Correction to This Article
An Aug. 12 Business article on former attorney general John D. Ashcroft's new firm misstated his age. He is 64, not 54.
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Ashcroft Finds Private-Sector Niche

John D. Ashcroft's firm has 30 lobbying and consulting clients.
John D. Ashcroft's firm has 30 lobbying and consulting clients. (Bas Czerwinski - AP)

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Behavioral pattern analysis has a good track record in the world of credit card fraud, where "millions" of transactions can be analyzed to extract patterns of illicit behavior, said Jim Dempsey, policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The problem with detecting terrorist patterns of behavior is that there are not millions of terrorist transactions that can be analyzed on which to base a reliable model, he said.

What is the recourse, Dempsey asked, for people who are wrongly identified and targeted?

But Eginton said the point of using statistical analysis is to avoid the "false positive."

"We do not have a mature and complete mathematical understanding of what these people and networks will do," he said. "But we do have an understanding."

Another Ashcroft client is ChoicePoint Inc., a data marketer that gathers public records and sells access to them. Though the company already had a contract with the Justice Department dating to 1998, last year it signed on with Ashcroft's firm to help it connect with "the right people within the agencies who could match up our capabilities with their needs," said James Lee, ChoicePoint's chief marketing officer.

When it comes to privacy, Ashcroft, a 54-year-old Republican and former U.S. senator and Missouri governor, said there are "real reasons" why the government should not be in the business of warehousing information. "The private sector does a better job of maintaining and developing information," he said. Another reason, he said, is Americans "don't want government to have access to any more information than necessary."

The Ashcroft Group complies with federal disclosure rules, Ashcroft said. It has disclosed the identities of 17 companies and two trade groups that it represents before Congress or the executive branch. The other clients, for which the firm does not do government work, are covered by non-disclosure agreements.

The firm reported receiving $1.4 million in lobbying fees in the past six months. But that is a small fraction of its earnings. It offers strategic consulting and is set to launch a service to help companies prevent and clean up data breaches.

These days, Ashcroft, whose forthcoming book discusses his experience as attorney general, is relaxed and energized. "Ninety percent" of the people who approach him, he said, thank him for his service. "I think that people have the sense," he said, "that regardless of whether they agree with me or not, they knew that I was doing what I thought I ought to do."

Staff researchers Richard Drezen and Robert Lyford contributed to this report.


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