[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] NYT 09.11.02: Pentagon Plans a Computer System That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans
November 9, 2002
Pentagon Plans a Computer System That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans
By JOHN MARKOFF
The Pentagon is constructing a computer system that could create a vast
electronic dragnet, searching for personal information as part of the hunt
for terrorists around the globe ? including the United States.
As the director of the effort, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, has described
the system in Pentagon documents and in speeches, it will provide
intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to
information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and
banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant.
Historically, military and intelligence agencies have not been permitted to
spy on Americans without extraordinary legal authorization. But Admiral
Poindexter, the former national security adviser in the Reagan
administration, has argued that the government needs broad new powers to
process, store and mine billions of minute details of electronic life in
the United States.
Admiral Poindexter, who has described the plan in public documents and
speeches but declined to be interviewed, has said that the government needs
to "break down the stovepipes" that separate commercial and government
databases, allowing teams of intelligence agency analysts to hunt for
hidden patterns of activity with powerful computers.
"We must become much more efficient and more clever in the ways we find new
sources of data, mine information from the new and old, generate
information, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge, and
create actionable options," he said in a speech in California earlier this
Admiral Poindexter quietly returned to the government in January to take
charge of the Office of Information Awareness at the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa. The office is responsible for
developing new surveillance technologies in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In order to deploy such a system, known as Total Information Awareness, new
legislation would be needed, some of which has been proposed by the Bush
administration in the Homeland Security Act that is now before Congress.
That legislation would amend the Privacy Act of 1974, which was intended to
limit what government agencies could do with private information.
The possibility that the system might be deployed domestically to let
intelligence officials look into commercial transactions worries civil
"This could be the perfect storm for civil liberties in America," said Marc
Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in
Washington "The vehicle is the Homeland Security Act, the technology is
Darpa and the agency is the F.B.I. The outcome is a system of national
surveillance of the American public."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has been briefed on the project by
Admiral Poindexter and the two had a lunch to discuss it, according to a
"As part of our development process, we hope to coordinate with a variety
of organizations, to include the law enforcement community," a Pentagon
An F.B.I. official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified,
said the bureau had had preliminary discussions with the Pentagon about the
project but that no final decision had been made about what information the
F.B.I. might add to the system.
A spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, Gordon
Johndroe, said officials in the office were not familiar with the computer
project and he declined to discuss concerns raised by the project's critics
without knowing more about it.
He referred all questions to the Defense Department, where officials said
they could not address civil liberties concerns because they too were not
familiar enough with the project.
Some members of a panel of computer scientists and policy experts who were
asked by the Pentagon to review the privacy implications this summer said
terrorists might find ways to avoid detection and that the system might be
"A lot of my colleagues are uncomfortable about this and worry about the
potential uses that this technology might be put, if not by this
administration then by a future one," said Barbara Simon, a computer
scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery.
"Once you've got it in place you can't control it."
Other technology policy experts dispute that assessment and support Admiral
Poindexter's position that linking of databases is necessary to track
potential enemies operating inside the United States.
"They're conceptualizing the problem in the way we've suggested it needs to
be understood," said Philip Zelikow, a historian who is executive director
of the Markle Foundation task force on National Security in the Information
Age. "They have a pretty good vision of the need to make the tradeoffs in
favor of more sharing and openness."
On Wednesday morning, the panel reported its findings to Dr. Tony Tether,
the director of the defense research agency, urging development of
technologies to protect privacy as well as surveillance, according to
several people who attended the meeting.
If deployed, civil libertarians argue, the computer system would rapidly
bring a surveillance state. They assert that potential terrorists would
soon learn how to avoid detection in any case.
The new system will rely on a set of computer-based pattern recognition
techniques known as "data mining," a set of statistical techniques used by
scientists as well as by marketers searching for potential customers.
The system would permit a team of intelligence analysts to gather and view
information from databases, pursue links between individuals and groups,
respond to automatic alerts, and share information efficiently, all from
their individual computers.
The project calls for the development of a prototype based on test data
that would be deployed at the Army Intelligence and Security Command at
Fort Belvoir, Va. Officials would not say when the system would be put into
The system is one of a number of projects now under way inside the
government to lash together both commercial and government data to hunt for
patterns of terrorist activities.
"What we are doing is developing technologies and a prototype system to
revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and
identify foreign terrorists, and decipher their plans, and thereby enable
the U.S. to take timely action to successfully pre-empt and defeat
terrorist acts," said Jan Walker, the spokeswoman for the defense research
Before taking the position at the Pentagon, Admiral Poindexter, who was
convicted in 1990 for his role in the Iran-contra affair, had worked as a
contractor on one of the projects he now controls. Admiral Poindexter's
conviction was reversed in 1991 by a federal appeals court because he had
been granted immunity for his testimony before Congress about the case.
Mail an infowar -
- infopeace -
de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.