That's right, knowledge is power. In case you were wondering what John Poindexter is up to in the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office, we at Irregular Times are happy to help you in your research. We have collected a set of images from the IAO website, images and quotes from speeches by John Poindexter, and transcripts of a recent press conference on the idea. These are all public or semi-public sources of information. The key is connecting the dots. We respect your intelligence, and so leave that to you.
"The most serious asymmetric threat facing the United States is terrorism, a threat characterized by collections of people loosely organized in shadowy networks that are difficult to identify and define and whose goals are the destruction of our way of life. The intelligence collection targets are thousands of people whose identities and whereabouts we do not always know...."
"I think the solution is largely associated with information technology. We must become much more efficient and more clever in the ways we find new sources of data, mine information from the new and old, generate information, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge, and create actionable options. We must also break down the stovepipes - at least punch holes in them. By this, I mean we must share and collaborate between agencies...."
"Total Information Awareness - a prototype system -- is our answer. We must be able to detect, classify, identify, and track terrorists so that we may understand their plans and act to prevent them from being executed. To protect our rights, we must ensure that our systems track the terrorists, and those that mean us harm.
IAO programs are focused on making Total Information Awareness - TIA -- real. This is a high level, visionary, functional view of the world-wide system - somewhat over simplified. One of the significant new data sources that needs to be mined to discover and track terrorists is the transaction space. If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures in this information space. This is a list of transaction categories, and it is meant to be inclusive. Currently, terrorists are able to move freely throughout the world, to hide when necessary, to find sponsorship and support, and to operate in small, independent cells, and to strike infrequently, exploiting weapons of mass effects and media response to influence governments. We are painfully aware of some of the tactics that they employ. This low-intensity/low-density form of warfare has an information signature. We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise. Certain agencies and apologists talk about connecting the dots, but one of the problems is to know which dots to connect. The relevant information extracted from this data must be made available in large-scale repositories with enhanced semantic content for easy analysis to accomplish this task. The transactional data will supplement our more conventional intelligence collection."
"Aldridge: My statement goes along the following: The war on terror and the tracking of potential terrorists and terrorist acts require that we search for clues of such activities 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. Therefore, we established a project within DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, that would develop an experimental prototype -- underline, experimental prototype, which we call the Total Information Awareness System. The purpose of TIA would be to determine the feasibility of searching vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of terrorist activities...."
"The second part was discovery of connections between transactions -- such as passports; visas; work permits; driver's license; credit card; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases -- and events -- such as arrest or suspicious activities and so forth. So again, it try to discover the connections between these things called transactions."
"Q: Can you run over the transactions again? It sounds like every time I would enter or a citizen would enter a credit card, any banking transaction, any medical -- I go see my doctor, any prescription, all of those things become part of this database -- right? -- hypothetically?
Aldridge: Hypothetically they would...."
"Q: And does any of this involve collaborating or connecting, for example, takes from signals intelligence into the rest of this database?
Aldridge: I'm not going to get into the use of intelligence data. But you can be assured that the databases we're trying to investigate -- again, as the feasibility, will this all work, and try to take as much information as we can. When a person enters the country, for example, a visa that comes into the country, you'd like to have that in the database. If they apply for a gun license, you'd like to have that in the database. If they buy a certain amount of chemicals or apply for a gun permit, I guess --
Q: Every time they use a telephone, that call enters the database. And if it is voice recognition, for example, then that enters the database, hypothetically, right?
Aldridge: Hypothetically, yes.
Q: How is this not domestic spying? I don't understand this. You have these vast databases that you're looking for patterns in. Ordinary Americans, who aren't of Middle East origin, are just typical, ordinary Americans, their transactions are going to be perused."
"Q: You described one of the functions as to establish connections between transactions. Well, that sounds --
Aldridge: And agencies.
Q: Right. Well, that sounds like a perpetual fishing expedition, as opposed to something for which a search warrant would be sought. For example, if subject A withdrew a lot of money and bought a crop duster, and then over here, bought chemicals that aren't normally used for crop dusting, that's what sounds like you're after. And you wouldn't necessarily have a specific search warrant for that kind of information.
Aldridge: I think that's a good point. Because what we're really looking for -- if you were a terrorist, and you wanted to conduct a terrorist act, you would undertake certain kind of actions, transactions to do that. One, you have to enter the country, and you would probably buy -- get a driver's license, or you would maybe take lessons in airplanes, or something like that. You're looking for trends in transactions that are associated with some potential terrorist act; that's what you're looking for. And you're trying to put those pieces together. And I -- what this is trying to do, is can this technology work to the point where we as Americans could feel a little more comfortable that our country was protected against potential terrorist acts? That's what we're trying to accomplish. The ultimate goal is that, and to prove the technology works."
"Q: -- Again, to follow up on that question. It sounds like the only way it will work is by casting the widest possible net to encompass the broadest possible number of transactions, as opposed to focusing on individuals for whom law enforcement had some specific interests.
Aldridge: I don't know what the scope of this is going to be, what it's going to take to make this work yet. That's what John's trying to find out. Are there things that we can -- do we have to have a huge amount of data to make this work? Or can we work it by looking at the transactions that lead to a terrorist act; they need some understanding of that; and sharing of various pieces of information among all the agencies that deal in this process, so --
Q: Can I just follow up with one thing? Why --
Aldridge: No, let me talk to Tony first. He's been bugging me for an answer to his question.
Q: Can you make it clear, though, and this seems directed more toward foreign nationals coming into the United States and the visa passports that U.S. citizens --
Aldridge: No. No, it's actions, it's transactions that lead to potential terrorist acts; that's what we're trying to get to.
Q: So it could be like a McVeigh renting a truck --
Aldridge: Could be buying a lot of chemicals; if there's somebody buying a lot of chemicals, it looks unusual; buying a gun; all kinds of potential activities that fall --
Q: Buying a gun? Could you flush that out -- (Cross talk.)
Aldridge: I'm just using examples of things that would go along with -- that would be patterns of an individual potentially conducting a terrorist act. Yes?
Q: Why is this appropriate research for the U.S. military to be doing? None of the things that you have described here fall under the rubric of -- or under the scope of what the Pentagon does, understanding that you might eventually turn it over to domestic law enforcement. Still, the question is why is this even an appropriate program for the U.S. -- research program for the U.S. military to be involved in? Why not turn it over to the National Institute of Justice or some research element of the domestic law enforcement community?
Aldridge: Well, I think it is appropriate for the Department of Defense. We are in a war on terrorism. We're trying to prevent terrorist acts against our country. We're trying to give our people who understand and try to track down the terrorists with a sufficient set of tools. DARPA, which is a research agency, which has this as a characteristic of trying far-out solutions, has the technical capability to make this work. And I think this is a service to our nation as the Department of Defense has a role in serving our nation."
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