You Are a Suspect!
(New York Times / November 14, 2002) - If the Homeland Security Act
is not amended before passage, 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.
This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen
to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets
the unprecedented power he seeks.
Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at the Naval
Academy, later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to national security
adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He had this brilliant idea of
secretly selling missiles to Iran to pay ransom for hostages, and with
the illicit proceeds to illegally support contras in Nicaragua.
A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading
Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court overturned
the verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his testimony.
He famously asserted, "The buck stops here," arguing that the
White House staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful
decisions that might prove embarrassing.
This ring-knocking master of deceit is back again with a plan even more
scandalous than Iran-contra. He heads the "Information Awareness
Office" in the otherwise excellent Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, which spawned the Internet and stealth aircraft technology. Poindexter
is now realizing his 20-year dream: getting the "data-mining" power
to snoop on every public and private act of every American.
Even the hastily passed U.S.A. Patriot Act, which widened the scope
of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and weakened 15 privacy
laws, raised requirements for the government to report secret eavesdropping
to Congress and the courts. But Poindexter's assault on individual privacy
rides roughshod over such oversight.
He is determined to break down the wall between commercial snooping
and secret government intrusion. The disgraced admiral dismisses such
necessary differentiation as bureaucratic "stovepiping." And
he has been given a $200 million budget to create computer dossiers on
300 million Americans.
When George W. Bush was running for president, he stood foursquare in
defense of each person's medical, financial and communications privacy.
But Poindexter, whose contempt for the restraints of oversight drew the
Reagan administration into its most serious blunder, is still operating
on the presumption that on such a sweeping theft of privacy rights, the
buck ends with him and not with the president.
This time, however, he has been seizing power in the open. In the past
week John Markoff of The Times, followed by Robert O'Harrow of The Washington
Post, have revealed the extent of Poindexter's operation, but editorialists
have not grasped its undermining of the Freedom of Information Act.
Political awareness can overcome "Total Information Awareness," the
combined force of commercial and government snooping. In a similar overreach,
Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism Information and Prevention
System (TIPS), but public outrage at the use of gossips and postal workers
as snoops caused the House to shoot it down. The Senate should now do
the same to this other exploitation of fear.
The Latin motto over Poindexter"s new Pentagon office reads "Scientia
Est Potentia" — "knowledge is power." Exactly: the
government's infinite knowledge about you is its power over you. "We're
just as concerned as the next person with protecting privacy," this
brilliant mind blandly assured The Post. A jury found he spoke falsely