When Weapons Programs Just Won’t Die. . .


(John Poindexter and Ronald Reagan)
National Journal‘s Shane Harris has discovered that the “Total Information Awareness” program conceived in part under the direction of Iran-Contra tainted former Reagan National Security Advisor John Poindexter was not terminated.
Only the name was.
Instead of TIA (Total Information Awareness), the program was passed off to a public-private host and re-branded “Basketball”.
Shane Harris writes:

A controversial counter-terrorism program, which lawmakers halted more than two years ago amid outcries from privacy advocates, was stopped in name only and has quietly continued within the intelligence agency now fending off charges that it has violated the privacy of U.S. citizens.
It is no secret that some parts of TIA lived on behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.
Research under the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program — which developed technologies to predict terrorist attacks by mining government databases and the personal records of people in the United States — was moved from the Pentagon’s research-and-development agency to another group, which builds technologies primarily for the National Security Agency, according to documents obtained by National Journal and to intelligence sources familiar with the move. The names of key projects were changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained intact, often under the same contracts.
It is no secret that some parts of TIA lived on behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget. However, the projects that moved, their new code names, and the agencies that took them over haven’t previously been disclosed. Sources aware of the transfers declined to speak on the record for this story because, they said, the identities of the specific programs are classified.
Two of the most important components of the TIA program were moved to the Advanced Research and Development Activity, housed at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., documents and sources confirm. One piece was the Information Awareness Prototype System, the core architecture that tied together numerous information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools developed under TIA. The prototype system included privacy-protection technologies that may have been discontinued or scaled back following the move to ARDA.

At the time the program was discontinued, people thought that it was immoral and just disagreeable to create a system that essentially accumulated “bets” and created a market to attempt to indicate where people most thought the next terror strike would occur.
While I see problems in the approach, I always thought that there were interesting possibilities in an approach that would try and absorb the vast amounts of information that marketplaces develop.
But when a program is killed by Congress, the program should die — and it didn’t.
This reminds me of the old adage about Henry VIII’s wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
Perhaps that is in bad taste and no insult meant to Henry’s unfortunate spouses, but it just seems to me ridiculous and consistent with Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial-complex that a single weapons system can be divorced and beheaded, and in the end, survive and even thrive.
Eugene Jarecki’s film, Why We Fight, gets at this. See it.
— Steve Clemons