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Context of 'November 9, 2002: New York Times Reveals Total Information Awareness Program'

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Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987.Vice Admiral John Poindexter testifying before Congress in the Iran Contra hearings in 1987. [Source: Associated Press]Vice Admiral John Poindexter begins running a shadowy new government agency called the Information Awareness Office. [New York Times, 2/13/2002; Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] Poindexter, formerly President Reagan’s National Security Adviser, is known for his five felony convictions of lying to Congress, destroying documents, and obstructing Congress in its investigation of his role in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra affair. Later his convictions were overturned on a technicality. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002] Far from apologizing, Poindexter said it was his duty to lie to Congress. [Newsday, 12/1/2002] The New York Times notes that his new agency “is developing technologies to give federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information-analysis systems.” The new office is part of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Poindexter was also known for his controversial role in shifting control of computer security to the military in the 1980s. Says Marc Rotenberg, former counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, “It took three administrations and both political parties over a decade to correct those mistakes.” [New York Times, 2/13/2002] Surprisingly, Poindexter’s appointment is little noticed until later in 2002 when the Total Information Awareness program is revealed (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Incidentally, several others involved in the Iran-Contra affair also find jobs in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, and Otto Reich. [Observer, 12/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair


This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that
even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed.
This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed. [Source: DARPA]The US military internally announces the creation of a new global data collection system called Total Information Awareness. The existence of this program is not reported until August 2002 [Wired News, 8/7/2002] , and not widely known until November 2002 (see November 9, 2002). Interestingly, the early accounts of this program suggest its budget is a “significant amount” of $96 million [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] , and not the $10 million later reported. [Guardian, 11/23/2002] It is also reported that “parts” of the program “are already operational” whereas later it is said to be only in the conceptual stages of development. [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties


The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [<a href=“http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/11/20/MN218568.DTL” target=_new>San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02</a>, <a href=“http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4552953,00.html” target=_new>Guardian, 11/23/02</a>] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [<a href=“http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationworld/bal-spy1503,0,4325331.story?coll=bal-home-headlines” target=_new>Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03</a>]
The original logo for the Total Information Awareness program. An eye from a Masonic pyramid appears to cast a beam over the world, with Muslim regions highlighted. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/20/02, Guardian, 11/23/02] The motto, Scientia Est Potentia, means “knowledge is power.” The logo is later removed from the department’s website. [Baltimore Sun, 1/5/03] [Source: DARPA]The New York Times exposes the existence of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness data collection program, begun in early 2002 (see Mid-January 2002; March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2002] Conservative columnist William Safire writes, “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 FBI, your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every US citizen.” [New York Times, 11/14/2002] Poindexter says it will take years to realize his vision, but his office has already begun providing some technology to government agencies. [Washington Post, 11/12/2002] The existence of this program, and the fact that Poindexter is running it, causes concern for many on both the left and right. [USA Today, 1/16/2003] It is regularly called Orwellian, conjuring visions of 1984’s Big Brother, and even supporters admit it sounds Orwellian. [Newsweek, 11/15/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2002; Guardian, 11/23/2002; Newsday, 12/1/2002; New Yorker, 12/9/2002; BBC, 12/12/2002; Dallas Morning News, 12/16/2002; Baltimore Sun, 1/5/2003] The New York Times suggests, “Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation.” [New York Times, 11/18/2002] Experts question not only its civil liberties implications, but also if it is even feasible. If it does work, would its database be swapped with errors that could not be removed? (see March 2002) [Mercury News (San Jose), 12/26/2002] However, many newspapers fail to report on the program at all, and ABC is the only network to report the story on prime time television. [ABC News, 11/16/2002; ABC News, 11/25/2002] Despite so many objections, the program is included in the Homeland Security bill (see November 25, 2002), and only later somewhat curbed by Congress (see January 23, 2003).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, William Safire, Homeland Security Act, Total Information Awareness

