John Poindexter

John Poindexter


John Poindexter, a creative, goal-oriented professional, was an admiral in the U.S. Navy, and is remembered by most Americans as a prominent Pentagon official. He was controversial in his roles as deputy national security adviser and national security adviser in the Ronald Reagan administration.

Oliver North worked closely with him as an aide, and Poindexter is regarded as the chief architect of the operation that became the Iran-Contra Affair. More recently, Poindexter served a brief stint as the Director of the DARPA* Information Awareness Office and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program.

The TIA program was intended to detect terrorists by analyzing troves of information. The system, developed under Poindexter`s direction, was envisioned to give law enforcement agencies access to private data on suspicion of wrongdoing — without a search warrant — for the George W. Bush administration in 2002.

Education and career

John Marlan Poindexter was born on August 12, 1936, in Washington, Indiana. In 1958, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. He earned his master`s degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology, in 1961, and his Ph.D., also from Caltech, in 1964. His dissertation focused on nuclear physics.

From 1961 to 1964, Poindexter was a lab assistant at Caltech, where he further developed a model for understanding the Mossbauer Effect, with Nobel Laureate Rudolph Mossbauer. The process, discovered by the German-born physicist in 1957, constitutes a useful tool for studying diverse scientific phenomena.

Naval career

From 1958 to 1987, Poindexter served in the navy in assorted capacities. As deputy commander of the Naval Education and Training Command, he initiated a project to develop a distributed data management system for increased efficiencies in the management of training hierarchies. During his assignment as commander of a destroyer squadron, he was the Surface Warfare and Anti-Submarine Warfare commander of battle groups in the Western Pacific and Indian oceans.

Poindexter developed new tactics and battle management procedures under the Composite Warfare Commander concept. The concept provides for varying degrees of decentralization of field command through the assignment of subordinate warfare commanders to handle specific responsibilities, and the delegation of authority to carry them out.

As the commanding officer of a cruiser, he pioneered the shipboard use of computers to manage the ship`s crew portion of yard overhauls. Poindexter served as an executive officer and chief engineer of naval destroyers. His significant staff assignments included: Executive Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations, Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, and Special Assistant for Systems Analysis to the Secretary of Defense.

Executive branch service

In the Reagan administration, Poindexter served as Military Assistant (1981-1983), Deputy National Security Adviser from 1983 to 1985, and as National Security Adviser from 1985 to 1986. From 1983 to 1985, he was responsible for managing the National Security Council staff as chairman of the Crisis Pre-planning Group.

As national security adviser, Poindexter provided recommendations to the president on national security, foreign policy and defense policy. Major events in which he played a role include:

  • the Strategic Defense Initiative(SDI),
  • Operation Urgent Fury during the Achille Lauro incident,
  • Operation El Dorado Canyon in response to Libyan terrorist attacks (he is credited with terminating Libyan financing of terrorism),
  • Reykjavik Summit with the Soviets,
  • peaceful transition of government in the Philippines, and
  • the Iran-Contra Affair.
  • Poindexter at Iran-Contra Hearings

    On April 7, 1990, Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence relative to the Iran-Contra Affair. The convictions were reversed in 1991, by a grant of "use immunity." The prosecution was not allowed to retry the case.

    Defense contract work

    From 1988 to 1989, Poindexter was the senior scientist at Presearch, Inc., a Fairfax, Virginia, research and development laboratory involved with defense studies and analysis. Anticipating defense budget reductions, Poindexter joined the firm to develop new commercial enterprises. He designed and developed hardware and software for video surveillance, to be used for high-value facilities. It was used to obtain a contract for a nuclear power plant security system.

    From 1990 to 1996, Poindexter served as co-founder, chief designer, and programmer of TP Systems, Inc., which specialized in commercial software for IBM PCs and compatibles. Development included a symbolic debugger for such multi-tasking environments as Desqview, the first program to bring multitasking and windowing capabilities to IBM-compatible personal computers; an electronic bulletin board system, a communications program, and numerous utility programs.

    From 1993 to 1996, Poindexter served as a consultant to the Elkins Group, a business alliance with Electronic Data Systems, which developed the Elkins Interactive Training Network, a satellite-based training delivery system. He was chairman of the Maritime Advisory Committee and on the Elkins board of directors. He also served as an adviser on strategic planning.

    From 1996 to 2002, Poindexter served as senior vice president of SYNTEK Technologies, a small, high-tech firm with contracts in domestic and international defense, and commercial business. He advised on management and direction of information systems projects.

    Recall to public service

    From December 2002 to August 2003, Poindexter served as the director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO). IAO`s controversial mission was to create and apply computer technologies for sophisticated and closed (publicly inaccessible) information systems that allowed international and domestic spying to counter terrorist threats.

    Poindexter faced immense criticism from the media and politicians about the Policy Analysis Market project, a futures exchange that would have allowed trading in, and profiting from, such events as the assassination of heads of state and acts of terrorism.

    The controversy over the futures market led to a congressional audit of the IAO, which revealed a fundamental lack of privacy protection for American citizens. Funding for the IAO was subsequently cut and Poindexter retired from DARPA on August 12, 2003.


    Poindexter married Linda A. Goodwin on June 6, 1958, following his graduation from Annapolis. Linda was an Episcopal minister for 13 years, but converted to the Roman Catholic Church. The couple has four sons; Alan, Daniel, Joseph and Mark. Alan is a decorated Gulf War veteran, a pilot and astronaut.

    *The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a division of the Department of Defense. In 1968, DARPA invented, built, and maintained the Internet until 1993.

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