[IP] DoD proceeding with "TIA", etc. under ARDA (sic) and other orgs

Dave Farber dave at farber.net
Sun Feb 22 18:45:43 PST 2004


U.S. Pressing for High-Tech Spy Tools

Associated Press Writer

February 22, 2004, 2:27 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- Despite an outcry over privacy implications, the government 
is pressing ahead with research to create powerful tools to mine millions 
of public and private records for information about terrorists.

Congress eliminated a Pentagon office that had been developing this 
terrorist-tracking technology because of fears it might ensnare innocent 

Still, some projects from retired Adm. John Poindexter's Total Information 
Awareness effort were transferred to U.S. intelligence offices, 
congressional, federal and research officials told The Associated Press.

In addition, Congress left undisturbed a separate but similar $64 million 
research program run by a little-known office called the Advanced Research 
and Development Activity, or ARDA, that has used some of the same 
researchers as Poindexter's program.

"The whole congressional action looks like a shell game," said Steve 
Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which tracks work by 
U.S. intelligence agencies. "There may be enough of a difference for them 
to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical 
work is continuing."

Poindexter aimed to predict terrorist attacks by identifying telltale 
patterns of activity in arrests, passport applications, visas, work 
permits, driver's licenses, car rentals and airline ticket buys as well as 
credit transactions and education, medical and housing records.

The research created a political uproar because such reviews of millions of 
transactions could put innocent Americans under suspicion. One of 
Poindexter's own researchers, David D. Jensen at the University of 
Massachusetts, acknowledged that "high numbers of false positives can 

Disturbed by the privacy implications, Congress last fall closed 
Poindexter's office, part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 
and barred the agency from continuing most of his research. Poindexter quit 
the government and complained that his work had been misunderstood.

The work, however, did not die.

In killing Poindexter's office, Congress quietly agreed to continue paying 
to develop highly specialized software to gather foreign intelligence on 

In a classified section summarized publicly, Congress added money for this 
software research to the "National Foreign Intelligence Program," without 
identifying openly which intelligence agency would do the work.

It said, for the time being, products of this research could only be used 
overseas or against non-U.S. citizens in this country, not against 
Americans on U.S. soil.

Congressional officials would not say which Poindexter programs were killed 
and which were transferred. People with direct knowledge of the contracts 
told the AP that the surviving programs included some of 18 data-mining 
projects known in Poindexter's research as Evidence Extraction and Link 

Poindexter's office described that research as "technology not only for 
`connecting the dots' that enable the U.S. to predict and pre-empt attacks 
but also for deciding which dots to connect." It was among the most 
contentious research programs.

Ted Senator, who managed that research for Poindexter, told government 
contractors that mining data to identify terrorists "is much harder than 
simply finding needles in a haystack."

"Our task is akin to finding dangerous groups of needles hidden in stacks 
of needle pieces," he said. "We must track all the needle pieces all of the 

Among Senator's 18 projects, the work by researcher Jensen shows how 
flexible such powerful software can be. Jensen used two online databases, 
the Physics Preprint Archive and the Internet Movie Database, to develop 
tools that would identify authoritative physics authors and would predict 
whether a movie would gross more than $2 million its opening weekend.

Jensen said in an interview that Poindexter's staff liked his research 
because the data involved "people and organizations and events ... like the 
data in counterterrorism."

At the University of Southern California, professor Craig Knoblauch said he 
developed software that automatically extracted information from travel Web 
sites and telephone books and tracked changes over time.

Privacy advocates feared that if such powerful tools were developed without 
limits from Congress, government agents could use them on any database.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who fought to restrict Poindexter's office, is 
trying to force the executive branch to tell Congress about all its 
data-mining projects. He recently pleaded with a Pentagon advisory panel to 
propose rules on reviewing data that Congress could turn into laws.

ARDA, the research and development office, sponsors corporate and 
university research on information technology for U.S. intelligence 
agencies. It is developing computer software that can extract information 
from databases as well as text, voices, other audio, video, graphs, images, 
maps, equations and chemical formulas. It calls its effort "Novel 
Intelligence from Massive Data."

The office said it has given researchers no government or private data and 
obeys privacy laws.

The project is part of its effort "to help the nation avoid strategic 
surprise ... events critical to national security ... such as those of 
Sept. 11, 2001," the office said.

Poindexter had envisioned software that could quickly analyze "multiple 
petabytes" of data. The Library of Congress has space for 18 million books, 
and one petabyte of data would fill it more than 50 times. One petabyte 
could hold 40 pages of text for each of the world's more than 6.2 billion 

ARDA said its software would have to deal with "typically a petabyte or 
more" of data. It noted that some intelligence data sources "grow at the 
rate of four petabytes per month." Experts said those probably are files 
with satellite surveillance images and electronic eavesdropping results.

The Poindexter and ARDA projects are vastly more powerful than other 
data-mining projects such as the Homeland Security Department's CAPPS II 
program to classify air travelers or the six-state, Matrix anti-crime 
system financed by the Justice Department.

In September 2002, ARDA awarded $64 million in contracts covering 3 1/2 
years. The contracts went to more than a dozen companies and university 
researchers, including at least six who also had worked on Poindexter's 

Congress threw these researchers into turmoil. Doug Lenat, the president of 
Cycorp Corp. in Austin, Texas, will not discuss his work but said he had an 
"enormous seven-figure deficit in our budget" because Congress shut down 
Poindexter's office.

Like many critics, James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology 
sees a role for properly regulated data-mining in evaluating the vast, 
underanalyzed data the government already collects.

Expansions of data mining, however, increase "the risk of an innocent 
person being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of having rented the 
wrong apartment ... or having a name similar to the name of some bad guy," 
he said.

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