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Profile: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

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Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Dr. Marvin Goldberger.Dr. Marvin Goldberger. [Source: Teises Institutas]One consequence of the Pentagon Papers’ publication (see March 1971) is a heavy social and academic backlash against scientists on the Jason Project. The “Jasons,” as they are sometimes called, are mostly physicists and other “hard” scientists from various universities who have worked as ad hoc consultants to the Pentagon since the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in October 1958. Though most of the Jasons are strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, and the Pentagon documents tell of the Jasons’ ideas for “a real alternative to further escalation of the ineffective air war against North Vietnam,” the public focuses on the Jasons’ association with the government’s war effort. After the Papers’ publication, Mildred Goldberger, wife of scientist Marvin Goldberger, recalls that the Jasons’ “name was mud.” Jack Ruina, the head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), which often worked with some of the Jasons, says that the Jasons became “the devil” in many eyes. Some of the scientists are publicly labeled “war criminals” and “baby killers,” some have their offices burgled and their homes vandalized, and many face serious questions about their motives and commitment to pure, objective science. Some of the scientists repudiate the Jasons’ work on behalf of the war effort; longtime member Goldberger tells one group of demonstrators, “Jason made a terrible mistake. They should have told [former Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara to go to hell and not have become involved at all.” Others refuse to discuss Vietnam and their work with the Jason Project in their seminars and classes; one, Murray Gell-Mann, is forcibly removed from a Paris university lecture hall after refusing to defend his work with the Jasons to his audience. Physicist Charles Towne accuses the universities of curtailing the Jasons’ freedom of speech. Some of the scientists are falsely accused of helping produce plastic fragmentation bombs and laser-guided shells; some of them are compared to the Nazi scientists who developed nerve gas for use in the concentration camps. A November 1974 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will sum up the debate: “The scientists became, to some extent, prisoners of the group they joined…. At what point should they have quit?” The decisions they faced were, the article will assert, “delicate and difficult.” [Finkbeiner, 2006, pp. 102-113]

Entity Tags: Murray Gell-Mann, Charles Towne, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Jack Ruina, Jason Project, US Department of Defense, Marvin Goldberger, Robert McNamara, Mildred Goldberger

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate


Ptech logo.
Ptech logo. [Source: Ptech]Ptech is a Boston computer company connected to a number of individuals suspected of ties to officially designated terrorist organizations (see 1994). These alleged ties will be of particular concern because of Ptech’s potential access to classified government secrets. Ptech specializes in what is called enterprise architecture. It is the design and layout for an organization’s computer networks. John Zachman, considered the father of enterprise architecture, later will say that Ptech could collect crucial information from the organizations and agencies with which it works. “You would know where the access points are, you’d know how to get in, you would know where the weaknesses are, you’d know how to destroy it.” Another computer expert will say, “The software they put on your system could be collecting every key stroke that you type while you are on the computer. It could be establishing a connection to the outside terrorist organization through all of your security measures.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] In late 1996, an article notes that Ptech is doing work for DARPA, a Defense Department agency responsible for developing new military technology. [Government Executive, 9/1/1996] In 1997, Ptech gains government approval to market its services to “all legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government.” Beginning that year, Ptech will begin working for many government agencies, eventually including the White House, Congress, Army, Navy, Air Force, NATO, FAA, FBI, US Postal Service, Secret Service, the Naval Air Systems Command, IRS, and the nuclear-weapons program of the Department of Energy. For instance, Ptech will help build “the Military Information Architecture Framework, a software tool used by the Department of Defense to link data networks from various military computer systems and databases.” Ptech will be raided by US investigators in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002), but not shut down. [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; CNN, 12/6/2002; Newsweek, 12/6/2002; Boston Globe, 12/7/2002] A former director of intelligence at the Department of Energy later will say he would not be surprised if an al-Qaeda front company managed to infiltrate the department’s nuclear programs. [Unlimited (Auckland), 12/9/2002] Ptech will continue to work with many of these agencies even after 9/11. After a Customs Department raid of Ptech’s offices in late 2002, their software will be declared safe of malicious code. But one article will note, “What no one knows at this point is how much sensitive government information Ptech gained access to while it worked in several government agencies.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002]

