Citizens' Issues
How a Chinese gained access to Arizona’s Terror Centre

The un-vetted computer engineer from China plugged into law enforcement networks and a database of 5 million Arizona drivers in a possible breach that was kept secret for years


Lizhong Fan’s desk was among a crowd of cubicles at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center in Phoenix. For five months in 2007, the Chinese national and computer programmer opened his laptop and enjoyed access to a wide range of sensitive information, including the Arizona driver’s license database, other law enforcement databases, and potentially a roster of intelligence analysts and investigators.

The facility had been set up by state and local authorities in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, and so, out of concerns about security, Fan had been assigned a team of minders to watch him nearly every moment inside the center. Fan, hired as a contract employee specializing in facial recognition technology, was even accompanied to the bathroom.

However, no one stood in Fan’s way when he packed his equipment one day in early June 2007, then returned home to Beijing.

There’s a lot that remains mysterious about Fan’s brief tenure as a computer programmer at the Arizona counterterrorism center. No one has explained why Arizona law enforcement officials gave a Chinese national access to such protected information. Nor has anyone said whether Fan copied any of the potentially sensitive materials he had access to.

But the people responsible for hiring Fan say one thing is clear: The privacy of as many as 5 million Arizona residents and other citizens has been exposed. Fan, they said, was authorized to use the state’s driver’s license database as part of his work on a facial recognition technology. He often took that material home, and they fear he took it back to China.

Under Arizona law, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose agencies admitted Fan into the intelligence center, were required to disclose to the public any “unauthorized acquisition and access to unencrypted or unredacted computerized data” that includes names and other personal information.

To this day, they have not.

Terry Goddard, attorney general of Arizona in 2007, said Fan’s access and disappearance should have been reported to his office, but it was not. Arizona law puts the attorney general in charge of enforcing disclosure.

The state was supposed to have scrubbed drivers' names and addresses from the license data. State officials denied requests to discuss the extent of the data breach, including what personal information was in the files.

In fact, a review of records shows that David Hendershott, who was second-in-command at the sheriff’s office, moved aggressively to maintain silence, a silence that has now lasted some seven years. Two weeks after Fan departed, Hendershott directed others in writing not to discuss Fan and the possible breach. In an email to the outside contractor that had hired Fan, Hendershott wrote: “Keep this between us and only us.”

Even among administrators at the Phoenix center, very few learned that the Chinese programmer had left the country or that their own personal information might have traveled with him. Mikel Longman, the former criminal investigations chief at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said he received no warning about the incident.
“That really is outrageous,” Longman said. “Every Arizona resident who had a driver’s license or state-issued ID card and all that identifying stuff is potentially compromised.


That’s a huge breach.”

Napolitano, who went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, did not reply to multiple interview requests.

Hendershott, Arpaio’s longtime chief deputy, hung up on a reporter when reached by telephone. The sheriff’s office fired Hendershott in 2011 over an array of alleged misconduct. And he in turn filed suit in 2012, saying his legitimate law enforcement work had been mischaracterized as abuses of power. His suit was dismissed earlier this year. Today, he sells real estate in west Phoenix.

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The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica collaborated on this story.



PM Modi's visit to the Land of the Rising Sun!

Narendra Modi would endeavour to seek Shinzo Abe's assistance in inviting investments in India, so as to manufacture Japanese products, which are actually 'Made in India'


Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Japan next week to meet Shinzo Abe, a great friend and admirer of India, and who himself became the Prime Minister of Japan only last year.


Both Modi and Abe have a warm and friendly relation and this visit will further fortify their regard and support for each other.


Perhaps, for the first time in recent memory and Indian political history, Modi will be accompanied by an august assembly of industrialists who will certainly be able to generate business and goodwill that is likely to be mutually beneficial to both the countries.


His formidable delegation includes Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Gautam Adani (Adani group), Chanda Kochchar (ICICI), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Biocon), Sunil Mittal (Bharati Ent), Azim Premji (Wipro), S Ramadorai (TCS), Shashi Ruia (Essar), Dilip Sanghvi (Sun Pharma), Saraf (ONGC) and Venkataramanan (L&T). Names of other government officials, including cabinet ministers, if any, have not yet been made public, so far.


It has been reported in the press that the names of the above delegation were hand-picked by PM Modi himself from an apparently long list of probables, to form this well composed team. It would follow that Modi would adopt this as his style of functioning when he will visit other important countries to promote relations.


