The U.S. military has begun construction of a new system which will spy on global communications and databases -
including those that occur within American borders - according to a weekend report in The New York
American spy agencies like the CIA and NSA have historically been prevented from collecting information on U.S.
citizens, except under the most dire of circumstances. However, under President Bush's evolving plan to reorganize the
U.S. intelligence community and create a "Department of Homeland Security," Americans could lose these protections and
become the subjects of a new and unprecedented domestic eavesdropping machine.
Losing personal privacy has become such an everyday threat in the United States, that people hardly took notice when
Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter was appointed to head the new Information Awareness Office (IAO) at the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this January. However, the former Reagan official - famous for his role in the
Iran-Contra scandal in which he was convicted of lying to Congress, defrauding the government, and destroying evidence
- may be about to take Big Brother a giant step forward.
Poindexter is leading the charge for "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) - a regime of boundless eavesdropping and
tracking of Americans, and indeed of people all over the world. The TIA cycle starts with the extraction of human
activities from a telecommunications dragnet and from databases relating to finance, education, travel, medicine,
transportation, housing, and other sectors. If the state detects an unwanted activity, the implicated individuals are
identified and secretly tracked using biometric identifiers including facial and iris scans, fingerprints, and gait
analysis. After the state analyzes the behavior of the culprits, it may order a police action to preempt the unwanted
Such chillingly automated and omnipresent systems are currently illegal under the Privacy Act of 1974, which is meant to stifle government abuse of
databases containing sensitive personal information. However, Bush's proposed Homeland Security Act would effect changes to that
law, and pave the way for this new kind of surveillance state.
Poindexter's involvement with automated data-gathering and analysis reaches back to the 1981 attempted assassination
of President Ronald Reagan. Poindexter was asked at that time to offer a critique of the White House Situation Room's
response to the shooting, and he concluded that it was unsatisfactory - and that more automation of domestic
intelligence would be needed in the future. He eventually helped to start Syntek, a
company which has already developed a Total Information Awareness system under DARPA contract. Now that Poindexter has
left Syntek to become head of the IAO, he will attempt to secure the purchase of Syntek's "Genoa" system on behalf of
the U.S. government.
Syntek's prospects kicked into high gear after 9/11, when Poindexter and others realized that the political and
legal landscape could suddenly become hospitable to TIA and Genoa. Only five days after the destruction of the World
Trade Center, Syntek began a new publicity campaign, and Genoa appeared in Government Computer Week touting itself
as an answer to terrorism. Lt. Col. Doug Dyer, head of the Genoa contract program at DARPA, boasted that Syntek's
product offered what "President Bush has asked for exactly... the ability to nip things in the bud earlier and to have
more options for doing that."
With access to such a variety of databases and communications intelligence sources, Genoa's potential for abuse is
staggering. As a general purpose tool, Genoa offers infinite possibilities for the automated surveillance of citizens
and their activities - without a warrant. And if Homeland Security's objective is to "nip things in the bud earlier,"
meaning the initiation of police action based on minimal evidence, Genoa should be able to "nip" citizens just as its
operators see fit. The case of Jose Padilla - who was overtly "disappeared" by the U.S. military even before committing
any crime - has primed the pump for such actions.
Total Information Awareness is not a solution to the terrorist threat. It is just another countermeasure - an attempt
to stand guard over a dangerous phenomenon, one that will continue to grow and find its way around whatever new security
emerges. And it is an extreme countermeasure - one that is paid for by the forcible relinquishment of basic rights.
Besides Syntek, companies working with DARPA on Total Information Awareness include SRS Technologies, CACI, Schafer
Corporation, and Adroit Systems.