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And no, the answer is not because you're blogging here on Daily Kos, though I'm sure all of us have wondered as much recently.

An official disclaimer, before I begin.  I do not hold a security clearance.  I have never held a security clearance.  To my knowledge, no one has ever disclosed classified information at any level to me.  Having said that, I have been around the technological side of the law enforcement and intelligence communities long enough to have a picture of the technology behind intelligence and investigative analysis and the laws that back it up.

Want to know why you might be under surveillance?  Make the jump.

A Sidenote and an Additional Dislaimer.  First, the sidenote.  This diary grew out a stream-of-consciousness comment in Soj's JPEN diary, currently on the recommended list.  The additional disclaimer is that I am going to explain this by use of a scenario.  The scenario has evolved over years of technology companies working with investigative and intelligence agencies.  In short, a technology company will proffer a "likely application" of their technology that fits the mission of the agency or entity on whome they are calling.  It is not a case of a government entity coming to a technology company and saying "What if I wanted to [insert scary thing here]?"  I do not know for a fact that this technology is being used, but I know that the capability is being sold.

Now to the scenario.

Let's say that a large wire transfer is made from a bank in Saudia Arabia to four separate banks in the US.  The US banks are in San Francisco, New York, Miami and Washington, DC.  The foreign bank is being surveilled electronically and it is that surveillance which captures the transaction.  At this point the intelligence unit knows only that a foreign bank it considers suspect has made a wire transfer of a sufficiently large sum of money to domestic financial institutions.  They don't know who made the transfer and they don't know who owns the US accounts where the monies were deposited.

They go and get a warrant to compel the bank to disclose information on the account holders.  This may be very basic information - for our purposes, let's say that it's the name and address listed for each of the four accounts and that each recipient is a different person with a different name and address.  The intelligence unit then sends the names and addresses gleaned from the warrant to another intelligence unit who maintains a central terrorist screening database.  The individuals at the terrorist screening database who receive the request to run the names are not told why they are running the names.  They are only to report whether or not the names (normalized to allow for common misspellings and differences in linguistics) occur in their database.  In essence, they are returning a "true" or "false" answer to the original intelligence unit - "true" if the name occurs, "false" if it doesn't.  For the sake of this scenario, the results of all four names are "false".

But it doesn't end there.

The original intelligence unit has reason to believe that the foreign bank has initiated transactions that are suspect in nature in the past and that the current transactions are so sizeable that they necessitate additional investigation.  Having the names and addresses of the US account holders, they use a visualization application to perform link analysis.  Link analysis is exactly that - it is a visual software toolset that depicts relationships between persons known and unknown.  Stepping away from our scenario, here's a sample screenshot of such a link analysis tool:

(You can link to a larger picture here)

Note the different representations and icons for persons and links.  This is a powerful investigative and analytical tool for enforcement and intelligence analysts.  It allows them to "see" a network of persons, companies, countries, accounts, etc.

Now back to the scenario.  Right now, the links in the software are between the four individuals, their domestic financial institutions, and the original foreign bank.  In short, it's a pretty elaborate depiction of the wire transfer without any specific information as to nature of the recipients.  On its own, it doesn't give the analyst much information that wasn't already known.

Enter, then, what I will refer to as the information repositories.  Let's say that I wanted to take the name and address of one of the US funds recipients and determine who their "known associates" are.  Let's say further that there is a company out there that specializes in collecting information about people.  Some of that information is public, some of it isn't.

Stepping outside of the scenario, think of this capability in a very personal way.  If I were to take your name and street address and plug it into an application that quickly spidered publicly available data sources, what information would I get back?  Well, first, I would get all the information about your home, what you paid for it, when you bought it, where it is, who the neighbors are, what they paid for their homes, who (if anyone) is listed as a director of your homeowner's association, whether or not you have any records in the criminal, civil and/or appellate court systems, whether or not you have judgments against you and liens against your property, etc. and so forth.  In short, I could find out a lot about you simply by bringing together in one place a way to index and search these publicly available data sources.

