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Information Awareness Office

If you're going to create an "Information Awareness Office," it's probably a good idea not to tell anyone about it (see below). I mean, aside from the old-fashioned notion that spying works best when it's secret, you really have to wonder about people who are so out of touch with American sensibilities that they think the whole idea would be just dandy.

We were going to give you a good, meaty conspiracy-theory-type rundown of crackpot ideas about the IAO, whose logo was originally modeled on the creepiest Illuminati-Masonic imagery imaginable, but we thought you should probably allow yourself to be alarmed over the reality of the agency first.

First off, the IAO is meant to be a central repository for information for fighting terrorism. This is called the "Total Information Awareness" program (TIA), which is not at all scary and Orwellian. The basic idea does make sense, considering that the government had ample information buried in its files that would have allowed it to prepare for the 9/11 attacks had anyone actually read the files.

The problem, of course, is that terrorists pose as ordinary people like you and me, therefore in order to fight terrorism effectively, the idea is that information on people like you and me should be in the database.

OK, now you're probably getting a little squeamish, especially since that information could potentially include your computer's Web browser history and credit card records.

Actually, there's no "potentially" about it. IAO is meant to integrate spying on "designated targets" in the areas of Scalable Social Network Analysis (i.e., who your friends are), Biometrics (your medical records and physical characteristics), Financial (what you buy), and predicting "the behavior of specific terrorists by examining their behavior in the broader context of their political, cultural and ideological environment" (what you think, feel and believe).

Wow. That is all pretty alarming. Time for some reassurance, courtesy of the IAO itself. According to the Office's FAQ:

No efforts are being performed or constructed under DARPA's (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) TIA program to identify U.S. citizens as terrorists. TIA research efforts are just beginning to examine processes for identifying individuals as potential or suspected international terrorists.
Wow, what a relief! So you see, they haven't figured out how to identify U.S. citizens as terrorists YET, so there's nothing to worry about! Not feeling reassured yet? OK, it goes on:

The automated processing of data still requires innovative research, and this is part of the multiyear research effort. Even here, it is doubtful that any automated system will identify terrorists. However, the automated technologies will format data such that analysts from different agencies can collaborate on the outputs and make determinations whether a pattern is suspicious enough to warrant further analysis or data collection.
OK, we're going to have to parse this statement for maximum clarity.
  • "The automated processing of data still requires innovative research." Translation: We can't have the computer instantly select citizens for investigation yet.
  • "This is part of the multiyear research effort." Translation: But we're working on it.
  • "Even here, it is doubtful that any automated system will identify terrorists." Translation: When we can do it, it won't work very well.
  • "However, the automated technologies will format data such that analysts from different agencies can collaborate on the outputs and make determinations whether a pattern..." Translation: So we're going to introduce human error into the equation.
  • "... is suspicious enough to warrant further analysis or data collection." Translation: And based on this wonderful process, we'll start searching your homes.
Great ideas like the Total Awareness Program don't just fall off of trees. Every fascist disaster in the making requires an architect. In this case, that visionary mind belongs to one John Poindexter.

Former Navy admiral and drinking buddy of Oliver North, Poindexter dodged a felony conviction in the Iran-Contra scandal only because of the possibility that the prosecution might have used testimony given to Congress under an immunity agreement. (He was actually convicted but it was overturned on appeal.)

Explaining his actions during that time, Poindexter once said "I made a very deliberate decision not to tell the president so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the president if it ever leaked out."

So who better to head up a project of dicey legality and even dicier ethicality for the current administration?

In order to make sure you never catch on to what the government is up to, Total Awareness has crafted a Web site to help you fail to understand what the Information Awareness Office is all about. It's chock full of weird jargon, creepy code names and incomprehensible charts, some of which are featured here in this article. makes no assurances that visiting the IAO Web site won't get you listed somewhere as a terrorist. Click at your own risk. If you want to keep up on the whole issue without exposing your computer to keystroke logging, try The John Poindexter Awareness Office instead.

If you do go to IAO's Web site, don't bother looking for the creepy logo, however. It was pulled after a public uproar. According to IAO:

For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office, i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making.
In other words, it meant everything you were afraid it meant, and more.

In the Defense Department budget submitted in September 2003, the Information Awareness office had mysteriously disappeared. As if belatedly realizing that it's better not to tell people when you're preparing an oppressive evil computer system designed to crush their individual privacy, the office's functions were shuffled into an unknown number of "black bag" budget items intelligence appropriations which do not have to be explained to the public or justified to legislators.

So be grateful that the Bush Administration was stupid enough to let you have a glimpse of Big Brother before he slinks off to the shadows. The next time you see him, he'll be kicking in your door.

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