Poindexter leaving DARPA

After spending more than a year defending controversial counter-terrorism programs under his purview, John Poindexter says he will resign as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Information Awareness Office effective August 29.

According to the Washington Post, Poindexter yesterday submitted a five-page letter of resignation to DARPA director, Anthony Tether, in which he wrote about the difficulty of explaining innovative technologies needed to help the U.S. intelligence community combat terrorism.

"Although we have tried to be very open about our work, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding," Poindexter wrote, according to the Post.

DARPA created the Information Awareness Office in mid-January 2002 to develop information technology such as data-mining tools designed to counter "asymmetric threats," such as terrorist attacks The Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program, which was originally called Total Information Awareness, was the first Poindexter-led project to ignite controversy.

TIA is designed to help national security analysts track and stop terrorist attacks by using surveillance and spotting patterns in electronic transactions. The system, parts of which are already being used, scans private credit card and travel records, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and automated virtual data repositories.

Poindexter, national security adviser to President Reagan, may be most well known for his part in the infamous Iran-Contra dealings. Numerous lawmakers and privacy and government watchdog groups expressed serious reservations about TIA and Poindexter's involvement in the program. In July, the Senate passed its version of the military appropriations bill that includes an amendment preventing officials from spending any more money on the TIA program.

Last month, another DARPA program was publicized and promptly halted. The Policy Analysis Market, which was set to launch Aug. 1, would have let users buy and sell futures contracts on potential terrorist events in the Middle East. DARPA officials saw it as a way of using the predictive ability of markets to anticipate terrorist events or other crises. Traders would have been able to place bets on myriad events, including whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated.

Poindexter was not leading the DARPA office when the original futures market request for proposals was issued, but the retired Navy admiral is responsible for granting approval to all programs under his purview.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) held a July 28 news conference where each blasted the idea. Dorgan said it was "incredibly stupid...[and] an appalling waste of taxpayer's money."

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