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Information Awareness Office

The Information Awareness Office is a branch of the United States Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It has a mission 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 originally had a mission of Total Information Awareness -- amended in May of 2003 to Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA). John Poindexter, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan served as the first head of the IAO.

The IAO and its stated mission caught the attention of many conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs, particularly with its use of the pseudo-Masonic eye-in-pyramid symbol in its original logo. That logo featured the eye of Providence from the Great Seal of the United States gazing at the Earth, and the Latin motto scientia est potentia, meaning "knowledge is power".

On approximately December 19, 2002, the pyramid logo disappeared 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. For the former page, see the archived mirror

The IAO has the stated mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) 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 IAO’s goal is to develop the capacity 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. They see the organization as far too invasive and prone to abuse.

The first mention of the IAO in the media came from 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, protests among civil libertarians grew over what they see as the IAO's disturbingly Orwellian mission, especially within the larger framework of other invasive homeland security measures and policies implemented by the Bush administration. The integrity of Poindexter as head of the IAO also came under scrutiny, given his conviction on five felony charges for lying to 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 the 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 ceritifies the program's research as vital to national security interests.

Congress passed legislation in February of 2003 halting activities of the IAO pending a Congressional report of the office's activities. Action in the US Congress to attempt to halt a specific internal Department of Defense project occurs extremely rarely, underscoring the grave threat to civil liberties and privacy that many lawmakers perceive in the Information Awareness Office.

DARPA changed the name of the "Total Information Awareness" program to "Terrorist Information Awareness" on May 20, 2003, emphasizing in its report to Congress that the program is not designed to compile dossiers on US citizens, but rather to gather information on terrorist networks. Despite this name change and reassurance, the description of the program's activities remained essentially the same in the report, and critics continue to see the system as prone to massive Orwellian abuses.

A Senate defense appropriations bill passed unanimously on July 18, 2003 explicitly denies any funding to Terrorist Information Awareness research, which will effectively kill the program if implemented.,1283,59606,00.html

Public protests against the Information Awareness Office

Extensive criticism of the IAO in the traditional media and on the Internet has come from from both left-wing and right-wing civil libertarians, who see the unprecendented systematic categorization and access to information that it will enable as 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, including satellite photographs of Poindexter's house.

IAO research

As part of the IAO's "Total Information Awareness" program the organization has started to research several new technologies:

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 focuses 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 an 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 states that "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.

Genisys code-names the database system which the IAO plans to implement as the center of its information storage and processing. Currently used database systems designed in the 1980s do not have the capacity for the massive amount of data the IAO plans to gather.

Genoa "provides the structured argumentation, decision-making and corporate memory to rapidly deal with and adjust to dynamic crisis management." In essence, the IAO intended this program to make conclusions and decisions based on available information, incorporating human analysis, corporate history, and a structured set of thinking. The IAO finished this research project in fiscal year 2002; there follows 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 have the capability of implementing a face and gait identification system effective up to 150 meters at all times by fiscal year 2004. One such program, developed by Georgia Tech at a cost of nearly $1 million, identifies distinctive patterns in human walks via radar.,1282,-2694090,00.html

Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization, or TIDES, aims to detect, translate, summarize, and extract information in speech or text in multiple languages. The IAO expected demonstration of machine capabilities and integration into Total Information Awareness systems in 2003.

Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment, or WAE, focusses on developing 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.

Literature and Movies Critical of Total Information Awareness

  • The Transparent Society by David Brin, thought-provoking, discusses various scenarios of the future, considering the spread of cheap web-cameras, increases in government security initiatives, and the possible death of encryption if quantum computing becomes reality
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel by George Orwell depicting a total information awareness society
  • Minority Report, a story by Philip K. Dick about a society that arrests people for crimes they have yet to commit (made into a movie in 2002)
  • Brazil, a film by Terry Gilliam depicting an oppressive total information awareness society

See also

  • Combat Zones That See, or CTS, a project to link up all security cameras citywide and "track everything that moves".
  • Government Information Awareness "acts as a framework for US citizens to construct and analyze a comprehensive database on our government".
  • LifeLog, "an ontology-based (sub)system that captures, stores, and makes accessible the flow of one person's experience in and interactions with the world in order to support a broad spectrum of associates/assistants and other system capabilities. The objective of this 'LifeLog' concept is to be able to trace the 'threads' of an individual's life in terms of events, states, and relationships."

External links

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