Now back to the scenario.  I want to know more about each of these four funds recipients.  I can spider not only public data sources but also government-held data sources.  I can get a picture of their income, employment, what they own, what charities they donate to, what they owe, who their neighbors are, who their co-workers are, who their children and spouse are, who they associate with, etc.  I'm starting to fill in the blanks.

Let's say that one of the individuals I'm investigating is a male named John Doe.  Through use of the information repositories and the application technology they offer, I know that John Doe gives money regularly to a mosque where he worships.  I also learn that YOU, the reader, are a neighbor of John Doe.  Not only that - John Doe, in trying to give the appearance of being an upstanding citizen, sits as the Treasurer of your homeowner's association, of which you are President.  John Doe is a local business owner - he owns a home improvement contracting company - and you, the reader, being a good neighbor, have used John Doe and have paid him to do work on your home.  The investigating agency knows this because John Doe has declared what you paid him as income and a check from you has been deposited, at some point in the past, in John Doe's account.

The same account to which John Doe received the wire transfer of funds from the foreign bank, the very transaction which started the whole process.

YOU are now added as a link to John Doe in the analyst's link analysis software tool.  All of this information as well as information from other strong known associates of John Doe is used to apply to FISA to put you under surveillance.

Seem far-fetched?  It isn't.  Let me say for the record that many of these technologies and tools are invaluable in doing legitimate investigative work.  Their existence pre-dates by far the 9/11 attacks.  Picture a crime syndicate and the power of such a tool in unravelling all of the tendrils - hell - picture the value of such a tool in mapping the Abramoff investigation.  So I'm saying that the tools themselves are not bad.  

What is bad is the existence of these tools in today's intelligence climate.  As far as I know, nothing that I laid out in my scenario involved an instance of illegal surveillance.  I can't even envision the scenario that would develop when I consider illegal wiretapping.

The only thing that protects you from being involved in a scenario like this is some degree of transparency in the law enforcement and intelligence arenas and a DEMAND that governmental entities follow the letter of the law when it comes to surveillance of private citizens.

Big brother is a series of 0's and 1's and is, for all intents and purposes, the very means by which I am communicating with you today.

How's that for alarming?

[editor's note, by RenaRF] It occurred to me as I read this through that I wasn't terribly clear as to why I wrote it. As I read in another comment here days ago, I am outraged by the lack of outrage by the common American citizen over the illegal wiretapping. This extends, for me, to a frustration bordering on anxiety at America's willingness to give up rights in the name of "safety". I can only imagine that people are thinking "Well I'm not doing anything wrong so I won't get caught up in the surveillance." That's so not the case. This was the most realistic example I could give that might break it down for the non-progressive, non-political among us.

Thanks for reading!!

Originally posted to RenaRF's Random Ramblings on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 11:51 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This may account... (none)
    ...for many of the folks who find themselves on the no-fly list. Guilt by association.
    •  Funny you should mention that (none)
      The comment out of which this diary grew began with the "No Fly" diary posted yesterday - it is a question of how someone lands on that list, isn't it?  Hopefully this is one of many plausible explanations.
      •  No fly (none)
        There are far simpler ways to get on the No Fly list. Say a local cop knows you and doesn't like you or sees you participating in an antiwar demo, which he happens to disagree with. All he has to do is pick up the phone and call JTTF and blammo, you're on the list.

        My step-mom's on that list, and it's the only way she can figure it. She works closely with law enforcement in a small town, mostly in a complimentary role but sometimes the relationship is somewhat adversarial. Either way, she knows every cop in town and they all know her. She learned that she had been added shortly after attending an antiwar demo down at city hall, where she spotted cops jotting down notes and taking pictures of demonstrators (now standard practice at all demonstrations anywhere in the U.S.).

