- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

The Pentagon yesterday confirmed that a high-tech data-collection system that will monitor credit-card transactions and airline ticket purchases, described by critics as "a supersnoop's dream," is being created to thwart terrorist attacks.
Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and a retired Navy admiral, said the program, Total Information Awareness (TIA), is an "experimental prototype" that will attempt to search "vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of terrorist activities."
Critics have charged that the program will give the Defense Department the power to conduct research into the personal habits of Americans.
The program is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is headed by retired Adm. John Poindexter, the national security adviser during the Reagan administration who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal. The convictions were overturned on appeal.
"DARPA's purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of this technology," Adm. Aldridge said. "If it proves useful, [TIA] will then be turned over to the intelligence, counterintelligence and law-enforcement communities as a tool to help them in their battle against domestic terrorism."
Adm. Aldridge said information gathered with the technology would be subject to legal restrictions currently in place. Law-enforcement and intelligence authorities must seek the approval of a federal court to conduct surveillance activities in pursuit of criminals, spies and terrorists.
The language authorizing TIA was tucked inside the homeland security bill and became a matter of widespread public knowledge only last week.
The program will fund research and development of technologies that will allow the federal government to track the e-mail, Internet use, travel, credit-card purchases, phone, bank records and every type of available public and private data in what the Pentagon describes as one "centralized grand database."
The project first appeared in the Senate Democratic proposal to create the Homeland Security Department. The Democrats' bill was defeated, but the program was included in the Republican-brokered agreement that passed the House last week and the Senate this week.
Outgoing Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, tried last week to eliminate what he called the "outrageous" plan, but to no avail.
"You would think the Pentagon planning a system to peek at personal data would get a little more attention," Mr. Barr said.
Backers of the homeland security bill, including spokesmen for both outgoing House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, have dismissed such concerns.
Richard Diamond, spokesman for Mr. Armey, chairman of the special committee that wrote the House version of the homeland security bill, said the department has specific protections for privacy, including a privacy officer whose job will be to monitor the new department and make sure it doesn't intrude on privacy rights.
The officer reports to Congress, which has final oversight.
The TIA program has three parts designed to assist anti-terrorism efforts, Adm. Aldridge said.
The first part would create technology that will allow for rapid language translation.
A second component will be used to identify "connections" among various transactions.
For example, the system will try to find any terrorist links between people issued passports, visas or work permits and the purchase of weapons or explosive materials, Adm. Aldridge said. It would cull data from credit cards and purchases such as airline tickets and rental cars.
Lastly, the program will seek to determine "what kind of decision tools would permit the analysts to work together in an interagency community," he said.
Adm. Aldridge said the war on terrorism demands searching for clues in a mass of data.
"It's kind of a signal-to-noise ratio. What are they doing in all these things that are going on around the world? And we decided that new capabilities and new technologies are required to accomplish that task," he said.
The program is part of the Bush administration's new strategy of seeking to stop terrorists before they attack rather than treating terrorism as a law-enforcement matter, Adm. Aldridge said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide