Web of intrigue fails to snare Davis


It isn't every MIT professor who finds himself involved in a complicated case involving charges of high-level conspiracy in the Department of Justice, the alleged stealing of code by the FBI, the involvement of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and the mysterious death of an investigative reporter.

"It had all the makings of a melodrama," reported Dr. Randall Davis, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, and associate director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

It also had an unintended result that made Professor Davis a benefactor of his alma mater, Dartmouth. But that's another part of the story.

It all involved the so-called INSLAW case in which INSLAW, Inc., accused the Department of Justice of conspiring to steal computer software developed by the company and claimed it was therefore entitled to additional government payments.

INVESTIGATING THE FBI

The case had begun in 1982 when the Justice Department awarded a $10 million contract to INSLAW to install case management software called PROMIS in US Attorneys' offices around the country. After that, a series of disputes led to allegations by INSLAW that resulted in several lawsuits, two Congressional investigations and the appointment of a former federal judge as a special counsel in the case.

Professor Davis became involved when the Department of Justice asked him, at the end of 1993, to look into allegations concerning the software at issue in the case. In effect, he was asked to investigate the FBI, to see whether the FBI had pirated software from a private firm and converted it for its own use.

Professor Davis then began digging into the FBI's development of its system, called FOIMS, comparing versions of FOIMS with the PROMIS system developed by INSLAW.

"As it turned out," he said, "I found absolutely nothing suggesting that one program had been copied from the other."

Professor Davis's work became part of a broad-ranging report issued last September, which said the evidence compiled by the special investigator fully supported the findings and conclusions that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the Justice Department or its employees.

The final Justice Department report also concluded there was no credible evidence that INSLAW's PROMIS was being used elsewhere in the government, or had been improperly distributed to a foreign government.

Getting into even more arcane matters, the report rebuffed claims that PROMIS was stolen as part of a US-Israeli slush fund concealed within the office of a special investigations Nazi-hunting unit.

MORE INTRIGUE

And there was still more-the death of an investigative reporter, J. Daniel Casolaro, who had been looking into the matter and who some claimed had been murdered. But the Justice Department report concluded that the death had been a suicide.

As for Professor Davis, he said he found "several things interesting in this.

"First, despite claims of cover-up, the Department of Justice appeared remarkably eager to get to the bottom of things. With regard to my own work, they were quite open and allowed me to do whatever I felt was necessary to investigate the possibility of code piracy.

"Second, I was impressed by the complete lack of response by the media to the Department of Justice report in September that carefully debunked the charges. Scandal makes for good stories, but lack of scandal is, I suppose, not much of a story."

And, finally, Professor Davis got to the Dartmouth connection.

"Given the thicket of allegations of conspiracy that surrounded this case, I had decided that, while I was paid for my time, I would donate the proceeds to a worthy cause, rather than leave open any question that I was influenced by the fact that the Department of Justice was paying for my time."

DARTMOUTH REUNION

In anticipation of the 25th reunion of his Dartmouth class, he donated the $10,000 he earned working on the case. As it turned out, that was enough to endow a scholarship, which will go to a promising student of computer science.

"Dartmouth is in the midst of a major fund-raiser and as a result the scholarship will be matched 1 for 2, resulting in a total endowment of $15,000. Given the size of the donation, I was also in a position to name the scholarship: I decided to call it the New Educational Resource Development Scholarship.

"As a result, starting soon, there is going to be a Dartmouth computer science student who's there on the NERD scholarship, (indirectly) courtesy of the Department of Justice and the FBI."

And that is the story of Professor Davis and the INSLAW case.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 11, 1995.


Topics: Faculty, National relations and service

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