Revolutionary Worker #1177, December 1, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
"Here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as `a virtual, centralized grand database.' To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you -- passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance -- and you have the supersnoop's dream: a `Total Information Awareness' about every U.S. citizen."
Conservative columnist William Safire, New York Times , Nov. 14, 2002
"A massive database that the government will use to monitor every purchase made by every American citizen is a necessary tool in the war on terror, the Pentagon said Wednesday. Edward Aldridge, undersecretary of Acquisitions and Technology, told reporters that ...the database, which he called another `tool' in the war on terror, would look for telltale signs of suspicious consumer behavior. Examples he cited were: sudden and large cash withdrawals, one-way air or rail travel, rental car transactions and purchases of firearms, chemicals or agents that could be used to produce biological or chemical weapons. It would also combine consumer information with visa records, passports, arrest records or reports of suspicious activity given to law enforcement or intelligence services."
Fox News, "Pentagon to Track American Consumer Purchases,"Nov. 21, 2002
"Scientia Est Potentia -- Knowledge is Power."
Motto of the Pentagon's new
Office of Total Information Awareness (OTIA)
Buried in the Homeland Security Act is a provision that unleashes the Pentagon to become a center for high-tech "data mining" into the lives of every person in the United States. A new "Office of Total Information Awareness" has been created--and funded with $200 million.
The plan is simple and chilling: This is a crash program to develop a computer system that can centrally gather and analyze every scrap of electronic record keeping in the country. The idea is that if you can gather everything in one vast computer bank, the government agents can "connect the dots" and identify people and networks for "neutralization." The new technology would theoretically be able to take all the electronic details of life in the country and scrutinize it for patterns of behavior that the government considers suspicious. Everything that happens in the U.S., and all its electronic trails, will be considered "chatter" that the government will analyze. The goal, reportedly, is to provide federal authorities with "instant analysis" of who fits specific profiles and what they are doing at any moment.
This move breaks down many existing rules for privacy and unauthorized searches.
Up until now it has been illegal for federal agencies like the FBI, the CIA, the IRS or the Immigration and Naturalization Service to share their information. There have been walls of privacy between criminal investigation and tax collection, between foreign espionage and domestic policing. Now those walls are being torn down. In addition, all the vast record keeping of private industry is simply supposed to be turned over, absorbed, and mixed in with the official records of government.
In the past, the government officially needed court warrants to spy on people -- to bug their phones or search their homes. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights forbids "unreasonable search and seizure." The underlying legal assumption has been that citizens had a right to be free from investigation unless there was "probable cause" (some provable evidence that they may be associated with a crime).
But this new system does not just search the databases for information on specific "suspects." This is a plan to systematically and constantly study everyone's record. This is a system that will permanently and routinely treat every person as a suspect, and constantly run everyone "through the system" looking for purchases, movements, reading interests that fit some set of government "profiles."
Their system (if it ultimately works) would be able (for example) to cross reference people who visited specific anti-globalization sites with people who bought plane tickets for Washington, DC the weekend of an important conference.
All of this will operate without any established oversight--on the assumption that private information gathered in corporate databanks is already legally "public."
In a particularly shocking proof of the Pentagon's intentions: they have put this new Office of Total Information Awareness under the command of retired Admiral John Poindexter. Poindexter is a key player in the 1980s covert war in Central America. As national security adviser to President Reagan, he was the immediate boss of Col. Oliver North -- who undertook a vast secret fundraising campaign to create a private mercenary army of contras to invade Nicaragua without the knowledge or approval of Congress. A key transaction of this operation--the sale of missiles to Iran--became a huge scandal when it was made public. Poindexter agreed to be the fall guy for the real masterminds of these illegal operations (Ronald Reagan, CIA head William Casey, and then-Vice President George H. Bush). In a move that now seems ironic, Poindexter tried to wipe out the Iran-Contragate paper trail by destroying 5,000 White House emails--but forgot about the back-up tapes in the basement.
In a famous statement, Poindexter announced it was his duty to lie about these illegal covert operations to Congress and the public. Members of Poindexter's apparatus openly said that anyone who stood in their way, including elected officials at various levels, should be considered "traitors" and "commies."
In 1989, a government commission in Costa Rica accused Poindexter with involvement in cocaine smuggling to finance arms shipments for rightwing death squads. In 1990, Poindexter was convicted in U.S. federal courts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and destruction of evidence. These convictions were overturned because Poindexter had been granted congressional immunity. And he was later pardoned by Bush Senior.
Now this same Admiral John Poindexter will assemble a high-tech system and human apparatus for the info-spying on the 300 million people in the U.S.
Consider this: Imagine the arrogance of putting this organizer of death squads, black ops and bloody conspiracies in charge of a vast domestic spying operation. Imagine the message this deliberately sends to legions of government agents and killers inside and outside the U.S.
Some Questions: What kinds of activities and people will Poindexter's "data miners" consider suspicious enough to track? What patterns of email exchange will be considered "links" in some shadowy operation? What cash withdrawals will they consider unusual? How many people will have their lives pawed over (or their phones tapped) because they fit some profile?
More Questions: Even if this proposed high-tech system proves utterly useless in identifying networks of foreign agents, what fascist purposes will it be perfectly useful for? Will this database be used to blackmail people to serve as informants? How many progressive political activities and networks will be considered treasonous?
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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