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Introducing the Information Awareness Office

by safire Friday, Nov. 15, 2002 at 4:19 PM

YOU ARE A SUSPECT: regarding the current homeland security act.

By William Safire
New York Times
Thursday, November 14, 2002


WASHINGTON - If the Homeland Security Act is not amended
before passage,
here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine
subscription you
buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you
visit and e-mail
you send or receive, every academic grade you receive,
every bank deposit
you make, every trip you book and every event you attend --
all these
transactions and communications will go into what the
Defense Department
describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from
commercial sources,
add every piece of information that government has about
you -- passport
application, driver's license and bridge toll records,
judicial and divorce
records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your
lifetime paper
trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance -- and you
have the
supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about
every U.S.

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what
will happen to your
personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter
gets the
unprecedented power he seeks.

Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at
the Naval Academy,
later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to national
security adviser under
President Ronald Reagan. He had this brilliant idea of
secretly selling
missiles to Iran to pay ransom for hostages, and with the
illicit proceeds
to illegally support contras in Nicaragua.

A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts
of misleading
Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court
overturned the
verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his
testimony. He
famously asserted, "The buck stops here," arguing that the
White House
staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful
decisions that
might prove embarrassing.

This ring-knocking master of deceit is back again with a
plan even more
scandalous than Iran-contra. He heads the "Information
Awareness Office" in
the otherwise excellent Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, which
spawned the Internet and stealth aircraft technology.
Poindexter is now
realizing his 20-year dream: getting the "data-mining"
power to snoop on
every public and private act of every American.

Even the hastily passed U.S.A. Patriot Act, which widened
the scope of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and weakened 15
privacy laws, raised
requirements for the government to report secret
eavesdropping to Congress
and the courts. But Poindexter's assault on individual
privacy rides
roughshod over such oversight.

He is determined to break down the wall between commercial
snooping and
secret government intrusion. The disgraced admiral
dismisses such necessary
differentiation as bureaucratic "stovepiping." And he has
been given a $200
million budget to create computer dossiers on 300 million

When George W. Bush was running for president, he stood
foursquare in
defense of each person's medical, financial and
communications privacy. But
Poindexter, whose contempt for the restraints of oversight
drew the Reagan
administration into its most serious blunder, is still
operating on the
presumption that on such a sweeping theft of privacy
rights, the buck ends
with him and not with the president.

This time, however, he has been seizing power in the open.
In the past week
John Markoff of The Times, followed by Robert O'Harrow of
The Washington
Post, have revealed the extent of Poindexter's operation,
but editorialists
have not grasped its undermining of the Freedom of
Information Act.

Political awareness can overcome "Total Information
Awareness," the combined
force of commercial and government snooping. In a similar
Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism Information
and Prevention
System (TIPS), but public outrage at the use of gossips and
postal workers
as snoops caused the House to shoot it down. The Senate
should now do the
same to this other exploitation of fear.

The Latin motto over Poindexter"s new Pentagon office reads
"Scientia Est
Potentia" -- "knowledge is power." Exactly: the
government's infinite
knowledge about you is its power over you. "We're just as
concerned as the
next person with protecting privacy," this brilliant mind
blandly assured
The Post. A jury found he spoke falsely before.
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Great resource maxglick Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002 at 9:13 PM
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