This is a few years old, but I just read Shane Harris' 2004 profile of John Poindexter— an article that he builds on in his new book, The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State. Poindexter is best-known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, and a few years ago came into the news again at the helm of Total Information Awareness; The Watchers sounds like it won't rehabilitate Poindexter, exactly, but peel back the layers and help us better understand what TIA was about, and how it was the culmination of a long love affair between the intelligence services and really, really big databases. As Shane explains it, the book is

the story of a techno-warrior dynasty, of which he is the patriarch. I can't imagine telling this story without him. But I don't think of The Watchers as a biography. To me, it's an ensemble. Poindexter is the biggest player, in terms of page count and force of personality.

I think what impresses me about the article is that it manages to be sympathetic to Poindexter himself, even as it's critical about some elements of Total Information Awareness and suggests that Poindexter's advocacy of TIA was weakened by a degree of naivete about the political character of large technical systems. As Harris puts it,

I recognize the implicit problem here: You have to have faith in technology and in people. Both are fallible. You've zeroed in on one of Poindexter's fundamental traits when you describe him as "the tireless innovator and tech-evangelist" who thinks he can resolve huge conflicts with "the addition of a few new lines of code." He has the deep faith in technology necessary to allow a system like his. And, of course, he believes in TIA's fundamental goodness because he designed it! Poindexter tended to dismiss a lot of his critics as politically motivated, and many of them were. But he also failed to understand how reasonable people could disagree with him. How, for example, they could look at the logo for TIA's parent organization and shudder at its utter creepiness. To him, it was a "neat" design.

The Slate conversation about the book between Harris and Patrick Keene, incidentally, is quite good.

[To the tune of Patti Smith, "Gloria: In Excelsis Deo/Gloria," from the album Horses (a 2-star song, imo).]