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[] William Safire zum "Total Information Awareness" Office des Pentagon,

New York Times, November 14, 2002

You Are a Suspect


WASHINGTON If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before
passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine
subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web
site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade
your receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and
every event you attend all these transactions and communications
will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual,
centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial
sources, add every piece of information that government has
about you passport application, driver's license and bridge
toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy
neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest
hidden camera surveillance and you have the supersnoop's dream:
a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will
happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John
Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at the
Naval Academy, later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to
national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He had
this brilliant idea of secretly selling missiles to Iran to pay
ransom for hostages, and with the illicit proceeds to illegally
support contras in Nicaragua.

A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of
misleading Congress and making false statements, but an appeals
court overturned the verdict because Congress had given him
immunity for his testimony. He famously asserted, "The buck
stops here," arguing that the White House staff, and not the
president, was responsible for fateful decisions that might
prove embarrassing.

This ring-knocking master of deceit is back again with a plan
even more scandalous than Iran-contra. He heads the "Information
Awareness Office" in the otherwise excellent Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, which spawned the Internet and stealth
aircraft technology. Poindexter is now realizing his 20-year
dream: getting the "data-mining" power to snoop on every public
and private act of every American.

Even the hastily passed U.S.A. Patriot Act, which widened the
scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and weakened
15 privacy laws, raised requirements for the government to report
secret eavesdropping to Congress and the courts. But Poindexter's
assault on individual privacy rides roughshod over such oversight.

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.

When George W. Bush was running for president, he stood foursquare 
in defense of each person's medical, financial and communications 
privacy. But Poindexter, whose contempt for the restraints of 
oversight drew the Reagan administration into its most serious 
blunder, is still operating on the presumption that on such a 
sweeping theft of privacy rights, the buck ends with him and not 
with the president. 

This time, however, he has been seizing power in the open. In the 
past week John Markoff of The Times, followed by Robert O'Harrow 
of The Washington Post, have revealed the extent of Poindexter's 
operation, but editorialists have not grasped its undermining of 
the Freedom of Information Act.

Political awareness can overcome "Total Information Awareness," 
the combined force of commercial and government snooping. In a 
similar overreach, Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism 
Information and Prevention System (TIPS), but public outrage at the 
use of gossips and postal workers as snoops caused the House to 
shoot it down. The Senate should now do the same to this other 
exploitation of fear. 

The Latin motto over Poindexter"s new Pentagon office reads 
"Scientia Est Potentia" ? "knowledge is power." Exactly: the 
government's infinite knowledge about you is its power over you. 
"We're just as concerned as the next person with protecting privacy," 
this brilliant mind blandly assured The Post. A jury found he spoke 
falsely before.

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