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[ISN] All eyes on Total Info Awareness
Forwarded from: Frode E. Nyboe <frodeen@xxxxxxxx>
By Dan Caterinicchia
Dec. 16, 2002
Perhaps no project being developed as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks has caused such intense public scrutiny and debate
as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Total Information
Awareness (TIA) system.
TIA, in theory, will enable national security analysts to detect,
classify, track, understand and pre-empt terrorist attacks against the
United States by spotting patterns using public and private
transaction and surveillance methods.
The system, parts of which are already operational, incorporates
transactional data systems, including private credit card and travel
records, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and
automated virtual data repositories. Its goal is to create an
"end-to-end, closed-loop system," to help military and intelligence
analysts make decisions related to national security, said Robert
Popp, deputy director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office (IAO),
which is heading up the effort.
"The purpose of TIA would be to determine the feasibility of searching
vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of
terrorist activities," said Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense
for acquisition, logistics and technology, at a Nov. 20 press
But the system poses concerns. Speaking Dec. 12 at a briefing entitled
"Yellow Light on Total Information Awareness," sponsored by the Cato
Institute ? a libertarian, market-oriented think tank ? Robert Levy,
senior fellow in constitutional studies at Cato, said the TIA system
poses three potential risks:
* Misuse of the database information.
* Blurring of the enforcement lines between terrorism and
* Overall ineffectiveness because terrorists will learn the rules or
patterns and adjust, as well as "false positives" on targeting
'They Have Adapted'
Levy's concern about terrorists' ability to adapt appear to be
justified, based on remarks that Air Force Gen. Richard Myers,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made Nov. 4 at the Brookings
Institution. Myers said that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan may
need to be revamped because of the ability of al Qaeda to adapt to
"They have adapted," Myers said. "They adapt the way they talk to each
other, the way they pass money. They've made lots of adaptations to
our tactics, and we've got to continue to think and try to out-think
them and to be faster at it."
Despite the need for new tactics in the near-term, Aldridge said the
TIA "experiment" would be demonstrated using test data resembling
real-life events, but that the "feasibility" of actually using the
system is "several years away, based upon the ability to understand
"We'll not use detailed information that is real," Aldridge said. "In
order to preserve the sanctity of individual privacy, we're designing
this system to ensure complete anonymity of uninvolved citizens, thus
focusing the efforts of law enforcement officials on terrorist
investigations. The information gathered would then be subject to the
same legal protections currently in place for the other law
Such assurances did not satisfy Levy, who repeatedly questioned the
civil liberties infringements that may result from using the TIA
system and said DOD still has many questions to answer, including:
* Who has access to the system and how are those people selected and
* What oversight procedures are in place and what are the sanctions
* What restrictions apply to the use of private data?
Charles Pe-a, senior defense policy analyst at Cato, said that TIA
might better stand for "totally innocent Americans." He added that the
way the "law of large numbers" works means that many innocent people
will be falsely accused if the government's intention is to keep a
dossier on every adult American, of which there are about 240 million.
Pe-a said the only way that the TIA system could be useful is if it is
used to look for behavior and transaction patterns of a small number
of people that are suspected of having terrorist potential.
"The pool of suspects must number in the hundreds" and be preceded by
solid law enforcement and detective work, he said.
Some Components Already at Work
The TIA system will combine strategic analysis with knowledge
discovery and will promote collaboration among users worldwide by
providing access to the most relevant and timely information, Popp
"There are currently subsets of the tools and technologies being used
by analysts to help us understand if they are useful or not," Popp
told Federal Computer Week in October.
Several TIA components are housed at the Army Intelligence and
Security Command's Information Dominance Center. That partnership
enables DARPA to maintain its research and development focus while
working with the command on testing and evaluation and "getting
technology into the hands of the user" as quickly as possible, Popp
Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., technology policy director at Cato, said that
the TIA system could also have a freezing effect on the nation's
e-commerce activity for many reasons including:
* Data transfer procedures for turning over private records to the
* Loss of business due to increased public fear that previously
private transactions and records could be turned over to the
* Companies' right to refuse to turn over citizen records to the
government being jeopardized.
E-commerce is still in its infancy, and "the last thing we need is an
impediment to assuring people their data is private," Crews said.
TIA Leader Causes Greater Concern
DARPA created the Information Awareness Office in mid-January 2002
with the mission of developing and demonstrating information
technology such as data-mining tools designed to counter "asymmetric
threats," such as terrorist attacks.
John Poindexter, national security adviser to President Reagan, who
may be most well known for his part in the infamous Iran-Contra
dealings, is the director of the new agency. His involvement in the
project has only fanned the flames of controversy.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cato analysts, and many privacy and
government watchdog groups have expressed serious reservations about
Poindexter's involvement in the program.
But no one may have taken a tougher stance against Poindexter than New
York Times columnist William Safire, who in a scathing Nov. 14
editorial, wrote: "He is determined to break down the wall between
commercial snooping and secret government intrusion. The disgraced
admiral dismisses such necessary differentiation as bureaucratic
'stovepiping.' And he has been given a $200 million budget to create
computer dossiers on 300 million Americans."
DOD's Aldridge said Poindexter came to the department with the TIA
project proposal after Sept. 11, but that his involvement will end in
the research stage.
"Once the tool is developed...John will not be involved," Aldridge
said. "What John Poindexter is doing is developing a tool. He's not
exercising the tool. He will not exercise the tool. That tool will be
exercised by the intelligence, counterintelligence and law enforcement
The TIA project is funded in the fiscal 2003 budget at $10 million,
and DOD is developing future funding requirements, Aldridge said.
However, the Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained DARPA
budget documents and found that although the TIA budget is $10
million, related programs that may become part of the system are
funded at $240 million for fiscal 2001 through 2003.
Popp said IAO's budget for fiscal 2003 is about $150 million, up from
about $96 million last year. He added that DARPA received more than
170 proposals after issuing a broad agency announcement for the TIA
system in March and is in the process of funding the most relevant
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