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[infowar.de] NATIONAL JOURNAL: TIA Lives On (02/23/2006)
TIA Lives On
By <mailto:sharris -!
- nationaljournal -
com>Shane Harris, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006
A controversial counter-terrorism program, which lawmakers halted more than
two years ago amid outcries from privacy advocates, was stopped in name
only and has quietly continued within the intelligence agency now fending
off charges that it has violated the privacy of U.S. citizens.
It is no secret that some parts of TIA lived on behind the veil of the
classified intelligence budget.
Research under the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program
-- which developed technologies to predict terrorist attacks by mining
government databases and the personal records of people in the United
States -- was moved from the Pentagon's research-and-development agency to
another group, which builds technologies primarily for the National
Security Agency, according to documents obtained by National Journal and to
intelligence sources familiar with the move. The names of key projects were
changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained
intact, often under the same contracts.
It is no secret that some parts of TIA lived on behind the veil of the
classified intelligence budget. However, the projects that moved, their new
code names, and the agencies that took them over haven't previously been
disclosed. Sources aware of the transfers declined to speak on the record
for this story because, they said, the identities of the specific programs
Two of the most important components of the TIA program were moved to the
Advanced Research and Development Activity, housed at NSA headquarters in
Fort Meade, Md., documents and sources confirm. One piece was the
Information Awareness Prototype System, the core architecture that tied
together numerous information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools
developed under TIA. The prototype system included privacy-protection
technologies that may have been discontinued or scaled back following the
move to ARDA.
A $19 million contract to build the prototype system was awarded in late
2002 to Hicks & Associates, a consulting firm in Arlington, Va., that is
run by former Defense and military officials. Congress's decision to pull
TIA's funding in late 2003 "caused a significant amount of uncertainty for
all of us about the future of our work," Hicks executive Brian Sharkey
wrote in an e-mail to subcontractors at the time. "Fortunately," Sharkey
continued, "a new sponsor has come forward that will enable us to continue
much of our previous work." Sources confirm that this new sponsor was ARDA.
Along with the new sponsor came a new name. "We will be describing this new
effort as 'Basketball,' " Sharkey wrote, apparently giving no explanation
of the name's significance. Another e-mail from a Hicks employee, Marc
Swedenburg, reminded the company's staff that "TIA has been terminated and
should be referenced in that fashion."
Sharkey played a key role in TIA's birth, when he and a close friend,
retired Navy Vice Adm. John Poindexter, President Reagan's national
security adviser, brought the idea to Defense officials shortly after the
9/11 attacks. The men had teamed earlier on intelligence-technology
programs for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which agreed to
host TIA and hired Poindexter to run it in 2002. In August 2003, Poindexter
was forced to
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A51578-2003Aug12>resign as TIA
chief amid howls that his central role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the
mid-1980s made him unfit to run a sensitive intelligence program.
It's unclear whether work on Basketball continues. Sharkey didn't respond
to an interview request, and Poindexter said he had no comment about former
TIA programs. But a publicly available Defense Department document,
detailing various "cooperative agreements and other transactions" conducted
in fiscal 2004, shows that Basketball was fully funded at least until the
end of that year (September 2004). The document shows that the system was
being tested at a research center jointly run by ARDA and SAIC Corp., a
major defense and intelligence contractor that is the sole owner of Hicks &
Associates. The document describes Basketball as a "closed-loop, end-to-end
prototype system for early warning and decision-making," exactly the same
language used in contract documents for the TIA prototype system when it
was awarded to Hicks in 2002. An SAIC spokesman declined to comment for
Another key TIA project that moved to ARDA was Genoa II, which focused on
building information technologies to help analysts and policy makers
anticipate and pre-empt terrorist attacks. Genoa II was renamed Topsail
when it moved to ARDA, intelligence sources confirmed. (The name continues
the program's nautical nomenclature; "genoa" is a synonym for the headsail
of a ship.)