        With no transparency and no oversight, the No Fly list could sweep up anybody for any reason at all. Increasingly, one suspects it's just the tip of the iceberg.

        "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

        by Septic Tank on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:36:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Recommended. (none)
    Excellent depiction of why good old 'John Doe' of Main Street, Everytown USA should sit up and pay attention.  Just imagine what (more) damage Joe McCarthy could have done with these technologies [shudder]...  
    Please add a tip jar and take your bows, Rena!

    Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

    by FindingMyVoice on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 11:59:42 AM PST

    •  You can tip me (4.00)
      but it may make you a "known associate".  ;-)

      Seriously - this is one of those diaries that grew out of me being totally frustrated at the lack of outrage over the illegal NSA wiretaps.  I figure that the average American just figures they aren't doing anything wrong so why worry - hopefully the diary address why they should worry.

      •  Rena, I have a question (none)
        I have clients, primarily in Italy. I administer and manage their real estate holdings in NY.  From time to time, they ask me to transfer money from  Citibank to their Italian bank, usually Banca di Roma. I maintain 6 or 8 accounts at Citibank for various clients.

        Since I do this and I am the power of attorney on the US account, does this put me and them on some sort of list? To be more direct, is someone spying on me?

        Two more facts, they have been my clients for an average of 15 years, usual amounts transferred is not in excess of $10,000-$15,000.

        Also, I receive a regular stream of emails from Italy, are these being monitored, collected, stored in some database?

      •  re: known associate (none)
         "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
        -- Ben Franklin, on the debate over signing the Declaration of Independence.  

        Many thanks - and a Four - for expressing your outrage so well.

        Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

        by FindingMyVoice on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:10:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Are You Now or Have You Ever Been... (4.00)
    "... And no, the answer is not because you're blogging here on Daily Kos,..."
    But yes, the answer is because we're blogging on the Daily Kos. In fact, even if you are just reading the postings here you can be all but certain that the data miners are keeping track of your internet activities. We are the vanguard. They are the darkness.

    "The skeleton in the closet is coming home to roost!" Tom Stoppard

    by Apotropoxy on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM PST

    •  No difference (none)
      from my being watched during the 60s and 70s under Nixon than being watched today. For that matter, it seems like everytime there is a republican in the White House or majority in Congress, spying on American citizens is the norm. I hope like hell this isn't going to be another Red Scare like we had back in the 50s. Why does it always come to this?
      •  Gerald Ford (none)
        Only Administration in my political lifetime to reign in political surveillance.

        Carter's expansions were modest, Clinton's worse. (The post Oklahoma City Anti-Terrorism law. Feingold was the only Senate Dem to vote against, Conyers and a handful in the House, most also from the Black caucus.

        A Senator YOU can afford
        $1 contributions only.
        Masel for Senate
        1214 E. Mifflin St.
        Madison, WI 53703

        by ben masel on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 02:56:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I assume I am... (4.00)
    ...if for no other reason than I sent an e-mail to Dick Cheney saying, "Go fuck yourself!"  Plus I have e-mail & phone communication with folks in Italy and Korea.  I"m pretty sure the words "Bush" and "sucks" have appeared more than once.  Maybe I'm wrong.  But just in case, I try to make a point of working the words "fuck" and "Bush" into as many of these communications as possible.

    "...the big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    by Roddy McCorley on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:00:46 PM PST

    •  Hmm (none)
      When this news broke, I wrote hereabout why I suspected that I might have been spied on.  In summary, a long distance relationship that stretched from the US to the UAE with lots of email and phone calls.  It's interesting that you mentioned working "fuck" and "Bush" into your phone calls.  I often remarked about how much I hated him, what a liar I think he is, etc.  But I always said, "Don't worry, whoever's listening.  I'm not going to kill him or blow anything up."  It would be interesting to see how the data mining works.  Would they pick up just words, like, "hate," "Bush," "kill," and "blow"?  Or phrases like, "I'm not going to kill him..."