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Iran-Contra Affair

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities.An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities. [Source: USGS via Microsoft]On behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA), AT&T constructs a secret, highly secured room in its network operations center in Bridgeton, Missouri, used to conduct secret government wiretapping operations. This is a larger and more elaborate “data mining” center than the one AT&T has constructed in San Francisco (see January 2003). Salon’s Kim Zetter will later write that the Bridgeton facility “had the earmarks of a National Security Agency operation,” including a sophisticated “mantrap” entrance using retinal and fingerprint scanners. Sometime in early 2003, AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) discusses the Bridgeton facility with a senior AT&T manager, whom he will only identify as “Morgan.” The manager tells Klein that he considers the Bridgeton facility “creepy,” very secretive and with access restricted to only a few personnel. Morgan tells Klein that the secure room at Bridgeton features a logo on the door, which Klein will describe as “the eye-on-the-pyramid logo which is on the back of the dollar bill—and that got my attention because I knew that was for awhile the logo of the Total Awareness Program” (TIA-see Mid-January 2002, March 2002 and November 9, 2002). Klein notes that the logo “became such a laughingstock that they [the US government] withdrew it.” However, neither Klein nor Morgan find the NSA secure room at Bridgeton amusing. In June 2006, two AT&T workers will tell Zetter that the 100 or so employees who work in the room are “monitoring network traffic” for “a government agency,” later determined to be the NSA. Only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, which is secured with a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The few AT&T employees allowed into the room have undergone exhaustive security clearance procedures. “It was very hush-hush,” one of the AT&T workers will recall. “We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told: ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing.’” (Neither of Zetter’s sources is Klein, who by the time Zetter’s article is published in 2006, will have made his concerns about the NSA and AT&T public.) The Bridgeton facility is the central “command center” for AT&T’s management of all routers and circuits carrying domestic and international Internet traffic. Hence, it is the ideal location for conducting surveillance or collecting data. AT&T controls about a third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to and from homes and businesses throughout the US. The two employees, who both will leave AT&T to work with other telecommunications firms, will say they cannot be sure what kinds of activities actually take place within the secret room. The allegations follow those made by Klein, who after his retirement (see May 2004) will submit an affidavit stating his knowledge of other, similar facilities in San Francisco and other West Coast switching centers, whose construction and operations were overseen by the NSA (see January 16, 2004 and January 2003); the two AT&T employees say that the orders for the San Francisco facility came from Bridgeton. NSA expert Matthew Aid will say of the Bridgeton facility, “I’m not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I’d say it’s safe that it’s NSA.” Aid will say the Bridgeton facility is most likely part of “what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations” combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer Russell Tice will say bluntly: “You’re talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that’s NSA.… Whatever is happening there with the security you’re talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what’s going on with the Klein case.” The kind of vetting that the Bridgeton AT&T employees underwent points to the NSA, both Aid and Tice will say; one of the two AT&T employees who will reveal the existence of the Bridgeton facility will add, “Although they work for AT&T, they’re actually doing a job for the government.” Aid will add that, while it is possible that the Bridgeton facility is actually a center for legal FBI operations, it is unlikely due to the stringent security safeguards in place: “The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the US government, doesn’t use mantraps. But virtually every area of the NSA’s buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer will add that when the FBI wants information from a telecom such as AT&T, it would merely show up at the firm with a warrant and have a wiretap placed. And both the NSA and FBI can legally, with warrants, tap into communications data using existing technological infrastructure, without the need for such sophisticated surveillance and data-mining facilities as the ones in Bridgeton and San Francisco. Both AT&T and the NSA will refuse to comment on the facilities in Bridgeton, citing national security concerns. [Salon, 6/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 28-30]

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Russell Tice, Matthew Aid, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kim Zetter, Mark Klein, AT&T, Jameel Jaffer, “Morgan” (senior AT&T manager), American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress imposes some limitations on the Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Research and development of the program would have to halt within 90 days of enactment of the bill unless the Defense Department submits a detailed report about the program. The research can also continue if Bush certifies that the report cannot be provided. Congress also okays use of the program internationally, but it cannot be used inside the US unless Congress passes new legislation specifically authorizing such use. [New York Times, 1/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] However, a bill to completely stop the program has yet to pass. [Mercury News (San Jose), 1/17/2003; Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2003] Several days earlier, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) alleged that the Justice Department and FBI are more extensively exploring the use of the Total Information Awareness program than they have previously acknowledged. [Associated Press, 1/21/2003; Washington Post, 1/22/2003] Contracts worth tens of millions of dollars have been signed with private companies to develop pieces of the program. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] Salon also reports that the program “has now advanced to the point where it’s much more than a mere ‘research project’.” [Salon, 1/29/2003]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Congress, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The FBI requests $12 million for its proposed National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), which would mine nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies in an effort to expose terrorist cells. The FBI’s budget request says that the new agency would “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis. Predictive analysis entails combing though personal data—such as bank transactions and travel purchases—to identify patterns of behavior that are believed to be terrorist-like. But this methodology for identifying terrorists is unproven. In 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence completed a report concluding that terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans. [ABC News, 6/12/2007] The FBI’s proposed National Security Analysis Center is very similar to another initiative called the Total Information Awareness program (see Mid-January 2002) that was started by the Pentagon in 2002, but which was curtailed by Congress after it was revealed by the New York Times (see November 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Analysis Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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