Entity Tags: White House, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Navy, US Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, US Postal Service, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of the Marines, Internal Revenue Service, US Congress, Ptech Inc., John Zachman, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) becomes convinced that the “secure facility” being constructed at an AT&T facility in San Francisco (see Summer 2002 and Fall 2002) has some connection to the Bush administration’s “Total Information Awareness” program (see Mid-January 2002 and March 2002). The press has recently begun reporting on the program (see November 9, 2002). In 2007, Klein will tell a reporter: “You might recall there [around this time] was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness [TIA] program, led by Admiral [John] Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere… draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day. And all this would be done without any warrants.” Klein and other AT&T employees begin speculating that the “secure facility” might have some connection to Poindexter’s TIA program. “[T]he Total Information Awareness program is involved with the NSA [National Security Agency] and with DARPA, which is the Defense [Advanced Research] Projects Agency,” he will tell the reporter. “So I began to connect the two, because it seemed quite logical at least that if they are looking for large amounts of Internet data to sift through and vacuum up, what would be a perfect place? It would be in the Internet room at a place like AT&T. And lo and behold, the NSA guy shows up. Then I started learning that it’s not only a new room; it’s a room that all the technicians cannot go into. Only the one guy—a management guy, no union people—a management field specialist with security clearance obviously given to him by the NSA, only he could go into this room, which was being built on the sixth floor, right next door to the phone switch room. So I got very worried about that. What does this mean? What are they doing there?” In 2009, Klein will write, “Gradually I started to connect the TIA program with the curiously simultaneous appearance of the NSA at our office, and the more I learned about what they were installing, and where, the more I was convinced the two were connected.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 25-26]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Total Information Awareness, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

DARPA logo.DARPA logo. [Source: Duke University]The computer and technology experts at Ars Technica, a well-regarded Web publication which describes itself as focusing on “the art of technology,” speculate on the technology behind the NSA warrantless wiretapping program recently revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). The Ars Technica experts believe that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)‘s 2003 comparison between the program and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see March 2002) is the most apt. They believe that the NSA wiretapping program may be built upon the foundation of a shadowy, highly classified surveillance program called Echelon. They write, “This system’s purpose would be to monitor communications and detect would-be terrorists and plots before they happen… This project is not interested in funding ‘evolutionary’ changes in technology, e.g., bit-step improvements to current data mining and storage techniques. Rather, the amount of data that the directors are anticipating (petabytes!) would require massive leaps in technology (and perhaps also some massive leaps in surveillance laws).” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005; Ars Technica, 2007] Data storage measured in petabytes is a colossal capacity; a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, and a single terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, the usual measurement for hard drive capacity. [TechTerms, 2007] The Ars Technica experts continue, “According to DARPA, such data collection ‘increases information coverage by an order of magnitude,’ and ultimately ‘requires keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit into models.’” They go on to note that the NSA wiretapping program was instituted shortly after the TIA project was quashed by Congress, and say they believe the NSA program is an extension and an outgrowth of TIA. They note that “the FBI requested the legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls” in 1995, that there is “no way for the judicial system to approve warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor,” and that the FBI “could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they’d have to use voice recognition technology to look for ‘hits’ that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.” The Ars Technica experts believe the NSA is using “some kind of high-volume, automated voice recognition and pattern matching system,” employing a form of “smart filtering” that would weed through perhaps hundreds of thousands of computer-monitored calls and turning a fraction of those calls over to human analysts for evaluation: “[Y]es, this kind of real-time voice recognition, crude semantic parsing and pattern matching is doable with today’s technology, especially when you have a budget like the NSA.” In a follow-up, Ars Technica technology specialist and self-described conservative and “privacy nazi” Jon Stokes writes of his own concerns over the program, noting that the program is too wide-reaching and too blunt to actually catch many real terrorists, and that the program is a tremendous intrusion into Americans’ fundamental privacy: “The problem is not that such large-scale industrial fishing invariably catches a few dolphins along with the tuna, but that between 99.999 and 100 percent of what you’re going to get is dolphin.” Stokes also warns that such an intrusive surveillance program will not only violate privacy rights, but be quite ineffective: “As the TSA, with its strip-searching of people’s elderly grandparents, abundantly proves every holiday season, blunt instruments and scorched earth tactics are of dubious value in catching genuine bad actors. In fact, blunt instruments and wide nets are the easiest for professional bad guys to evade. All you need to beat such surveillance tools is patience and know-how.…Blunt instruments like airport facial recognition software and random subway bag searches produce much more noise than they do signal, and any engineer or computer scientist worth his or her salt will tell you that an intelligent, targeted, low-tech approach beats a brute-force high-tech approach every time. There is no high-tech substitute for human intelligence gathering. In fact…an overload of crudely processed information is actually more likely to lead an analyst astray than it is to produce any useful insight.…In the end, brute force security techniques are not only corrosive to democratic values but they’re also bad for national security. They waste massive resources that could be spent more effectively elsewhere, and they give governments and countries a false sense of security that a savvy enemy can exploit to devastating effect.…[I]t’s not just enough to have sound intelligence; you also need political leaders who have the wisdom to use that intelligence appropriately.” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Transportation Safety Administration, Total Information Awareness, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John D. Rockefeller, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Jon Stokes, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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