Back in the days when the United States government was overtly and covertly assisting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the most extreme Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, US Navy Rear Admiral John Poindexter was in the thick of it.
Serving as the Reagan administration’s national security adviser, Poindexter helped devise the secret Iran-Contra networks that the White House used to illegally sell arms to the fundamentalist dictators of Iran and then schemed to divert the ill-gotten gain to the Nicaraguan rebels who sought to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Poindexter’s violations of the public trust were so extreme that in the late 1980s his story came to serve as an internationally recognized example of what happens when government officials begin to operate outside the legal and moral boundaries of civil society.
Poindexter beat several of his felony convictions (a jury convicted him in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, only to have an appeals court overturn the verdict not because Poindexter was innocent but because Congress had given him immunity in return for his testimony). But few people associated with the scandal-plagued Reagan administration were more discredited than Poindexter. And nothing the retired admiral has done in the past 15 years has restored the faith of rational Americans – or international observers – in this troubled man’s sullied integrity.
Except, of course, within the Bush Administration.
With the election of George W. Bush, Poindexter returned to Washington’s good graces. Now, with a Congressional seal of approval that was tucked into the Homeland Security bill, he is developing the Total Information Awareness program within a new federal operation, the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (SARPA). The TIA project, which Poindexter devised, is an ambitious plan to use new software and computer-generated data collection that -in the words of the New York Times – seeks to “use the vast networking powers of the computer to ‘mine’ huge amounts of information about people.”
Under the aegis of the Pentagon, the TIA initiative is ostensibly being designed to help federal agencies identify and locate “potential” terrorists. In reality, the TIA initiative could result in shadowy federal agencies having unprecedented access to the private communications of Americans. Indeed, according to the Times, if Poindexter’s plans come to fruition, “all the transactions of everyday life – credit card purchases, travel and telephone records, even Internet traffic like e-mail – would be grist for the electronic mill.”