NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Washington Post has published a fascinating special report on America’s response to the 9-11 attacks. It will probably win a Pulitzer Prize.
Read it here: http://tinyurl.com/2cmsnvs
First, the bad. The Post has assembled a list of government agencies, buildings, locations, programs, and companies that are involved in our rapidly expanding counter-terrorism efforts. They’ve made the list available as a searchable data base. Wanna know what’s being done at the new government building being built downtown? If they translate Arab radio transmissions, monitor subversive web sites, or have computers that track money bound of the middle-east, you’ll find in the Post data base.
None of this data is based on classified information. It was pieced together through freedom of information requests… information that was available to the public. By getting tens of thousands of government documents, the Post was able to determine what was being done at these locations that might not be obvious without assembling tremendous amounts of government information from multiple departments and sources.
This is a step back for national security. Terrorists who are looking for targets in the U.S. have just been given a new and extensive list. This is a data base that The Washington Post should not have published.
The overall Post special report, data base aside, is an important piece of journalism. It shows that after 9-11 we did what the federal government often does: throw money at a problem. In the months after the attack, almost every program that might have some small counter-terrorism value was green-lighted. Almost every military contractor with a fancy computer program was told “go”. New offices were created. New programs were started. Hundreds of defense workers got higher security clearance. Some of these programs are still ramping up… building new high-security buildings (one program expanded from one room in an office-park to its own suburban high-tech suburban skyscraper.) and setting up new computer data-bases. And what do we have now? A system that’s so big, no one has a handle on it. No one has full oversight.
(One mid-level manager tells a story about his first briefing. He wasn’t allowed to take notes because of security concerns. He eventually couldn’t even keep the names of the agencies straight, regardless of the information they were feeding him. After about 20-minutes his mind overloaded… “Stop,” he told his briefers. “This is a waste of time. I cant’ take any more.”)
With the system we have today, we are more likely to know about a terror cell, but are unable to react quickly enough to infiltrate them. We are more likely to know about a money transfer to a group that sponsors terrorism, but it will be in a government data base somewhere and not analyzed by a human. We have a very high likelihood of intercepting a terrorist phone call or e-mail, but a very low chance of passing it up the chain of command where we take action.
What we have is what we usually get from our government, something that’s very expensive and very unwieldy.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau