The Short Life, Public Execution and Resurrection of John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness
Was it an Orwellian nightmare or an intelligence savior? John Poindexter says TIA was sucked into a vortex of politics and knee-jerk foolishness before anyone could answer that question.
August 01, 2004
Riffing on politics in his most recent stand-up routine, the comedian Chris Rock laments that nobody thinks anymore. Nobody considers an issue and lets it roll around in his head for a while; we have become a nation both addicted to snap judgment and suspicious of anyone willing to say, "It depends," or "I'll have to think about that." Rock's raucous audience offers loud applause on this point, not laughter. If retired Adm. John M. Poindexter had been there to hear Rock's rant, he likely would have applauded too. For he and Rock share this concern over America's growing reliance on snap judgment and resistance to reasoned debate
Poindexter still slips sometimes and talks about Total Information Awareness (TIA) in the present tense. Despite the fact that he resigned from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) a year ago, despite the fact that DARPA subsequently dissolved the Information Awareness Office (IAO) he had built, and despite the fact that DARPA ostensibly canceled TIA (the broad-ranging program designed to apply technology-based intelligence as a counterterrorism measure), Poindexter still firmly believes in TIA (he pronounces it Tia, like the woman's name). In fact, he says, TIA has gone away in name only. And he cautions that if the debate about its merits remains emotional, rather than reasoned, the nation may well end up with a less effective, but more invasive, set of technologies to combat terrorism.
Hardly humbled by the public maelstrom surrounding his project and his eventual resignation (events he says he largely foresaw), Poindexter seems energized by the controversy. If anything, he says now, TIA didn't go far enough. It needed to encompass more of the national security infrastructure (not just intelligence) and more of the national policy (not just technology) infrastructure.
"One of the reasons I continue to speak out is that the solutions to the counterterrorism problem involve other parts of the national security community
Poindexter spoke about TIA at the CSO/CIO Perspectives conference in April in Carlsbad, Calif. It was his most broad-ranging discussion of TIA since leaving DARPA; and he used the opportunity not only to promote the concepts behind TIA, but also to defend himself against criticism from Congress, the media and privacy advocates.