Information, Please. Or Else, by Art Buchwald          December 19, 2002

Call it what you will -- Big Brother, George Orwell, Super Anti-Terrorism -- the Pentagon still wants to spy on you. The program called "Total Information Awareness" is being conducted to find out how much personal information the government can learn about every American citizen.

The head of the program is John Poindexter, who was found guilty during the Reagan administration of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing justice in the Iran-contra scandal. He was found guilty but his sentence was overturned and so the Pentagon decided he was the best man for the TIA job.

How will this affect you, dear reader? If the data retrieval bureau succeeds, the government will know everything about you.

I can see next Christmas when the TIA has collected all its information.

The scene is Santa Claus Land in the Halldale Department Store in Minneapolis. The action is being monitored in the basement of the Pentagon by Gen. Sleuth, Col. Ripper and Navy Cmdr. Ruth, the highest-ranking woman in the TIA program.

"What have we got on Santa Claus?" Gen. Sleuth asks.

Col. Ripper goes to his computer. "He was married three times and his last wife recently left him. He likes bourbon, which he keeps in his sack next to him. This is the only job he could get because he is over 50. When he has money he spends it on a steak and French fries."

Gen. Sleuth asks, "But is he a terrorist or not?"

Ripper hits a button. "Let's see what happens when he talks to a kid."

Santa says, "Ho, ho, ho. And what is your name?"

"Butch. What is your name?" the kid asks.

Santa's blood pressure goes up and he looks like he wants to throttle the kid.

"Now what do you want for Christmas?"

"A video game called 'Blowing Up the World.' "

Cmdr. Ruth says, "Butch isn't kidding. For his birthday he asked for 'Weapons of Mass Destruction, Upgraded.' "

Santa asks, "Have you been a good boy or a bad boy?"

"I can go either way."

The commander says, "The computer says he locked his sister in the closet for two hours last week and tried to put her cat in the microwave oven."

The general says, "Have the Minnesota National Guard check him out. We're making progress. By next year we will have data on everyone in America."

The colonel says, "I have a suggestion. Why don't we sell our database to the department stores, mail-order houses and magazine subscription departments? They'll pay anything to know what goes on in the minds of their potential customers. In that way we can not only find terrorists but we can also make a profit."

Gen. Sleuth agrees: "Good idea. Let's run it up the privacy flagpole and see who salutes."