They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin, September 11, 1773
The Information Awareness Office (IAO) is an office of the Department of Defense. Its job is to "imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness that is useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making." I've always thought mission statements were interesting, only in the fact that they can state so much yet say so little.
The IAO is a division of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency that invented the Internet. It was created at the beginning of 2002 as a child of the War on Terrorism, as terrorism is the "most serious asymmetric threat facing the United States." In the wake of September 11, people were left asking the question, why didn't we see it coming? The IAO claims they will be able to predict future attacks by gathering massive amounts of personal information and using algorithms to search this information for people who fit the model of a terrorist. Ideally, the machine will simply pop out a list of names detailing why these people are a threat to America. This was deemed Total Information Awareness.
Because the systems developed by the IAO could arguably be the most powerful information systems in the world, Americans wanted to be sure that those entrusted with this power were honest and trust worthy. The potential for abuse is unfathomable. But in February of 2002 Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, appointed retired Navy Admiral Dr. John Poindexter director of the new IAO. Poindexter had a bit of recognition prior to taking this position. He graduated at the top of his class from the Naval Academy and got his a PhD in physics from CalTech. He is a very intelligent man, however, this says little about his scruples.
In 1983 President Reagan appointed him national security advisor. Along with Oliver North, Poindexter became entrenched in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Later, in 1990, he was found guilty of five felony counts of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing congressional inquiries, which were all over turned the following year in exchange for his testimony. Regarding the exchange of guns for hostages he explained, "I made a very deliberate decision not to tell the president so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the president if it ever leaked out." As national security advisor he admitted that he made decisions about national security without advising the president.
Poindexter and his programs, particularly Total Information Awareness, immediately came under heavy criticism by the public and the press. On ABC's Nightline, Ted Koppel asked a very important question, "Since all of this information is gathered privately, is used privately, is assessed privately by officials in the government who are accountable to no one for this information, how do you know how it's being used?" People did not like the idea of their personal information being amassed in a mammoth database controlled by the military.
Because of this, on February 20, 2003 Congress cut the project's funding and demanded they instill safeguards that will protect people civil liberties. Senator Patrick Leahy remarked that, "Congress has hit the pause button on Admiral Poindexter's universal webcam. This will mean some new accountability for those who are running this secretive project." In addition to this, the IAO was required to submit comprehensive report on the project to Congress. When the 102 page report was presented on May 20, 2003 the program underwent a name change and is now the called Terrorism Information Awareness program. In a press release DARPA stated that the former name "created in some minds the impression that TIA was a system to be used for developing dossiers on US citizens." Though I cannot speak for the others, I got this impression from the TIA web page (which has since been taken down) that itemized the personal information they wanted to collect on US Citizens.
The IAO operates several programs other than the Terrorism Information Awareness system. A program named Babylon will develop a device for "rapid, two-way, natural language speech translation." The project's name seems to be a play on the Tower of Babylon from the Bible. It will be akin to the Star Trek universal translator or the H2G2 babel fish. Unfortunately these handhelds will not be on the shelves for Christmas next year. The technology is classified and the units will only be available to military personal with the proper clearance. Also, they are putting most of their attention on "high-terrorist-risk languages" such as Arabic and Mandarin.
Human Identification at a Distance or HumanID is a system that can identify people by their face, iris, voice or the manner in which they walk. The system incorporates cameras for face and iris recognition, microphones for voice recognition and low power radar for gait recognition. Face recognition is accurate to 150 feet (50 m) and will be extended to 500 feet (150 m). They plan to use this system to identify "terrorist, criminal, and other human-based threats."
There are a few other programs that deal with computers on the battlefield or systems to detect biologic or chemical attacks. However, most of the programs were designed as precursors to the Total Information Awareness system. Systems like Genisys, a totally new method for storing and accessing data in an extremely large database, Genoa and Genoa II, information harvesting algorithms, and Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment (WAE). WAE is a computer simulation that tries to predict what specific terrorists or terrorist organizations are going to do, "by examining their behavior in the broader context of their political, cultural and ideological environment." It has been designed to conduct simulations based on information it receives from the Terrorism Information Awareness system.
The scale of the information desired by the military is no exaggeration. Originally they wanted the database to be a collaboration of several items: information already known to agencies, such as FBI files, CIA files, criminal records and court records; information that is specifically gathered on an individual, such as email messages, phone conversations, acquaintances and affiliations, social activities, and voice print; and information from any activity that leaves a paper trail, such as credit card spending, bank records, marriages, divorces, children, immigration status, travel, medical, etc. Nearly everyone in America, as well as quite a few people abroad, would have been included in this database in order to achieve "total information awareness useful for...national security decision making."
The website for the Information Awareness Office has gone through some significant changes in the handful of months the office has been in existence. Originally the page displayed the office's seal prominently on their front page and on the mastheads of the subordinate pages. Like most seals, it is round with the name "Information Awareness Office" circulating it. In the upper right are the letters "DARPA" the agency that houses the IAO. In the lower left is the Latin phrase scientia est potentia (knowledge is power). In the middle is the Eye in the Pyramid and a globe, and the all-seeing eye is casting a ray onto the globe as if to declare "We are watching you, world."
For those who are unfamiliar with the symbolic nature of this pyramid, it is on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States and can be seen on the back of any American one dollar bill. Robert Anton Wilson wrote about the pyramid's connections to Freemasonry in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, in the context that the freemasons dominate the world's economy and politics. Also, George Orwell wrote in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four about Big Brother who resides at the apex of the pyramid. Both of these stories, as well as many others, discuss and warn against the installation of a totalitarian state. As one begins to draw symbolic and realistic parallels between life and art it becomes a little frightening.
As a result of the high media attention the IAO removed the seal from their pages and replaced it with a less menacing looking DARPA logo. They also removed the phrase scientia est potentia as well as biographical information on John Poindexter and other officials. There was no statement released to explain why this information was removed; it simply disappeared. The Terrorism Information Awareness page kept its logo reminiscent of the Masonic pyramid, for sometime, though, it was eventually changed to a circle with three points in the formation of a pyramid.
With continuing criticism, in August of 2003, John Poindexter was drummed out and resigned his position as director of the office. Commenting on the resignation Senator Patrick Leahy said, "The problem is more than the fact that Admiral Poindexter was put in charge of these projects. The problem is that these projects were just fine with the administration until the public found out about them." The office now has no leader and no money and is pretty impotent. This is a testament to how the people can have an affect when they are informed about what their government is up to. As the IAO's motto says, "knowledge is power." Power to the People!