- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, derided as "Big Brother" by privacy advocates, has handed off its first technologies to government agencies, which are using the software to assess intelligence on terrorists.

Pentagon officials say the software tools, named Genoa, let agencies better compare and exchange interpretations of a vast amount of data legally available to such terrorist-tracking agencies as the FBI and CIA.

TIA's most contested work, a computer program designed to track everyday transactions, is still in the experimental stage, officials said.

"We're pleased," said Jan Walker, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), when asked how its technologies were performing in actual operations.

"As a piece of technology becomes mature enough, and if we can take a prototype and integrate it, we will do that," she said. "We will be doing this over the course of the next five years."

The TIA has come under severe attack in recent weeks from some press outlets and lawmakers who say it will be used to snoop on innocent citizens. TIA advocates say methods outside traditional criminal justice procedures are needed to foil terrorists bent on mass murder. They also say privacy safeguards are planned.

The TIA would seek to create a massive database of billions of transactions some public, some private. It would attempt to identify whether terrorists leave telltale transaction fingerprints while planning attacks. If so, TIA would find the fingerprints and alert law-enforcement agencies and the military.

"If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures in this information space," retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter, TIA's program director, said in a speech in the fall.

"Total Information Awareness is our answer. We must be able to detect, classify, identify and track terrorists so that we may understand their plans and act to prevent them from being executed," he said.

The software tools handed over to government agencies in recent months are the first of several TIA components.

The formal name for the new software is Genoa. Compared with other TIA programs, it is considered by privacy advocates and civil libertarians to be perhaps the most benign.

Genoa, on which Adm. Poindexter worked in the private sector before joining DARPA in January, is designed to enhance the sharing and analysis of data legally available to government agencies, Ms. Walker says.

In his speech, Adm. Poindexter said that Genoa provides "tools for collaborative reasoning, estimating plausible futures and creating actionable options for the decision maker."

The tougher road for TIA comes when, or if, Adm. Poindexter's program managers can produce the crown jewel a supercomputer system that can mine data for telltale terrorist imprints among billions of commercial and government transactions.

If Adm. Poindexter's theory proves to be correct, the Bush administration will face a big hurdle. Many of these transactions remain off-limits to law-enforcement investigators absent a court-authorized subpoena. Administration officials acknowledged in interviews that they would have to ask Congress to ease such rules and convince lawmakers that safeguards existed to protect law-abiding citizens.

DARPA is often on the leading edge of technologies that help the military fight smarter. Some ideas, such as the agency's work to develop the World Wide Web, revolutionized the way people work.

TIA is an umbrella for programs with such acronyms as TIDES, EARS and GENISYS that could revolutionize the hunt for Osama bin Laden's terrorists.

The investigation into the September 11 attacks showed that the 19 hijackers involved made scores of credit card, travel and passport transactions as they entered and left the country, and received money to finance the deadly acts.

Adm. Poindexter's vision is a software detection system that could have spotted those pre-September 11 movements as terrorist fingerprints.

"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 recent speech.

Meanwhile, DARPA is getting both encouragement and flack from Capitol Hill. Adm. Poindexter, a figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, briefed the House and Senate armed services committees, which funded TIA in the 2003 defense budget. The House's defense bill lauded one part of TIA, the Genoa collaborative assessment.

The "Big Brother" analogy is being used mostly by Democratic legislators and privacy advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

"What happens is the administration doesn't give a justification for it, they put in no safeguards, they don't talk to people, and these things leak out," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told ABC.

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