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The mysterious story of a Chinese operative and a government cover-up

A man by the name of Steve Greschner was the founder of the facial recognition company, Hummingbird. Hendershott, the second in command at Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office, was friends with Greschner and persuaded then-Governor Janet Napolitano to use Hummingbird for facial recognition in the Arizona outdoor jail, Tent City.

The fact that a day's beard growth was enough to throw off the facial recognition scanners did not stop Hummingbird's contract with Arpaio's office. There was even a litigation case from a small Nevada airport when the Hummingbird software failed a few years prior to the contract with Arpaio's office.

Greschner decided to partner his business with a man named Gang Chen in 2002, and Chen's own business partner from China, Xunmei Li, sealed the deal. The beautiful Li, also called Grace, caught Greschner's attention, and they began dating immediately.

Greschner's struggling company benefited from Chen and Grace's involvement and merged with their own company, Detaq. It didn't deter Greschner when he discovered that Grace, raised in Shanghai, had powerful ties to the Chinese government.

Chen and Li were ceded most of the control of Hummingbird by Greschner, because he didn't have much knowledge with his own software, and was really only the show front for selling the software. Greschner was told by Chen that after a few modifications, the Hummingbird-Detaq software was installed in Tiananmen Square, and opportunities started appearing for the company.

In 2006, Napolitano agreed to bring the sheriff's office security software, Hummingbird, online in the new Arizona Terror Center. Chen insisted that they bring in an engineer specialized in their own facial recognition technology, since it was the most complicated job Hummingbird had taken on so far.

Their engineer of choice? Lizhong "Larry" Fan.

After barely skimming Fan's credentials, Greschner applied for a work visa for Fan, and Fan arrived in January 2007. He was put to work right away, and accompanied by a personal guard to make sure he didn't attempt anything illegal on American soil.

Then, after five months, Fan paid in cash for a ticket to Beijing and walked away with two laptops and multiple hard drives. Greschner and Li, who were out of town, discovered the drives that Fan had left behind were so thoroughly erased that even their operating systems had to be reinstalled.

In the frantic aftermath of the security breach, no one else was notified - even to this day.

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.

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Source: Pro Publica
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