      Oh well.  At least I can still fly.  I think.

  •  Great topic. (none)
    That is called link analysis and it is a data mining technique.  It gets better.  Statistics and demographics regarding what constitutes a standard customer as well as any deviations from a customer's normal transaction amount or type are likely tracked as well.  This can be accomplished with tools as sophisticated as neural network/Bayesian models or simple calculations such as average transaction amount and how far any given transaction deviates from the average.

    Welcome to the specially designated nationals list.

    BushCo Policy... If you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention. -3.25 -2.26

    by Habanero on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:02:41 PM PST

    •  Here's an interesting (none)
      though maybe unrelated tidbit.

      A piece of legislation called the Bank Secrecy Act allows any institution that deals in cash or cash-like instruments (money orders, certified checks, etc.) to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on a person for any transaction of $3,000 or more.  Whether or not you are suspicious is determined by the individual with whom you deal at the bank.

      •  Well Rena, you just answered my question (none)
        I cannot believe this. I do believe you, but, it kinda takes your breath away.
      •  One more question (none)
        Do banks always file an SAR or is it done on a case by case basis?

        Does an SAR have to be approved by management?

        •  I'll answer it even further (none)
          SARs are at the discretion of the individual doing the transaction.  They determine "suspicious".  They don't have to notify you.

          There is another filing called a CTR (Cash Transaction Report).  CTRs are filed by law for any transaction over $10,000.  If it's your money you're wiring to your mother, you sign off on the CTR and are made aware of what you are signing.

          SARs arose out of people's tendency to "structure" transactions based on the very above-board nature of the CTR.  In other words, they would break the transactions up.  Another clarification also - the total has to be $3000 or more.  If you come in and wire six $500 transactions to the same person, that qualifies as a SAR event.

          •  Wow. So a CTR is automatic . . . (none)
            even if the funds are coming out of a long standing account.

            CTR is really a misnomer, because if I understand you correctly, it's not only used for cash transactions but any transaction over $3000.

            •  CTR is automatic. (none)
              Be aware, though, that I'm talking about cash and cash-like transfers - NOT checks.  Cash and cash-like transactions include:

              Money orders
              Wire Transfers
              Certified checks

              Standard checks are different and are regulated differently.  The whole point of SAR and CTR reporting is to identify and break up attempts to launder money which is not really done with legitimate, traditional checks.  I don't think you should worry... about that at any rate.

      •  That has been around for a while. (none)
        Yes this is all part of HIPPA and portions of additional legislation related to the Patriot Act.  I made the list because I was very vocal about having caught the administration in several lies and I had proof.  Then certain employees of the government severely harassed me (yes I have concrete proof of that as well;) I am trying to work with a member of the House judiciary Committee to testify in camera if needed regarding what I know.  After several short correspondences I still have no subpoena.

        BushCo Policy... If you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention. -3.25 -2.26

        by Habanero on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:13:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Scary (none)
    I can see how this could be used positively but... in the current climate of lawlessness within our gov't the chance for abuse outweighs its benefits, IMO. I don't know Rena this is very scary stuff!

    Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought- John F. Kennedy

    by vcmvo2 on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:05:41 PM PST

    •  I've seen it demonstrated. (none)
      Both the link analysis piece and the known associates piece... Imagine sitting in a room full of people and you give your name to the presenter and they stick it into the analytical tool.  20 seconds go by and the presenter's cell phone beeps.  She shows you a text message with your name and the names of all your family members and neighbors to prove that she can.
      •  Yikes! (none)
        I don't think I'd be able to sleep after that! Is this basically federal property or is this private contractors?

        I don't know if it matters since the feds aren't bothering to get warrants anymore. It's a scary world when your own government treats you as if you were the enemy until proven otherwise. The fact that the rethugs and their defenders don't see this is unbelievable!

        Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought- John F. Kennedy

        by vcmvo2 on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:34:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  You, too can be a spy! (none)
    Here's a link to a Chicago newspaper story that ran yesterday:

    For a fee, there are companies out there that given a cell phone number will provide the fee-payer with a list of other telephone numbers that that particular cell phone called.

    Apparently this is legal.  Schumer is trying to stop it, according to the article.

    •  All phone records if I remember correctly. (none)
      If I remember correctly, all states require you to opt out of that information availability, but for the state of California.  Californians have that protection by default.  Score one for the fine state of California.

      BushCo Policy... If you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention. -3.25 -2.26

      by Habanero on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:19:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well... (none)
    I always was a bit of an attention hound. At least someone is paying attention to me.

    But seriously, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg on what they can find out about you if they mine the right databases.

    There are bagels in the fridge

    by Sychotic1 on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:09:58 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this (none)
    Fascinating stuff. Thanks for distilling it. It's interesting just from a techy standpoint, but also relevant to us in today's climate.

    Blog this! Visit me at K Street Blues. It will change your life. (Actual life-changing not a guarantee.)

    by AggieDemocrat on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:16:34 PM PST

  •  Good post (none)
    I would like to point out that as someone who works for a bank that account transactions are not reported to the government unless the bank determines that the transaction is suspicious (this is determined by a regulatory officer in the bank).  Suspicious transactions really need to appear to be an attempt to avoid mandated reporting of large dollar transactions or in some way appear to be a part of a money laundering scheme.

    While its true that all checks processed between two banks will end up in the Fed's system for processing and technically the government has access to those checks for a certain period of time, it is not realistic for them to do surveillance in this manner.  The Fed processes hundreds of millions if not billions of checks everyday.  The only account number that can be automatically read by their computer system would be the one the check is drawn off of, not the one its being deposited into.

    Also from a banker's perspective, I was stunned at the amount of information available to us when we had to start doing more in-depth identity verification of customers with the introduction of the Patriot Act.  The part of the Patriot Act that applies to financial institutions is no covered much in the press, but there was a considerable increase in the amount of information we had to gather about our new clients as a result of the Patriot Act.  Again, this information is not shared with the government on a regular basis...the only government representatives who usually see it are Fed Auditors who are ensuring we're following regulations.  In addition, since we retrieve all this information from data-mining type companies, its not like any of it is stuff the Fed's don't already know.

    •  And you know (none)
      the BSA SAR stuff arose with good cause - to identify those trying to launder money.  It was a natural progression from those who started "structuring" cash transactions to fly under the official CTR filing threshhold.
    •  2 cents (none)
      You might want to read up on the parameters in the required software features that must be installed to be Patriot Act compliant software.  

      BushCo Policy... If you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention. -3.25 -2.26

      by Habanero on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:40:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Connecting Dots (none)

     Here's a scenario that may be playing out     right.       now.

     Some radical, Wahhabi cleric (in, say, Medina - let's call him "Ibn") gives, and broadcasts, daily sermons from his mosque praising the infalibility of his radical interpretation of the Qur'an and excoriating the infidels.

     Mulah Ibn even starts talking "outside of the box" of assasinating world leaders and matter-of-factly announcing Allah's smiting to death infidels who would support peace with Israel.

     You have a brother in law who is, yes, Saudi.  He's an o.k. chap as far as you're concerned, but, out of some sense of obligation, or, maybe he's just "into conservative Saudi values", he gives some monthly pittance to Mullah Ibn's mosque (say $25.00/month).

     O.K., now jump back to RenaRF's scenario about the "good neighbor" and how they get "wrapped into" the bank accounts of the "Person of Interest" and so forth and so on.  

     Now, here's the fun part:  of course, Mullah Ibn is one Pat Robertson and Medina is Virginia Beach and Wahhabism is the 700 Club's own weird-ass version of fundagellicalism and your brother-in-law isn't Saudi, but "Buddy" from Spartenburg, South Carolina.

