July 16th, 2009
Total information awarness. Back in 2001, the Defense Department was briefed about a massive data mining system that officials said was aimed at identifying alleged terrorists who lived and communicated with people in the United States.
"Suspicionless Surveillance" was developed by the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness department, led by Admiral John Poindexter, the former national security adviser who secretly sold weapons to Middle Eastern terrorists in 1980s during the Iran-Contra affair and was convicted of a felony for lying to Congress and destroying evidence. The convictions were later overturned on appeal.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, had referred to Poindexter "the architect of a program to extend surveillance of private databases."
Rotenberg said Poindexter was involved in a 1984 policy directive criticized by civil liberties groups and lawmakers who said it would hand the National Security Agency control over privately held information. The directive was voided with the passage of the 1987 Computer Security Act.
In the summer of 2002, a public outcry over the revelation that JetBlue Airways turned over the names and addresses of 1.5 million passengers to the Pentagon so the agency could create a database about Americans' travel patterns, and also authorized the agency to monitor credit card transactions, led Congress to withhold tens of millions of dollars in funding for the project in early 2003.
But the program would have been able to continue to operate if President Bush believed that dismantling it would endanger national security, which former NSA officials familiar with the program said was the case.
The "suspicionless surveillance" program was somewhat different from the warrantless wiretaps President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct after 9/11. "Suspicionless surveillance" "" unveiled in a Pentagon press release in 2002 "" was broader in scope: it gave law enforcement the authority to mine commercial and other private data on American citizens, listening in on phone calls, monitoring emails, inspecting credit-card and bank transactions of thousands of individuals on the off-chance that one might be a terrorist "" and all without any judicial oversight.
During a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in April 2003, Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, said, "There are two fundamentally different approaches that can be used to identify and locate dangerous individuals in the United States and their sources of financing.
"The approach, which has generated the most discussion, interest, and, apparently, resources is different forms of data-mining: the "suspicionless surveillance' of large groups of people, whether through linking computerized databases, programs like Total Information Awareness, pattern analysis, the creation of a "terrorist profile,' or surveillance of an entire group."
But protests by civil liberty and privacy groups, as well as apprehension by Republican and Democratic lawmakers over what amounted to domestic spying, led Congress to shut down the surveillance program in 2003.
Poindexter said in a resignation letter in September 2003 that his goal in developing the program was to identify "patterns of transactions that are indicative of terrorist planning and preparations."
"We never contemplated spying and saving data on Americans," Poindexter wrote in his resignation letter.