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FBI Seeking Access to ‘Orwellian’ Defense Department Data Project

By Tom Brune
NEWSDAY -- WASHINGTON

The FBI is already working on an understanding with the Pentagon to experiment with the controversial Total Information Awareness project, a prospect that raises civil liberty concerns, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday.

The revelation added to the already hot controversy about the high-tech project, described by Pentagon officials as futuristic data-mining that would sift through credit card and other transactions to track down suspected terrorists before they act.

But some senators and civil libertarians depict the project, which has an initial budget of $10 million, as “Orwellian” and a threat to citizens’ privacy. It is directed by Iran-Contra figure John Poindexter and overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Grassley has proposed legislation to ensure that adequate privacy controls are put into place, that project funds are limited to foreign intelligence purposes and that the Pentagon is required to report to Congress on the project’s progress.

Grassley said he is particularly concerned that technology that should be used only for foreign intelligence purposes could also be used by domestic law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, his aides said.

“I’m worried that Total Information Awareness personnel have contacted agencies at the Department of Justice to work on possible experimentation with TIA technology in the future,” Grassley said.

“This is a direct contradiction to earlier statements made by the Justice Department and only heightens my concern about the blurring of lines between domestic law enforcement and military security efforts,” he said.

He said Justice Department spokesman Brian Sierra in November said that “the Justice Department has not gotten any information about the project from the Pentagon and thus cannot comment.”