Alexandra Silver interviews author Shane Harris in TIME magazine:
It reads like a spy novel, but in The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, author Shane Harris lays out the U.S. government’s real-life efforts to see and hear more in the face of growing terrorist threats. He pays particular attention to Total Information Awareness (TIA), a post-9/11 research project spearheaded by John Poindexter, once President Reagan’s National Security Adviser. Harris, a reporter for National Journal, spoke to TIME about Poindexter, the fate of TIA and the state of surveillance in America. He didn’t object, mind you, to being recorded.
Your book has an ominous title, but you’re very sympathetic to many of the characters. Do you feel we can trust the “watchers”?
What did Reagan say — “Trust but verify”? I’ve yet to meet anybody in this particular space who I thought had nefarious intentions or was out to violate people’s privacy or anything like that. I’m willing to trust, but at the same time there have to be checks put in place and there has to be transparency and accountability. Bureaucracies have a way of taking on lives and actions of their own.
How did you zero in on John Poindexter as the protagonist in this story?
Back in 2002 and 2003, I was covering technology and the government, and I was writing about the Total Information Awareness program, which he was running at the Defense Department. I was never able to get an interview with him, but after he left government, I ran into him at a conference. I said, “Would you ever be willing to sit down with me and do interviews?” and he said he would do it on the condition that I would come out to his house and we would do multiple interviews and it would all be on the record. What a burdensome request.
Read more in TIME magazine