What the Heck is TrapWire?

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What the Heck is TrapWire?
by Sue Basko 

 Please link and quote, but don't steal my stuff.  I worked hard on this.  Thanks.

Lately, there has been much ado about TrapWire, which is said to be a giant network spying on all of us.  My research says this is much ado about nothing.  TrapWire, as far as I can tell, is the Emperors New Clothes.  It seems to be an extremely simple data-sorting computer program, marketed to the government sector using fear of terrorists as its selling point.

TrapWire is the name of a corporation, a computer program, and the consulting services that go with it. TrapWire, Inc., has Dan Botsch,  a University of Chicago MBA, as its current president.  Before him, Jack Reis held the post.  TrapWire, Inc., comes off an incestuous lineage of many mergers and acquisitions that involve the same players over and over again.  Richard Hollis Helms, a former CIA agent, shows up repeatedly as the CEO.  Lance Cottrell shows up repeatedly as the Lead Computer Scientist.  Margaret A. Lee repeatedly shows up as the Corporate Secretary.

The basic lineage is Abraxas Corporation > (offshoot corporation) Abraxas Applications (name change to) > TrapWire, Inc.  Abraxas Applications was spun off Abraxas Corporation, apparently as a holder for the TrapWire product, and then a name change was done, turning Abraxas Applications, Inc. into TrapWire, Inc.   There are many spin-offs and sideshows and earlier stepcousins, such as Anonymizer and Ntrepid, but those will be covered in later essays.  This whole corporate lineage is big on branding and trademarking its products, taking loans on its trademarks, splitting almost each product into a corporation, and marketing through fear.  My searching shows only one patent owned by Abraxas Corporation, for a software that translates language.  I also found one patent owned in part by Lance Cottrell, for an anonymizing software.  In contrast, Cubic Corp, which recently acquired Abraxas Corporation, easily shows ownership of over 100 patents.

On June 22, 2007, Abraxas Corp assigned the Trapwire trademark to Abraxas Applications Inc., for $1, with the document signed by Richard  H. Helms CEO, Abraxas Corp.  On June 27, 2011, Abraxas Applications Inc., registered with the trademark office that it had a new name, TrapWire, Inc., with Richard Hollis Helms having signed the corporate name change on January 12, 2011 as “CEO and Sole Director.”

Cubic Corp. issued a Press release dated 8/13/2012 titled, “Cubic Corporation Has No Affiliation with Trapwire, Inc.”  It then states: “Cubic Corporation (NYSE: CUB) acquired Abraxas Corporation on December 20, 2010.  Abraxas Corporation then and now has no affiliation with Abraxas Applications now known as Trapwire, Inc.”  This is a case of telling the truth, but not the whole truth.  The statement continues, “Erroneous reports have linked the company with Trapwire, Inc. Trapwire, Inc. is a risk mitigation technology and services company that builds and markets software products to prevent terrorist threats and criminal attacks.”  It depends what you consider “linked.”

What’s the reality here?  The reality is that Abraxas Corporation, led by Richard Hollis Helms, who is reportedly a former CIA agent,   “developed” a trademarked name for a product and service called “Trapwire.”  Abraxas Corp. then assigned the trademark to Abraxas Applications, Inc., also led by Richard Hollis Helms.  Then Abraxis Applications, Inc. changed its name to Trapwire, Inc.  Cubic Corp. bought Abraxas Corp., but it did not buy TrapWire, Inc.  Therefore, on December 20, 2010, Abraxas Corp had “no affiliation” with Trapwire.  But earlier, there was an affiliation.  At this time, Cubic Corporation is not affiliated with TrapWire, Inc., just as the press release said.   Have you ever seen the shell game, where there are three cups and a ball and you are supposed to guess which cup the ball is under?  This is like that.  They are shuffling the ball under a different cup.  

What appears to have happened is that Abraxas Corp. separated off the golden egg before selling the goose to Cubic Corp.  Trapwire WAS affiliated with Abraxas Corporation, but it was separated off before Cubic Corp. got involved.    

TrapWire, Inc.'s main product is TrapWire, which is software and consulting services on how to use the software.  The software seems to be a very simple program that works like this:  Security guards at government building or locations watch through security cameras to see if there are any notable people or vehicles.  If they see anything notable, they fill out a form on a computer.  The software checks to see if the same person or vehicle is visiting the same place multiple times.  Various locations are linked through the software.    If the same person or vehicle visits multiple locations, the system sends out an alert. This is all based on the idea that a terrorist will case a place several times before blowing it up.  That seems likely.  Other people who will also visit the same place multiple times include the UPS delivery person, the local pizza man, dog walkers, joggers, and many others.

When a security guard sees a notable person, the guard fills out this form, which TrapWire, Inc. calls PersonPrint.   To view a picture larger, you must pull/ drag it off the page and click it.

TrapWire PersonPrint Computer screen form field.

The information fields to be entered are Gender: Male/ Female/ Unknown, Height, Build, Age, Primary Hair Color, Secondary, Facial Hair Type, Facial Hair Color, Complexion, Glasses.  This is the sort of information that is gathered upon observation, without a show of identification or questioning.

If the guard sees a notable vehicle, this form, which TrapWire calls VehiclePrint,  is filled.  To view a picture larger, you must pull/ drag it off the page and click it.

The information fields on the TrapWire VehiclePrint page are: License, State, Country, Type, Make, Model/Name, Color, Doors, Appearance, Number of Occupants.  This is information that could be observed through a camera close-up or in person, without stopping the vehicle.

TrapWire's Safe Harbor provisions, state that Trapwire systems "in general, do not store Personal or Sensitive Personal Information." If they do gather such information, they promise not to share it with third parties.   CLICK to enlarge and read the Safe Harbor provisions.

TrapWire Safe Harbor Provisions page 1. PULL OFF PAGE AND CLICK TO ENLARGE. 

TrapWire Safe Harbor Provisions Page 2. PULL PIC OFF PAGE TO CLICK TO ENLARGE

click on images to read:
TrapWire Explains what it does. Page 1

TrapWire Explains what it does. Page 3 CLICK TO ENLARGE AND READ. 

TrapWire Explains what it does. Page 4 CLICK TO ENLARGE AND READ.

TrapWire Explains what it does Page 5 CLICK TO ENLARGE TO READ.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY: Abraxas Corp./ TrapWire, Inc.  is providing a simple data coordination system.  This is not high tech.  It is not all -encompassing. This is a simple old-fashioned database program marketed to one idea - that terrorists visit a site many times before they attack.  If that were true, then alert human security guards are likely to catch that.  TrapWire coordinates the software between multiple sites.  Why would a terrorist visit sites other than the one that  he  or she plans to attack?  Perhaps as a first visit to check out vulnerable spots.

  There does seem to be significant potential for abuse with TrapWire.  Are people free to be in public spaces without being scrutinized on camera and having their descriptions recorded?  Apparently not.  Note on page 5, TrapWire explains that as a neighborhood changes, the criteria will change.  I suppose this means, as an imagined example,  that if the system regularly flags Arab-looking men, that if a neighborhood becomes one where many Arabs live, it won't flag them so readily.

Do we want our nation spending large amounts of money for such a system? It seems that recent terrorist type attacks have been one-off gun massacres by educated white males who appear to have done no significant prior surveillance of the site.

At the very least, we need to know what TrapWire is and have a public discussion about whether we want our tax dollars spent this way.