Iran-Contra hero John Poindexter has risen like a phoenix from the Washington wasteland. And as with Iran-Contra, Poindexter has made some tactical errors in his new role as director of DARPA’s Total Information Awareness program. That all-seeing eye on the pyramid logo was a bad idea. So was sharing the biographies of the TIA senior leadership. "Total" has now been replaced by the more seemly "Terrorist."
Admiral Poindexter found out that "total" information awareness could harm people like himself and his friends in the bureaucracy, and bring them unwanted scrutiny. Their privacy might be vulnerable to violation.
Since we’re paying, we might wonder what we are getting, other than consultants who apparently told somebody about branding disasters, for example, free-mason symbology in the hands of John Poindexter, John Ashcroft or even Dick Cheney and his friends. It works on the dollar, an honest mistake, I’m sure.
Like the glamorous Hilton twins and the outspoken Dixie Chicks, Tia and her twelve sisters are stumbling into the spotlight. Maureen Dowd pokes fun at the clumsy one, where the government tries to find out who you are and what you’re going to do by how you walk. This is eleven of the thirteen listed projects, officially known as Human ID at a Distance, or HumanID or just HID. They say the wearing of trenchcoats will foul this technology, but of course the wearing of trenchcoats will identify you as someone out to foul the technology, so….
The baker’s dozen of lovelies includes FutureMAP, or "Futures Markets Applied to Prediction." Libertarians will certainly favor Future MAP because she seeks to understand how markets react so rapidly to "knowledge held by only a few participants." Wow — might I suggest von Hayek or Mises? "I, Pencil" anyone? It would be less expensive and far more effective, but then Poindexter couldn’t spend our money now and justify more cash in the out-years because of program failures that could be corrected if only he had more of our money.
If HID is the clumsy sister, and FutureMAP is the pseudo-libertarian sister, then Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery is the bitch. EELD is one mean sister, and she has staying power. Her mission in life, this fiscal year alone, is to:
extend its capabilities to the extraction of data from multiple sources (e.g., text messages and web pages), with an ability to adapt rapidly to new threat domains;
develop the ability to detect instances of patterns comprising multiple link types (e.g., financial transactions, communications, travel, etc.); and,
will develop the ability to learn patterns comprised of multiple types of entities (e.g., persons, organizations, etc.) and multiple link types.
This language, as with all government language, is designed to soothe and bore. I’m sure that if an innocent person, in researching an article, visited web sites on occultist symbols, terrorism, technology, the federal government, then posted an article with said links on a public website with a high Alexa hit rating, and then other folks emailed and blogged, including to and from overseas, about the dangers of the TIA — in the hands of the Bush league or any political appointee — to the pursuit of their life goals and politics, and perhaps even used angry or seditionist words in their communications, this would not be of interest to EELD. No, not at all. Not even for practice, not even to demonstrate a capability. Naahh, never happen.
Poindexter’s brood contains at least one ugly sister, but it is hard to choose from between Effective, Affordable Speech to Text (EARS) or Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment (WAE). Babylon is perhaps the batty one up in the attic, as a PDA device that translates the "low-population, high-terrorist-risk languages" of Pashto, Dari, Arabic, and Mandarin. Babylon might have use in a field environment, where American soldiers need to tell foreign enemies to "be quiet," "drop the gun" and "hands up." But as a counterterror tool, this chick and some of her sisters that focus on computerized translations clearly live in an alternate universe.
Most of the 9-11 terrorists, as well as all of our homegrown ones, used English and could have been identified in advance without the slightest bit of eavesdropping on their private foreign language conversations. In fact, most past terrorists were already well-known to a number of U.S. government agencies — with no help from an automatic phrase translator. Heck, some of the Arabic speaking terrorists (the crowd control toughs on the aircraft who thought it was a hi-jack) didn’t even know the full terror plan — but the feds think if they could get a computer to translate some phrases, they would? Mandarin, Dari and Pashto were not primary languages of the 9-11 or any other anti-American terrorists, but I guess in the Washingtonworld of pre-planned imperial wars and unlimited and unaccountable government spending, it’s better not to ask too many questions.
This dysfunctional family includes BioALIRT — Bio-event Advanced Leading Indicator Recognition Technology, code name BSS. BSS is also a bitch — and if EELD hasn’t already alarmed the privacy cadre, BioALIRT will. But why should the average American care if the government mines health databases to "track" dangerous pathogens so that government at all levels can spend more time "planning" the response? As with all emergency responses, individual human actions and free market forces will meet the need firstest with the mostest, while government agencies focus their time and energy on restricting these forces as soon as they can and writing up the press story to ensure we are all properly grateful for the late federal aid or premature military invasion, as applicable.
Daddy’s favorite, while not the most powerful, most productive, or the toughest, is probably Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization or TIDES. TIDES is a little charmer, with her purpose of enabling English speakers to "interpret critical information in multiple languages without requiring knowledge of those languages."
Now, this whole nutty bunch is alternatively scary and stupid, and TIDES takes the cake. But little sister explains everything. Like Forrest Gump, the least of us is often the source of the greatest insight. The government, relentlessly expanding, consuming like cancerous cells the healthy limbs and organs that ostensibly support it, finds as it approaches metastasis that it must "interpret without knowledge."
Even the Association for Computing Machinery, the oldest professional organization for information technology, has come out against Tia and her sisters. True knowledge will never be found at the data end of computer software. Understanding and predicting terrorism and conflict is better done by honestly evaluating history, psychology, and practical policy. We would go far towards preventing terroristic violence by simply slashing the coercive capability of our own state.
But if we had followed that path, we wouldn’t have been graced with Iran-Contra, Washington wouldn’t need to pay back John Poindexter for his previous service with a nice new DARPA job, we wouldn’t have had the 9-11 terrorist attacks, or subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Can we even imagine life without those events?
That we cannot adds up to one more crime by the 20th century state against the rest of us. What crimes will the 21st century state bring us? I can hardly wait.
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.