FC: Transcript of Pentagon briefing on Poindexter's "TIA" program

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 10:06:30 PST

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    Some background:
    DoD News Briefing - ASD(PA) Clarke and Adm. Gove
    Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
    Wednesday, November 20, 2002
    (Also participating was Navy Rear Adm. David A. Gove, deputy director for 
    global operations, J-3, Joint Staff and Under Secretary of Defense for 
    Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge.)
    Q: Can you help us to better understand what Admiral Poindexter's
    operation is all about, and how far along he is in developing his
    program or plan or -- (inaudible)?
    Clarke: I can't, but I have someone here who can. (Laughter.) And
    Undersecretary Pete Aldridge, who was thinking: Okay, I've been here
    for a while, time for me to leave -- (laughter) -- would be happy to
    address that question.
    Q:  What's a nice guy like him doing in place this?
    Clarke:  That's right.
    Aldridge:  I asked the same question.
    Well, I -- we anticipated that this issue may come up, so I have
    prepared a very short statement, and then if that statement doesn't
    clarify what we're trying to do, I'll stay up here for a few minutes
    for some questions.
    My statement goes along the following: The war on terror and the
    tracking of potential terrorists and terrorist acts require that we
    search for clues of such activities in a mass of data. It's kind of a
    signal-to-noise ratio. What are they doing in all these things that
    are going on around the world? And we decided that new capabilities
    and new technologies are required to accomplish that task. Therefore,
    we established a project within DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research
    Project Agency, that would develop an experimental prototype --
    underline, experimental prototype, which we call the Total Information
    Awareness System. The purpose of TIA would be to determine the
    feasibility of searching vast quantities of data to determine links
    and patterns indicative of terrorist activities.
    There are three parts to the TIA project to aid in this anti-
    terrorist effort. The first part is technologies that would permit
    rapid language translation, such as you -- as we have used on the
    computers now, we can -- there's voice recognition capabilities that
    exist on existing computers.
    The second part was discovery of connections between transactions --
    such as passports; visas; work permits; driver's license; credit card;
    airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases -- and
    events -- such as arrest or suspicious activities and so forth. So
    again, it try to discover the connections between these things called
    And the third part was a collaborative reasoning-and-decision- making
    tools to allow interagency communications and analysis. In other
    words, what kind of decision tools would permit the analysts to work
    together in an interagency community?
    The experiment will be demonstrated using test data fabricated to
    resemble real-life events. We'll not use detailed information that is
    real. In order to preserve the sanctity of individual privacy, we're
    designing this system to ensure complete anonymity of uninvolved
    citizens, thus focusing the efforts of law enforcement officials on
    terrorist investigations. The information gathered would then be
    subject to the same legal projections (sic) currently in place for the
    other law enforcement activities.
    Q:  Protections.
    Aldridge:  Protection.  Legal protections.
    It is absurd to think that DARPA is somehow trying to become another
    police agency. DARPA's purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of
    this technology. If it proves useful, TAI <[sic: TIA]> will then be
    turned over to the intelligence, counterintelligence and law
    enforcement communities as a tool to help them in their battle against
    domestic terrorism.
    The bottom line is, this is an important research project to determine
    the feasibility of using certain transactions and events to discover
    and respond to terrorists before they act. We all share the
    frustration associated with vague warnings of terrorist threats. We
    hope that TIA will help the U.S. government narrow those generic --
    genetic reports -- generic reports down to advance notice of specific
    threatening acts. I hope that's clear.
    Q:  Pete?
    Aldridge:  Yes?
    Q: There are two things that bother a lot of people -- one, the "Big
    Brother" aspect, and if you can talk about possible checks and
    balances -- the second thing is the choice of the man to lead it. I
    mean, Admiral Poindexter was under a cloud. You know, he was a
    convicted felon, even though the conviction was overturned on appeal,
    for lying to the Congress. Is he the kind of guy you'd really want in
    a situation like this, who has a record of lying and handling
    Aldridge: I'll repeat, again, that what John Poindexter is doing is
    developing a tool. He's not exercising the tool. He will not exercise
    the tool. That tool will be exercised by the intelligence,
    counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies. So --
    Q: Why choose him? There are lots of people available who could have
    run that organization.
    Aldridge: John Poindexter has a passion for this project. He's a Ph.D.
    in physics. He has an enthusiasm for the project. He came to us with
    the project after September the 11th and volunteered it to DARPA. That
    was briefed -- Tony Tether, the director of DARPA, came over with John
    and briefed it to me, and I thought it was a project worthy of the
    pursuit of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. And you want
    an enthusiastic leader. Once the tool is developed and -- John will
    not be involved. But it's his enthusiasm and his volunteering of this
    idea which is why we developed and started to fund it.
    Q:  What about the checks and balances?
