Intelligence officials: TIA is too broad

As if the prospect of getting its funding stripped by the Senate wasn't a big enough problem for the Terrorism Information Awareness program, intelligence leaders told an oversight committee today that the project is too ambitious.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, officials from the CIA and the FBI said the information awareness program is too ambitious.

"I welcome the tools, investment and experiments, but it is unbounded," said Maureen Baginski, the FBI's executive assistant director for intelligence, adding that the information awareness group needs a more specific goal than stopping terrorism.

Originally called Total Information Awareness, the project is designed to help national security analysts track and preempt terrorist attacks by spotting patterns in credit card and travel records, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and automated virtual data repositories. The program, parts of which are already in use, has been heavily criticized by privacy advocates.

The Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee is an external board established in February to ensure that the information awareness program maintains proper regard for constitutional laws and existing privacy policies. An internal Defense Department committee has the same goal.

Alan Wade, chief information officer at the CIA, said the tools the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing for the TIA program are valuable. But, he said, integrating the tools is a very hard task. "The scope may be too big," he said.

The FBI's Baginski agreed. DARPA-developed language translation capabilities, collaboration tools and decision support systems meet important needs, but the benefits of putting them into one package are less clear, she said. "They need to work on the underlying business model before it is implemented," Baginski said.

Advisory committee members questioned government representatives on the privacy policy implications and controversy surrounding TIA. Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said she knew less than anyone else in the room about the project, but she added it would be irresponsible to not embrace technologies that can boost national security.

Kelly described, however, "narrowly focused and narrowly tailored" solutions as more effective.

John Brennan, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, said that organization is currently in the discussion stage with the defense research agency about using parts of the TIA program, including separate networks, for information sharing and analysis. The information program should not shut down because of a knee-jerk reaction to privacy concerns, Brennan said, because it has guidelines and statutes to protect citizens' rights.

The Senate version of the military appropriations bill passed last week includes an amendment that prevents any more spending on the controversial project. Officials from DARPA, TIA's developer, continue to lobby members of Congress, however, to try to ensure the program survives the reconciliation of the House and Senate packages.

Sen. Ron. Wyden, D-Ore., proposed an 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.

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