Total Information Awareness

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Also see National Security Branch Analysis Center, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD), and ADVISE.

Question: Are these mere replacement programs for TIA?
Question: Same with new name?


The Information Awareness Office is a branch of the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency whose mission is to "imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness." The IAO is headed by John Poindexter, former National Security Advisor in the Reagan Administration and chief architect of the Iran-Contra Affair.

The IAO, and its stated mission, is a gift to conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs everywhere, particularly with its use of the Masonic eye-in-pyramid symbol in its logo.

The IAO's Illuminati-esque logo features the all-seeing eye of God from the Great Seal of the United States replaced with the all-seeing eye of the Information Awareness Office gazing at the Earth, and the Latin motto "scientia est potentia," meaning "knowledge is power".

On approximately December 19, 2002, the pyramid logo was removed without comment from the official IAO webpage, presumably in response to widespread criticism of its Masonic/Illuminati overtones. The biographies of senior staffers also disappeared. A mirror of the old page may be found here.


The IAO's stated mission is to gather as much information as possible about everyone in a centralized location for easy perusal by the United States government, including Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data. In essence, the goal of the IAO is to be able to recreate a life history of thoughts and movements for any individual on the planet on demand, which the Bush administration deems necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. Critics claim the very existence of the IAO completely disregards the concept of individual privacy and liberties and is far too invasive and prone to abuse.


The IAO was first mentioned in the media by New York Times reporter John Markoff on February 13, 2002, with few details available as to the agency's role or activities. In the following months, as more and more information emerged about the IAO's full scope, protest among civil libertarians grew over what they claim is the IAO's disturbingly Orwellian mission, especially within the larger framework of other invasive homeland security measures and policies implemented by the Bush administration. Also at issue is the integrity of Poindexter as head of the IAO, as he was convicted on five felony charges for lying to the Congress and deliberately altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.

On January 16, 2003, US Senator Russ Feingold introduced legislation to halt activity of the IAO and the Total Information Awareness initiative pending a Congressional review of privacy issues involved. A similar measure introduced by Senator Ron Wyden would bar the IAO from operating within the United States unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress, and would shut the IAO down entirely 60 days after passage, unless either the Pentagon prepared a report assessing the impact of IAO activities on individual privacy and civil liberties, or the President certifies that the program's research is vital to national security interests. Any action in the US Congress to attempt to halt a specific internal Department of Defense project is highly unusual, underscoring the grave threat to civil liberties and privacy that many lawmakers perceive in the Information Awareness Office.

Public Protests Against the Information Awareness Office

There has been extensive criticism of the IAO in the media and on the Internet from both left-wing and right-wing civil libertarians who feel that the unprecedented systematic categorization and access to information that it will enable is a grave threat to individual liberties, and another step farther down the slippery slope to a totalitarian state.

On November 27, 2002, San Francisco Weekly columnist Matt Smith decided to illustrate the perils of information proliferation to John Poindexter personally by publishing a column containing Poindexter's home address and phone number, along with those of his next door neighbors. The information quickly propagated through the Internet and protestors created numerous web sites with this data, as well as with satellite photographs of Poindexter's house.

Congressional Oversight

No government agency may deploy or implement any component of the Terrorism Information Awareness (formerly Total Information Awareness) program without Congressional notification and authorization, according to a provision adopted by the House of Representatives.

The "Limitation on Deployment of Terrorism Information Awareness Program" was included in the 2004 Defense Appropriations Act that was approved by the House on July 8. See the text of the provision (H.R. 2658 Sec. 8124) here.

Funding Threatened

In July 2003, the program is having a bit of an uphill battle getting started. On July 14, 2003, Wired News reports that "The Senate's $368 billion version of the 2004 defense appropriations bill, released from committee to the full Senate on Wednesday, contains a provision that would deny all funds to, and thus would effectively kill, the Terrorism Information Awareness program, formerly known as Total Information Awareness. TIA's projected budget for 2004 is $169 million."

This development generated quite a discussion on 'Slashdot'.

Funding Rejected

Per Conference Report on H.R. 2658, Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2004 (September 24, 2003, House Report 108-283):

  • Sec. 8131. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may be obligated for the Terrorism Information Awareness Program ...
  • the term "Terrorism Information Awareness Program" means the program known either as Terrorism Information Awareness or Total Information Awareness, or any successor program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or any other Department or element of the Federal Government, including the individual components of such Program developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

In subsequent review [1], however, the restrictions have been regarded as only for "deployment and implementation", not for research. [2]

Gov't Quietly Brings Back Total Information Awareness

Reuters has obtained a Congressional report that shows nine months after Congress shut down the controversial Pentagon computer-surveillance program called Total Information Awareness, the U.S. government continues to comb private records and databases to sniff out suspicious activity. Peter Swire, who served as the Clinton administration's top official said "I believe that Total Information Awareness is continuing under other names."—reported by Democracy Now!, June 3, 2004.

IAO Research

As part of the IAO's "Total Information Awareness" program, several new technologies are being researched.

  • Effective Affordable Reusable Speech-to-text, or EARS, has a stated goal of "developing speech-to-text (automatic transcription) technology whose output is substantially richer and much more accurate than currently possible." This program is focusing on broadcast and telephone human conversations in multiple languages, necessary for the computerized analysis of the massive amount of phone tapping the IAO now has the right to perform without a legal warrant.
  • Futures Markets Applied to Prediction, or FutureMAP, intends to "concentrate on market-based techniques for avoiding surprise and predicting future events." It will analyze data from the world's economy in attempt to predict political instability, threats to national security, and in general every major event in the near future. The IAO's stated strategy for this division includes "the markets must also be sufficiently robust to withstand manipulation," possibly suggesting the intention of altering future events to further the goals of the United States. See prediction market for more detail on the general phenomenon and its relationship to propaganda efforts.
  • Genisys is the name given to the database system which will be implemented as the center of information for the IAO. Currently used database systems designed in the 1980s are insufficient for the massive amount of data to be gathered.
  • Genoa "provides the structured argumentation, decision-making and corporate memory to rapidly deal with and adjust to dynamic crisis management." In essence, this program is designed to make conclusions and decisions based on available information, incorporating human analysis, corporate history, and a structured set of thinking. This research project was finished in fiscal year 2002, and is being followed up by Genoa II, which effectively automates the collaboration between government departments.
  • Human Identification at a Distance, or HumanID, "is to develop automated biometric identification technologies to detect, recognize and identify humans at great distances." This program intends to be able to implement a face and gait identification system effective up to 150 meters at all times by fiscal year 2004. An extreme proposed version of this is called cognotechnology and would rely on nanotechnology.
  • Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization, or TIDES, is being developed to detect, translate, summarize, and extract information in speech or text in multiple languages. Demonstration of machine capabilities and integration into Total Information Awareness systems is expected in 2003.
  • Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment, or WAE, is intended to develop automated technology capable of predicting terrorist attacks, identifying predictive indicators by examining individual and group behavior in broad environmental context. The WAE will also develop intervention strategies based on the motivation of specific terrorists.

T.I.A. Contractors

Literature and Movies Critical of Total Information Awareness

Related SourceWatch articles

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External articles