Pentagon spy database moves forward

Millions of dollars are going to 26 research projects linked to the Total Information Awareness program, which aims to compile electronic dossiers on Americans.
Written by Declan McCullagh, Contributor
WASHINGTON--The U.S. Defense Department has awarded millions of dollars to more than two-dozen research projects that involve a controversial data-mining project aimed at compiling electronic dossiers on Americans.

Nearly 200 corporations and universities submitted proposals to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to government documents brought to light by a privacy group Thursday. John Poindexter, who oversees the agency's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, approved 26 of them last fall, including grants to the University of Southern California, the Palo Alto Research Center, and defense contractor Science Applications International.

Over the last few months, TIA has become a lightning rod for criticism, with Republican and Democratic legislators speaking out against it on privacy and security grounds. On Feb. 20, as part of a large spending bill for the federal government, Congress approved additional scrutiny of research and development on the TIA project.

Those restrictions do not halt TIA research. They would permit the 26 grants to be fully funded if Poindexter sends Congress a "schedule for proposed research and development" that includes a privacy evaluation, or if President George W. Bush certifies that TIA is necessary for national security.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a civil liberties group in Washington, won a court order forcing Poindexter to disclose approximately 180 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show that funds for TIA and two related information-analyzing projects, Genisys and Genoa II, have been awarded to companies including CyCorp of Austin, Texas, for a "Terrorism knowledge base," 21st Century Technologies of Austin, Texas, for "AUDIT: Automated Detection, Identification, and Tracking of Deceptive Terrorist Activity," and Evolving Logic of Topanga, Calif. for "Confronting Surprise: Robust Adaptive Planning for Effective Total Information Awareness."

University recipients include the University of Southern California, for its "JIST: Just-In-caSe just-in-Time Intelligence Analysis" system, and Colorado State University. Columbia University applied for, but did not receive, a grant for its proposal for "Behavior-Based Profiling of User Accounts to Detect Malicious, Errant, and Fraudulent Internet Activity."

"It shows the breadth and impact of this program, which its defenders have tried to describe as being on the drawing board or in the research stages," said EPIC director Marc Rotenberg. "The activity is extraordinary. This is a Defense-funded project for domestic surveillance, and it's very important not to lose sight of that."

It's unclear how much money is being awarded to the grant recipients. A Defense Department notice suggested that the "annual budget for each is in the $200,000 to $1,000,000 range."

A DARPA representative on Thursday declined to provide additional details about funding or on what the projects entail, saying the proposals would not be made public. "The companies put private information in their proposals," the representative said.

A representative of Veridian, of Arlington, Va. refused to disclose details. The information-system provider won an unspecified amount for a grant proposal titled, "Human augmentation of reasoning through patterning."

"This is an area that I need to refer you directly to DARPA," the Veridian representative said. "They're the customer, and they've asked us to refer calls to them."

Editorial standards