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Congress threatens two hi-tech Gestapo programs

TIA, CAPPS II in crosshairs

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The US Senate this week proposed denying funds to two Orwellian surveillance programs sought by the Bush Administration.

The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program has come under attack in the Senate and may see its funding shut off. The 2004 defense appropriations bill contains a provision that would deny it any financial support.

The House has got its own TIA obstacle in the works, but not so bold a one as the Senate is contemplating. The two versions will likely have to be reconciled in a conference committee, but it is a fair bet that TIA's wings will be clipped.

Research for the Big Brother scheme is being conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under the guidance of Iran-Contra scandal alumnus and convicted felon Admiral John Poindexter.

The TIA program has since had its name changed from Total Information Awareness to Terrorism Information Awareness, but for some reason this sophisticated dodge appears not to have fooled Congress.

In a related development, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), a scheme to query government and commercial databases for background on every person attempting to buy a plane ticket, has been held up pending a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog outfit.

The scheme would have assigned a score of "green", "yellow" or "red" to prospective passengers based on financial and other records. Greens would get the usual pat-down and x-ray routine; yellows would be singled out for additional security harassment; and reds would be grounded. There appears to be no mechanism for correcting database errors and false information if one is given an unjustly low score. Worse, those with imperfect scores could have that information passed on to law enforcement agencies and other bureaux of the national security apparatus without warning and with no way to set the record straight if the information on them should be bad.

The CAPPS II system, like its predecessor CAPPS, is a product of Defense industry giant Lockheed Martin, a company for which US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta served as Veep. The contract award is in keeping with the Bush Administration's tradition of diverting vast amounts of public money to the coffers of corporations with ties to its chief players. ®

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