Both Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi have a lot in common to discuss; both have similarities in issues dealing with China. Japan has also shown its keen desire to associate with India in the development of Indian Railways.


Shinzo Abe, it may be recalled, was able to form his government only last year and was also the Chief Guest of Honour at the Indian Republic Day Celebrations this year.


In fact, after he became PM, the currency swap arrangement increased three times to reach $50 billion between India and Japan and it is expected that during his term of office, he hopes to increase trade with India, as well as, Japanese investments in India.


The Japanese have shown interest to offer India a high speed rail system. With a clean safety record, Japan has been wooing India to give them the opportunity to set up similar rail-roads in the country.

There is no doubt that PM Modi is also keen to improve the lot of railways in the country and may seriously consider to go in for the Japanese high speed trains, though they are expensive. Besides, they may not be most suitable for us, considering Indian conditions. But, should the trains be made available under FDI - foreign direct investment - at attractive prices, why not introduce them in selected sectors, on a trial basis?


PM Modi would also endeavour to seek Abe's assistance in inviting Japanese investments in India, so as to manufacture "Japanese products" which are actually “Made in India!” Shinzo Abe, no doubt, will extend his assistance in making India a manufacturing hub for Japanese products, designed for export.


For the present, should India go in for speed trains? Or speed up Indian rail system? A proper mix of these two might work wonders for the country, in its national development programmes!


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)




2 years ago

Right approach. This could have been done earlier also, but then the reward to the corrupt ministers, officials and the Congress Party top bosses from the Foreign Exporters would not be there.


2 years ago

Setting the Bullet Train among the talk shows exposed how ignorant India really is. The Bullet Train is a lower cost, slower, more comfortable alternative for airline passengers. It works in Japan because of an abundance of cheap nuclear power and a culture of discipline, low crime. and universal prosperity. If India wants to provide Indian airline passengers with an alternative, a Zeppelin service would work much better. But why? India is already drowning under an excess of airline capacity on which the Khangress has squandered India's wealth. If it is the aspirational market being addressed, we could have high speed rides in BJP exhibitions in the four metros as in the Khangress exhibitions of yore. As for the railways, we need one. Clean, reliable,safe and economical. Desperately.



In Reply to SuchindranathAiyerS 2 years ago

Very strange thoughts indeed. Are you aware that China has gone in on a Large Scale for Bullet Trains. They have a 300 km/hr network, a 250 km/hr network and a 200km/hour network. I had a 10 day sightseeing tour of China erecently, where I could observe these trains. Mr. Aiyar should also take a trip. Apart from China many advanced countries ahve the bullet trains and not the Zepelins.

Shushrutha Bhatt

2 years ago

The purpose of the visit is multidimensional in nature. Kindly provide an analysis for other aspects of Indo-japan relations as well!

SEBI bars Amrit Projects, Magnox Infraprojects and Pinnacle Ventures from raising money

SEBI said, Amrit Projects mobilised Rs10.38 crore while Magnox Infraprojects and Pinnacle Ventures collected Rs2.31 crore and Rs3.85 crore from investors


Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) restricted three companies -- Amrit Projects (NE) Ltd, Magnox Infraprojects Ltd and Pinnacle Ventures India Ltd -- from raising funds by issuing securities.


The regulator also barred the three companies and their directors from accessing the stock markets.


SEBI said it found that these companies had raised money through issue of preference shares and as a result of such activities had violated various norms.


While Magnox Infraprojects and Pinnacle Ventures are Kolkata-based companies, Amrit Projects is based in Guwahati, Assam.


In three separate orders, SEBI directed these entities not to mobilise funds from investors through issuance of equity shares or any other securities, till further orders.


The companies and their respective directors have also been "prohibited from issuing prospectus or any offer document or issue advertisement for soliciting money from the public for the issue of securities, in any manner whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, till further orders".


Besides, the companies and its directors have also been restrained from accessing the securities market, SEBI said in the orders.


They have also been asked not to divert any funds raised from public at large and provide full inventory of all their assets and properties.


SEBI observed that the companies had issued shares to over 50 persons which under the rules made it a public issue of securities and hence would require a compulsory listing on a recognised stock exchange, among other requirements.


In the order against Amrit Projects, SEBI's initial probe has found that the company had mobilised funds amounting to about Rs10.38 crore during the financial years 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.


Similarly, Magnox Infraprojects had raised Rs2.31 crore while Pinnacle Ventures had mobilised an amount of Rs3.85 crore from investors.


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