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Information Awareness Office

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The Information Awareness Office, known more commonly as Total Information Awareness, was a terrifying program started by the George W. Bush administration and administered by a division of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was run by Adm. John Poindexter with the stated goal of integrating surveillance technologies on a massive scale.


The program sprang from the mind of former Rear Admiral John Poindexter and Science Applications International Corporation executive Brian Hicks, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.[1]

Program aspects[edit]

IAO programs were conducted along five areas of interest: secure collaboration problem solving; structured discovery; link and group understanding; context aware visualizations; and decision making with corporate memory. These areas of interest were conducted under a series of programs:

  • Babylon: a programs whose goal was to develop rapid, two-way, natural language speech translation communications for soldiers for use in field environments for force protection, refugee processing, and medical triage.
  • Bio-Surveillance: a program designed for early detection of biological attacks against the United States.[2]
  • Communicator: a program created to develop "dialogue interaction" technology which would enable soldiers to talk with computers, such that information would be accessible on the battlefield or in command centers without requiring a keyboard. The communicator platform was designed to function in a networked environment and to was to be on a network that was both mobile and wireless.[3]
  • Effective Affordable Reusable Speech-to-text (EARS): a program whose goal was to, essentially, make computer translation of human speech quicker and much more accurate, with the intent to create a core enabling technology (technology that is used as a component for future technologies) suitable for a wide range of future surveillance applications.[4]
  • Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery: a program for the development of technologies and tools for automated discovery, extraction and linking of sparse evidence contained in large amounts of classified and unclassified data sources (such as phone call records from the NSA call database or bank records). It was to develop the ability to detect patterns comprising multiple types of links between data items or people communicating (e.g., financial transactions, communications, travel, etc.), with the goal of linking items relating potential "terrorist" groups/scenarios, and to learn patterns of these different groups or scenarios to identify new organizations and/or emerging threats.[5]
  • Futures Markets Applied to Prediction (aka: FutureMap): was a ridiculous program intended to harness collective intelligence by researching prediction market techniques for avoiding surprise attacks and predicting future events. The intent was to explore the feasibility of market-based trading mechanisms to predict political instability, threats to national security, and other major global events in the future. Essentially, FutureMap would be allow people to bet on when a terrorist attack would occur, with the federal government being the bookmaker of such a system. The idea was so ridiculous the even Sen. Carl Levin thought it was a hoax.[6]
  • Genisys: a program aimed at developing technologies which enable "ultra-large, all-source information repositories" for the vast amounts of information that were going to be collected and analyzed, and available database technology at the time was insufficient for storing or organizing such large quantities of data. Therefore, the goal was to develop techniques for virtual data aggregation to support effective analysis across composite databases (such as criminal databases) and unstructured public data sources, such as the World Wide Web.
Its other goal was to develop "a large, distributed system architecture for managing the huge volume of raw data input, analysis results, and feedback, that will result in a simpler, more flexible data store that performs well and allows us to retain important data indefinitely."[7]
  • Genoa / Genoa II: a program intended to develop advanced decision support and collaboration tools to rapidly deal with and adjust to dynamic crisis management and allow for inter-agency collaboration in real-time.[8][9]
  • HumanID:essentially, a program designed to identify any human at a great amount of distance with tremendous accuracy. This especially came under fire because the database system it would run off of would include several commercial, non-governmental databases, as well as governmental databases (such as driver's license databases) that weren't a part of the overall criminal database.[10]
  • Scalable Social Network Analysis: a program aimed at developing intelligence techniques based on social network analysis for modeling the key characteristics of terrorist groups and distinguishing these groups from other types of societal groups. A major criticism of this project was that it requires the intelligence community to compile vast amounts of data from around the majority of the world, including massive amounts of information on and about people who are not threats to national security.[11]
  • TIDES: Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization (TIDES) was a program aimed at developing advanced language processing technology that would enable English speakers (especially soldiers and intelligence personnel) to find and interpret critical information in multiple languages without requiring knowledge of said languages.[12]
  • Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment: a program focused on developing automated technology capable of identifying indicators of terrorist activity or impending attacks by examining individual and group behavior in broad environmental context and by examining the motivation of specific terrorists based on behavior models developed in a computer database.[13]

To the administration's credit, some of these programs were actually DARPA hard™.


The program terrified American civil libertarians, as it would have given the government total access to all private electronic transactions and communications.[14] As a result, Congress de-funded the Office of Information Awareness. However, the Bush administration simply shifted the programs to other DARPA projects.

See also[edit]