    Aldridge: The checks and balances will be the normal checks and
    balances through the law enforcement agencies who will be exercising
    the tool, as they do today. There's no difference.
    Yes, sir?
    Q: (Off mike) -- tool to the intelligence community, though. A large
    part of the intelligence community is connected to the Defense
    Department. Isn't that -- won't they then be involved in domestic law
    enforcement to some degree?
    Aldridge: No, they'll be involved just as they are today in enforcing
    privacy laws. There's not going to be any difference. This is just
    another tool to allow them to exercise their ability to go track where
    terrorists are and to prevent terrorist acts with certain kinds of
    technology. So that's the problem.
    Q: I'm sorry, I don't understand one piece of this. Is this entire
    program based on totally fabricated data? In other words, it's all
    Aldridge: There's some real data that we use, but it's normal data
    that's available legally. The privacy issues, those will be fabricated
    Q: Okay. That's what I didn't understand. Can you help us understand
    what is the fabricated data, what is the real data, and what are the
    privacy issues if you're using fabricated data?
    Aldridge: There are no privacy issues. We will not use any data that
    affects -- that will have any relationship at all to privacy issues.
    Most of the data is synthetic. It's generated just to exercise the
    analysis. The real data will have to come from the agencies themselves
    once they have the tool.
    Q:  Can you give us some examples --
    Aldridge: There will be no privacy issues. This will be all data that
    will be available in the open and fabricated, to use. There is nothing
    dealing with individuals at all in this particular exercise, in this
    feasibility study. It's all generated data for the purpose of the
    Q:  So what kind of real data are you using that you just mentioned?
    Aldridge: I will have to find -- I don't know the answer to that
    question, exactly what kind of data. I'm not into the details of the
    thing. But I don't think there is a problem with it at all.
    Q: Can you run over the transactions again? It sounds like every time
    I would enter or a citizen would enter a credit card, any banking
    transaction, any medical -- I go see my doctor, any prescription, all
    of those things become part of this database -- right? --
    Aldridge: Hypothetically they would, although the data that would go
    along with personal information such as bank accounts, that would all
    be protected in the Privacy Act just as it is today. Individuals would
    not be associated with that.
    Q: So you need rapid language translation because you are trying to
    tap into databases of other nations, if they will allow that? Is that
    Aldridge:  Or -- yes.  Exactly.
    Q: And does any of this involve collaborating or connecting, for
    example, takes from signals intelligence into the rest of this
    Aldridge: I'm not going to get into the use of intelligence data. But
    you can be assured that the databases we're trying to investigate --
    again, as the feasibility, will this all work, and try to take as much
    information as we can. When a person enters the country, for example,
    a visa that comes into the country, you'd like to have that in the
    database. If they apply for a gun license, you'd like to have that in
    the database. If they buy a certain amount of chemicals or apply for a
    gun permit, I guess --
    Q: Every time they use a telephone, that call enters the database. And
    if it is voice recognition, for example, then that enters the
    database, hypothetically, right?
    Aldridge:  Hypothetically, yes.
    Q: How is this not domestic spying? I don't understand this. You have
    these vast databases that you're looking for patterns in. Ordinary
    Americans, who aren't of Middle East origin, are just typical,
    ordinary Americans, their transactions are going to be perused.
    Aldridge:  Okay, first of all --
    Q:  And do you require search warrants?  I mean, how does this work?
    Aldridge: First of all, we are developing the technology of a system
    that could be used by the law enforcement officials, if they choose to
    do so. It is a technology that we're developing. We are not using this
    for this purpose. It is technology. Once that technology is
    transported over to the law enforcement agency, they will use the same
    process they do today; they protect the individual's identity. We'll
    have to operate under the same legal conditions as we do today that
    protects individuals' privacy when this is operated by the law
    enforcement agency.
    Q:  So they would need a search warrant, then?
    Aldridge: They would have to go through whatever legal proceedings
    they would go through today to protect the individuals' rights, yes.
    Q: As part of this feasibility study, will anybody be looking at
    legislation, regulation, executive orders that may need to be
    Aldridge: I think that's probably an issue that's going to be taken up
    by the new office of homeland security, who probably will be very much
    involved in this type -- the use of this type of information.
    Q: What is the time line for completion of this technology? And once
    it is completed, will you give the public sort of a more elaborate
    explanation of how it works, and maybe even a demonstration of this
    sort of technology to deal with some of these concerns?
    Aldridge: In fact, I was reading somewhere the other day, I think
    Senator Gary Hart said this is a project of $200 million a year. I
    don't know where he got the number. The project is funded in the
    fiscal '03 budget by the president at $10 million. We're in the
    process of developing the '04 and out-year budget as we're in the
    process right now. We don't know where that's headed at this point.
    And the feasibility, it's several years away, based upon the ability
    to understand the technology.
    Q: Several years away before this tool will be available, in other
    Aldridge:  Yes.  Yes.
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