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Poindexter Quits His Job With a Final Shot

August 13, 2003|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — John M. Poindexter took issue Tuesday with critics of his Pentagon efforts to develop new data scanning systems and an online futures market for flushing out terrorists and predicting Middle East developments, saying the programs had fallen victim to ignorance, distortion and Washington's "highly charged political environment."

In a letter of resignation ending a controversial 20-month Pentagon tenure, Poindexter pressed his case for employing new technologies to discern terrorists' plans in such everyday transactions as credit card purchases, travel reservations and e-mail. He said innovative approaches are needed to overcome the historic barriers among U.S. intelligence agencies and gain access to information not available to the government.

Insisting he had been mindful of the privacy concerns that critics in Congress and elsewhere raised about his work, the retired rear admiral cited the parallel efforts he made to study ways of protecting the rights of U.S. and foreign citizens. But Poindexter complained that attempts to explain his programs often proved fruitless.

"Although we have tried to be very open about our work, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding," he wrote.

The letter provided Poindexter his first opportunity to address critics after being ordered by Pentagon officials last autumn to avoid public comment because he had become too much of a "lightning rod."

Senior Defense officials reported Poindexter's intention to resign his post as head of the Pentagon's Office of Information Awareness two weeks ago. The news followed Poindexter's involvement in an ill-fated plan to launch an online futures market for betting on Middle Eastern developments that was advertised as a vehicle for profiting on assassinations and other terrorist acts. Before that, he had been embroiled in a controversy over a computerized surveillance plan to scour travel, financial, medical and other databases to penetrate terrorist networks.

His departure was demanded by lawmakers who questioned his judgment as well as his regard for privacy issues, and who argued that Poindexter's history as a central participant in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s made him a poor choice to manage such a politically sensitive project.

He said in his letter that he had wanted to step down "for months now" but had stayed longer at the request of his boss, Anthony J. Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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