Thursday, May 08, 2003

Pointdexter, is that you? 

Total Information Awareness is back in the news today, via the New York Times, making an attempt to sound more like a pussycat, than the tiger initially described by Admiral Poindexter before a California audience:

"Mr. Poindexter told a California audience then that "we must become much more efficient and more clever in the way we find new sources of data, mine information from the new and old, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge and create actionable options." He described a system that could tap into Internet mail, culling records, credit card and banking transactions and travel documents."

Hell, I just want to know who is tapping into Red Onion under the guise of "Hidden Referrer" in my bstats. Dr. Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as Darpa, is trying the downplay his agency's intentions:

Dr. Tether offered a vision of the program that sounded much less threatening than the description given last year by John M. Poindexter, the retired admiral who is in charge of the project.

And what is this vision? In "friendly" questioning, Representative Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican, invited a "friendly" swear from Dr. Tether, which was declined by Dr. Tether in a friendly manner:

Saying "I'm trying to help you guys a little with your p.r. problem," Mr. Putnam invited Dr. Tether to swear that the agency was not "contemplating" using credit card, library or video-rental information. Dr. Tether said he could see no value in any such data, but he could not swear that no consultant hired by the agency was not "contemplating" the value."

With watchdogs like Putnam, we won't have to worry about Darpa's p.r. problems. I am relieved. I'm still wondering who's watching me. Pointdexter, if that is you, are you taking applications for coffee servers, that is, if Halliburton doesn't hire me first?

But wait, there's more. Tether describes what might be the role of Darpa:

Dr. Tether said the system was intended to devise "attack scenarios" based on past terrorist attacks or intelligence about plans.

He offered two examples. If the concern was a truck bomb, he said, one question to be posed was, "Are there foreign visitors to the United States who are staying in urban areas, buying large amounts of fertilizer and renting trucks?"

Or, he said, if the system had been in place, it could have considered the threat posed by a 1995 report from the Philippines that terrorists were considering using airplanes as bombs to destroy landmarks like the World Trade Center.

But, but, didn't the FBI have info concerning terrorists learning to fly planes in order to fly them into buildings? Didn't they ignore the info? Shouldn't we be more concerned about Americans purchasing large amounts of fertilizer? Guess if Daddy Darpa gives them the info, they won't ignore it. Big Brother Darpa, friend to the FBI, and the CIA, and friend to people who aren't worth spying on.