Voyeur John

Nobody will argue that former Admiral John Poindexter is not a liar. Except maybe John Poindexter. It was only because of a technicality that the former Navy Admiral wriggled off the hook of a perjury conviction more than a decade ago for making false statements to Congress about the Iran-Contra mess during the Ronald Reagan administration where he served as National Security Advisor. The same administration where George Bush senior was second in command.

As is so often the case with has-been political hacks, it seems that their former cronies can always find a place for them in one government cubicle or another. The first George Bush administration was populated by Nixonoids. The second George Bush administration seems to be populated by those first Bush administration supplicants put on the unemployment line when Bill Clinton took over. It's a never ending vicious circle that could have been broken long ago had members of the United States Congress not been preoccupied with counting the money flowing to them both over and under the table.

But back to forked-tongued John.

What makes Poindexter's current activities so egregious is simply the fact that his buddies in government found a place for him where he can do incalculable damage to the basic Constitutional rights of every citizen. A place pretty much out of the public eye where he can work on eroding our civil rights with abandon This situation is exacerbated by the fact that our  watchdogs -- those we elect to represent us and protect our welfare -- are so enamored of the "terrorism" buzzword they are permitting a group of political zealots in and around the White House to chip away at the Bill of Rights with impunity under the guise of national security and the argument that we need a new multibillion dollar bureaucracy to keep the homeland safe. Many crimes are committed under the guise of national security.

This time, instead of prison, Poindexter is whiling away his time on the public payroll at the Pentagon as head of the so-called "Information Awareness Office" of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA, as the agency is known on scores of college campuses and in many corporate boardrooms, is America's premier funding source for much high technology research. Over the years DARPA has spent tens of millions in support of research that has resulted in hundreds of computer hardware and software products being used today in civilian and military applications. In fact, it's been rumored that several college students and some of their professors who reaped millions during the roaring dot-com bubble days did so by selling to venture capitalists ideas they had misappropriated while engaged in DARPA-funded research.

Why this respected agency decided it needed an "Information Awareness Office" is a mystery. Why Poindexter was installed as its director is a travesty.

How Poindexter's operation will dovetail with the activities of In-Q-Tel isn't clear. In-Q-Tel is the CIA-operated venture capital fund that itself is dumping millions into small high tech companies scattered across the country from Silly Con Valley to Boston's Highway 128 Corridor, and everywhere in between to finance the development of cutting edge products the government covets for spying purposes. Many of these "portfolio companies" as they're called in the VC business have developed software that brings new dimensions to "data mining" on the Internet and elsewhere. Other portfolio companies are developing software and processes by which huge amounts of information can be collected and sifted from multiple sources at the same time.

Fortunately, one of the nation's premier journalists, New York Times Columnist William Safire, is not blind or prone to swallowing the duplicitous rhetoric and fear mongering of a government fast spinning out of control -- and being allowed to do so by an electorate seemingly more interested in downloading its next stolen top 40 tune than protecting its personal freedoms.

On Thursday, November 11, 2002 Safire sounded the alarm bell on the Op-Ed Page of the New York Times. Whether a hypnotized populace and comatose newspaper editors can be snapped out of their trance remains to be seen. Have we forgotten J. Edgar Hoover? Have we forgotten Robert Mardian?

It's not as if we haven't been warned.



William Safire

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company


WASHINGTON - 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 before.