratic primary in ew York’s 19th congressional district.
Patrick Ryan, a congressional candidate from New York, is leaning on his experience as a small business entrepreneur to establish his readiness for office, but he has curiously failed to mention the business he used to work in: domestic surveillance.
Seven years ago, Ryan, then working at a firm called Berico Technologies, compiled a plan to create a real-time surveillance operation of left-wing groups and labor unions, hoping business lobbyists would pay top dollar to monitor and disrupt the actions of activist groups across the country. At one point, the proposal included the idea to spy on the families of high-profile Democratic activists and plant fake documents with labor unions in a bid to discredit them.
The pitch, a joint venture with a now-defunct company called HBGary Federal and the Peter Thiel-backed company Palantir Technologies, however, crumbled in 2011 after it was exposed in a series of news reports.
Years later, Ryan pivoted to a startup called Dataminr, a data analytics company that provided social media monitoring solutions for law enforcement clients. Dataminr, which received financial support from the CIA’s venture capital arm, produced real-time updates about activists for law enforcement. For example, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and reported by The Intercept for the first time, Dataminr helped track social media posts relating to Black Lives Matter.
Ryan is one of several Democrats hoping to challenge freshman Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y., for a seat that is expected to be among the most competitive in the country. The Hudson Valley district contains both staunchly conservative and liberal pockets. Donald Trump won the district by a seven-point margin in 2016, but even when Barack Obama took the district by six points in 2012, Democrats failed to win the congressional seat. Republicans have held the 19th District since it was formed eight years ago. This year, as Democrats anticipate a wave of victories in response to Trump and the GOP’s wildly unpopular agenda, they hope that the 19th District, will finally turn blue.
In July 2015, Ryan joined Dataminr, a startup that has worked closely with clients to make sense out of vast amounts of social media data. The company, as The Intercept first reported in 2016, was funded through an investment from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA. The company, formed in consultation with Twitter, maintains access to Twitter’s proprietary “firehose” of user data, giving it an edge in social media data analysis.
The firm amassed law enforcement clients, including the FBI and Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center used by the government to alert multiple law enforcement departments in the Los Angeles region of potential threats. Documents, uncovered by the ACLU of California through a public records investigation of social media monitoring software, show that Dataminr monitored tweets mentioning Black Lives Matter on behalf of the JRIC. The emails show that Dataminr’s alerts vacuumed up tweets from now-Intercept columnist Shaun King, among other activists, in reports sent to law enforcement.
In another email obtained by the ACLU of California, Dataminr pitched the Los Angeles Police Department to use its tool to track protests, among other events of interest to law enforcement. Dataminr’s social media tracking tools are “highly valued by our clients at FBI CTD, NYPD, DoD and all ‘big five’ intel agencies,” the pitch continued.
In 2016, following a series of news reports on Dataminr’s relationship with law enforcement, Twitter announced Dataminr would no longer service fusion centers, and would restrict the use of its backend Twitter data for its law enforcement and intelligence agency clients.
Four years before he joined Dataminr, Ryan’s work with Berico Technologies was revealed in a hack of its partner firm, HBGary Federal. How his efforts to monitor activists on behalf of business interests were disclosed in an unusual story of spy versus spy.
In 2011, HBGary Federal boasted to the Financial Times that it was working on a plan to undermine WikiLeaks, which at the time was threatening to expose documents from Bank of America. In retaliation, a splinter group from the hacktivist collective LulzSec infiltrated network administrator from HBGary Federal, stealing thousands of emails from the firm and posting them onto the web.
The emails revealed that HBGary Federal had not only pitched a plan to Bank of America to track and discredit supporters of WikiLeaks, including The Intercept’s co-founder Glenn Greenwald, but had developed a larger business proposal to sell activist surveillance to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest pro-business lobbying organization in Washington, D.C.
Great. Peter Thiel in drag.
No. Just no.