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Bahamas Firm Screens Personal Data To Assess Risk

Some of these efforts are driven by mandates in the USA Patriot Act that require banks and other companies to be more vigilant -- in some cases, by sending customer information to the government. The data-analysis efforts also are part of initiatives designed to minimize companies' exposure to lawsuits or insurance claims.

Global wants to work as a partner to large information services like LexisNexis. Thibeau said such companies can run into obstacles trying to gather international data themselves. For instance, critics in Latin America accused another large information service in the United States, ChoicePoint Inc., also a government contractor, of spying when it became public that the company was buying databases of information about citizens in Mexico and other countries. ChoicePoint officials said they were misled by unscrupulous data brokers, who sold information that should not have been sold.

The firm aims to amass and analyze databases. One of its customers is a contractor for the government's airline passenger screening system. (Jim Mone -- AP)

_____Related Coverage_____
U.S. Orders Airlines To Release Fliers' Data (The Washington Post, Sep 22, 2004)
Airport Screening System Touted as Improvement (The Washington Post, Aug 27, 2004)
TSA Readies Revised Aviation Screening (The Washington Post, Aug 26, 2004)
New Airline Screening System Postponed (The Washington Post, Jul 16, 2004)

"We're experimenting in places they can't," Thibeau said of the large data companies. "They have too much to lose."

In interviews, company officials said Global is working with the government in the Bahamas and other nations. Bell said he has had only informal contacts with U.S. government officials.

The company's work could involve some of the same contractors hired to build the U.S. government's screening system, documents and interviews show. LexisNexis, for instance, hired Global as a consultant to explore the viability of using the Bahamas as a base for collecting international information, officials said.

A subsidiary of Britain-based Reed Elsevier Group PLC, LexisNexis is known for its databases of legal and news documents. But it has also taken on major roles in homeland security initiatives. It recently paid $775 million for Seisint Inc., another information company that created the Matrix computer system used by law enforcement authorities for counterterrorism and criminal investigations.

One LexisNexis executive who worked closely with Bell while he was in government is Norman A. Willox Jr., the chief officer for privacy, industry and regulatory affairs at LexisNexis. Willox worked with Bell on the aviation screening project. He and LexisNexis also worked with Bell on a previous counterterrorism project at the Department of Justice, shortly after the terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Willox and Bell participated in industry and academic discussions about the growing need for collecting international information. In February, the two men traveled to the Bahamas, where they met Erik Russell, the general manager for Cable Bahamas, a firm that manages an island fiber-optic network, according to Willox and Russell. "They were hoping to open a business in the Bahamas and hoping we would provide bandwidth," Russell said. "My understanding is, they're going to need a lot of bandwidth."

In an interview, Bell said he went to the Bahamas on vacation and did not attend the meeting. But Willox and Russell said Bell was there, though Willox said Bell did not participate in the discussion. Willox said he himself was representing LexisNexis during the discussions.

Federal rules generally restrict public employees from engaging in outside business that might conflict with work they oversee, according to government ethics regulations. Bell said he did not become involved with Global until after he left government in March.

After Bell left the government, Willox helped arrange the lease for a Global office in Maryland, near where Bell lived; when asked about the arrangement, Thibeau said Willox did so as a personal favor because he lives in the area and knows the landlord.

It was not long after he left government that Bell was named chief executive of Global. Several weeks later, in June, LexisNexis sponsored a symposium in the Bahamas that featured the company. Attending the event were financiers, a private investigator, technology executives, Willox, LexisNexis lobbyists and Bahamian leaders, documents show. Also attending were contractors from at least three other companies that worked with Bell on the government's passenger "risk assessment program," documents from the meeting show.

In a statement prepared for the event, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the Bahamian minister of financial services and investment, extolled efforts to build a "state-of-the-art facility" with data centers and a high-speed telecommunications network. This has "resulted in the development of a new industry to manage, process and store information in a safe and secure environment so that it is easily retrievable when needed," she said.

Along with new business development on the island, "all of this makes it seem natural," Maynard-Gibson's statement said, "for Grand Bahama to become an important through point for the movement of international data."

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