“Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program

“Total Information Awareness” program,  aimed to do just what it sounds like: collect every bit of information about every single person and store it in vast databases, producing digital dossiers on all of us.

NSA’s new data center in Utah will be the most all-encompassing spy machine ever conceived, capable of breaking almost any encryption, reading any email and recording any phone call anywhere in the world, even if it’s not made over the Internet.

A network of ultra-sensitive satellites enhance the center’s intelligence-finding capabilities with the unique ability to sniff electronic communications from a massive distance.

Former NSA analyst Russell Tice came forward with other revelations in 2005, and again in 2009. Even back then he was warning that the NSA had access to all Americans’ communications and even private credit card information. That message was heard, and heard well, by lawmakers like Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who said he would not be surprised to learn that the NSA was even spying on him

Finally, DARPA changed the name of the program, from “Total” to “Terrorist” Information Awareness

The users of the TIA system would generate theories about what terrorists might be planning (“attack scenarios”) and then search through databases looking for evidence of those theories.

But when it comes to the question of how those attack scenarios will be generated, DARPA denies that it will be by an initial search through the databases for “suspicious patterns.” Rather, they would be generated through intelligence analysis, “expert knowledge,” and wargames in which clever people “imagine” possible attacks.

Few data mining techniques involve trying to approach a set of numbers with no theories or models to test; there is always a complex interplay between theories and data. As creative and experimental analysts repeatedly ran, modified, and re-ran their attack scenarios through the TIA system, it would not be surprising if many of their searches began to resemble or duplicate the techniques used in data mining.

By creating the means of combining together information on Americans’ personal lives from many different sources into one rich view of their lives, the TIA program will bring into existence an immensely powerful surveillance tool.

The overall surveillance goals of TIA suffer from fundamental flaws that are based in exceedingly complex and intractable issues of human nature, economics and law.

Computer scientists and engineers have significant doubts that the computer-based TIA Program will achieve its stated goal of “countering terrorism through prevention.

The FBI under its “Project Lookout” gave corporations a list of hundreds of names of people it sought in connection with September 11. The list, which was riddled with inaccuracies and contained the names of many people the Bureau simply wanted to talk to, was widely circulated and took on a life of its own.

Even if it is installed to the maximum extent, the TIA system would only be able to search and analyze those activities that leave behind electronic records. Electronic transactions that are not stored in databases, cash or paper transactions, and illegal or black-market activities would not leave traces in the searchable “transaction space” and so would not be covered by any queries launched by TIA operators.

Intelligence officials are ramping TIA out of reviews launched after the failure to connect the dots about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” before his Dec. 25, 2009, attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner.

After the failed attack, government agencies discovered they had intercepted communications by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and received a report from a United States Consulate in Nigeria that could have identified the attacker, if the information had been compiled ahead of time.

The changes are intended to allow analysts to more quickly identify terrorism suspects by fusing vast archives of electronic records — like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell..

Intelligence officials offered a hypothetical scenario to explain one way the TIA could be helpful: A person from Yemen applies for a visa and lists an American as a point of contact. There is no sign that either person is a terrorist. Two years later, another person from Yemen applies for a visa and lists the same American, and this second person is a suspected terrorist.

Under the existing system, they said, to discover that the first visa applicant now had a known tie to a suspected terrorist, an analyst would have to ask the State Department to check its database to see if the American’s name had come up on anyone else’s visa application — a step that could be overlooked or cause a delay. Under the new rules, a computer could instantly alert analysts of the connection

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