As recently as October 2005, SAIC was awarded a $3.7 million contract under
Topsail. According to a government-issued press release announcing the
award, "The objective of Topsail is to develop decision-support aids for
teams of intelligence analysts and policy personnel to assist in
anticipating and pre-empting terrorist threats to U.S. interests." That
language repeats almost verbatim the boilerplate descriptions of Genoa II
contained in contract documents, Pentagon budget sheets, and speeches by
the Genoa II program's former managers.
As early as February 2003, the Pentagon planned to use Genoa II
technologies at the Army's Information Awareness Center at Fort Belvoir,
Va., according to an unclassified Defense budget document. The awareness
center was an early tester of various TIA tools, according to former
employees. A 2003 Pentagon report to Congress shows that the Army center
was part of an expansive network of intelligence agencies, including the
NSA, that experimented with the tools. The center was also home to the
Army's Able Danger program, which has come under scrutiny after some of its
members said they used data-analysis tools to discover the name and
photograph of 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta more than a year before the
Devices developed under Genoa II's predecessor -- which Sharkey also
managed when he worked for the Defense Department -- were used during the
invasion of Afghanistan and as part of "the continuing war on terrorism,"
according to an unclassified Defense budget document. Today, however, the
future of Topsail is in question. A spokesman for the Air Force Research
Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., which administers the program's contracts, said
it's "in the process of being canceled due to lack of funds."
It is unclear when funding for Topsail was terminated. But earlier this
month, at a Senate Intelligence Committee
<http://intelligence.senate.gov/0602hrg/060202/witness.htm>hearing, one of
TIA's strongest critics questioned whether intelligence officials knew that
some of its programs had been moved to other agencies. Sen. Ron Wyden,
D-Ore., asked Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and FBI
Director Robert Mueller whether it was "correct that when [TIA] was closed,
that several ... projects were moved to various intelligence agencies.... I
and others on this panel led the effort to close [TIA]; we want to know if
Mr. Poindexter's programs are going on somewhere else."
Negroponte and Mueller said they didn't know. But Negroponte's deputy, Gen.
Michael V. Hayden, who until recently was director of the NSA, said, "I'd
like to answer in closed session." Asked for comment, Wyden's spokeswoman
referred to his hearing statements.
The NSA is now at the center of a political firestorm over President Bush's
program to eavesdrop on the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United
States who the agency believes are connected to terrorists abroad. While
the documents on the TIA programs don't show that their tools are used in
the domestic eavesdropping, and knowledgeable sources wouldn't discuss the
matter, the TIA programs were designed specifically to develop the kind of
"early-warning system" that the president said the NSA is running.
Documents detailing TIA, Genoa II, Basketball, and Topsail use the phrase
"early-warning system" repeatedly to describe the programs' ultimate aims.
In speeches, Poindexter has described TIA as an early-warning and
decision-making system. He conceived of TIA in part because of frustration
over the lack of such tools when he was national security chief for Reagan.
Tom Armour, the Genoa II program manager, declined to comment for this
story. But in a previous interview, he said that ARDA -- which absorbed the
TIA programs -- has pursued technologies that would be useful for analyzing
large amounts of phone and e-mail traffic. "That's, in fact, what the
interest is," Armour said. When TIA was still funded, its program managers
and researchers had "good coordination" with their counterparts at ARDA and
discussed their projects on a regular basis, Armour said. The former No. 2
official in Poindexter's office, Robert Popp, averred that the NSA didn't
use TIA tools in domestic eavesdropping as part of his research. But asked
whether the agency could have used the tools apart from TIA, Popp replied,
"I can't speak to that." Asked to comment on TIA projects that moved to
ARDA, Don Weber, an NSA spokesman said, "As I'm sure you understand, we can
neither confirm nor deny actual or alleged projects or operational
capabilities; therefore, we have no information to provide."
ARDA now is undergoing some changes of its own. The outfit is being taken
out of the NSA, placed under the control of Negroponte's office, and given
a new name. It will be called the "Disruptive Technology Office," a
reference to a term of art describing any new invention that suddenly, and
often dramatically, replaces established procedures. Officials with the
intelligence director's office did not respond to multiple requests for
comment on this story.
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