     And the REAL point of all this is that there's a double standard on two different levels:

     1  Buddy won't get wrapped up in any kind of investigation, and neither will you (at least, not per this hypothetical) because his "Mullah" is, at the end of the day, just peachy with the White House and FBI.

     . . . and,

     2  Besides, if it's a Saudi radical cleric whipping up hate against the U.S., well, that's probably a friend of a friend of President Junior, or a cousin of a business associate of Dick Cheney so, well, no biggee . . . let's invade Iraq instead!  After all, it had much more to do with 9.11 than any radical Saudis or their fundamentalist leaders.



    . . . religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. H.L. Mencken

    by BenGoshi on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:44:10 PM PST

  •  Can (none)
    they surveil the surveilled?

    Mushroom cloud for mushroom crowd.

    by Ruffledfeather on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 02:32:13 PM PST

  •  My question: (none)
    Does aluminum foil really help?  Maybe we can all fashion hats of foil as with clever bits emblazoned on them like "Bush Blocker" or "NSA Foiler" and own our hysteria.  A new fashion statement.  I'm serious here.  And I thought of it first, you parasites of the mind - where's my hat.

    "I'm an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over..." - Charles E. Pogue, "The Fly".

    by edsdet on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 02:46:14 PM PST

    •  It does (none)
      feel tinfoil hatty, to be sure.  That doesn't mean it isn't happening.  ;-)
      •  I do think the diarist (none)
        knows what he's talking about.  That's what freaks me out.  I thought a little tin foil hat humor was in order that's all.  How else do we deal with this?  Stop reading these diaries?

        "I'm an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over..." - Charles E. Pogue, "The Fly".

        by edsdet on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 03:04:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your reply (none)
          disloged that old saying I couldn't think of earlier:
          "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me"!  Thanks.  And good diary, too.

          "I'm an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over..." - Charles E. Pogue, "The Fly".

          by edsdet on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 03:15:18 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I am the diarist. (none)
          And I'm a she.  :-)

          What's funny about your comment (which I took in the right context - humorously!) is that I think the average person would think it was some far-out spy story "can't happen here" kind of thing.  That's why more people aren't upset about the illegal wiretapping or, even more so, about the general ease with which the government can do these kinds of things even through legal means.

          I have a tinfoil hat on my wireless router, though, just in case.  ;-)

    •  Here's an interesting design... (none)

      The really bizarre thing about this administration is we have finally reached a point where tin-foil and truth coincide. I now believe things I never would have five years ago.

      Where's my hat?

      •  I'm tellin' ya (none)
        this hat thing, it could take off with the right marketing.  Who's that guy who adverts on dkos with the gasoline t'shirts?  It could be his next bonanza.

        "I'm an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over..." - Charles E. Pogue, "The Fly".

        by edsdet on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 03:34:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  as far as I'm concerned ...... (none)
    they can follow me all they want. I'm sure they will make the USA a safer place by following around a retired railroader. They wont need to get the bino's out to see the impeach sign I have in the front window. Soon the boots of the SS will be echoing in the streets of the cities. Who said history doesn't repeat itself. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK......

    a splendid time is guaranteed for all

    by KBueno on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 02:48:11 PM PST

  •  This process (none)
    seems like an awful lot of work for the Repub/ruling class/idle rich. Wouldn't it be more cost-effective to just arrest and execute people randomly--you know, like Stalin did?

    The revolution is ongoing.

    by The Gryffin on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 02:55:36 PM PST

  •  A correction (none)
    "They go and get a warrant to compel the bank to disclose information on the account holders."

    Doesn't take a warrant, just an administrative subpoena, ever since Drugwar money laundering statutes from the '80s.

    A Senator YOU can afford
    $1 contributions only.
    Masel for Senate
    1214 E. Mifflin St.
    Madison, WI 53703

    by ben masel on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 03:00:11 PM PST

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