Defense tries to save TIA

Senators voted to halt the Defense Department's Terrorism Information Awareness program last week, but DOD is still trying to keep the project alive.

Although the Senate version of the military appropriations bill includes an amendment that prevents officials from spending any more money on the controversial program, DOD officials continue to lobby members of Congress to make sure TIA survives the reconciliation of the House and Senate packages.

"We're working the Hill, I'll leave it at that," said Robert Popp, director of the Information Awareness Office for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Originally called Total Information Awareness, TIA is designed to help national security analysts track and preempt terrorist attacks by using surveillance and spotting patterns in public and private transactions. The system, parts of which are already operational, scans transactional data systems, including private credit card and travel records, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and automated virtual data repositories. But the project, developed by DARPA, has been heavily criticized by privacy advocates.

Sen. Ron. Wyden, D-Ore., proposed the anti-TIA amendment in May. The Bush administration opposed Wyden's change, but the Senate approved it last week as part of the fiscal 2004 spending bill. The House appropriations bill for DOD, passed on July 8 with little debate, carried no such provision.

Anthony Tether, director of DARPA, described the Senate bill this week as his most difficult obstacle.

"Our greatest difficulty is the Senate appropriations bill," Tether said Monday at a meeting of the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, an external oversight board established in February by DOD to ensure that the Information Awareness project moves forward with proper regard for constitutional rights and laws and existing privacy protection policies. An internal DOD committee has the same goal.

Teams in the Information Awareness project act like terrorists and use synthetic data to try and identify terrorist signatures that may apply to real world situations. Parts of TIA are in the Army Intelligence and Security Command's Information Dominance Center, which already shares foreign intelligence information with other defense and intelligence agencies on a virtual-private network managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Analysts are overwhelmed by a data, and technology from the research projects agency speeds up data analysis and pattern identification, said Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence. Had DARPA's automated tools been available in the past, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and other terrorist acts, may have been stopped, Alexander said.

Tether said that every U.S. intelligence failure he has seen was not caused by a lack of information but lack of collaboration. "We always had the data, but it was distributed with people poring over it," Tether said. "There was no collaboration to connect the dots. That's what TIA is about."

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