VIEWPOINTS: FBI without quality protection

Steffen Schmidt

There has been no discussion, as far as I’ve seen, of the contracting scandals for computer systems in the coverage of the “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane Dec. 25.

Some years ago the FBI contracted Science Applications International Corporation for a computer system that took years to develop. Google or Yahoo pretty much worked better than this worthless pile of crap. But SAIC made $500 million of your money on this turkey.

It was canceled so the FBI, operating with one of the government’s most antiquated computer systems, had to start from scratch.

No one was arrested, charged, tried and convicted over this scandal, which put the U.S. at great risk and directly contributed to the failures of the first World Trade Center attack and 9/11.

TechDirt wrote in 2006:

“The incredible saga of the FBI’s overbudget $500 million computer system, that needed to be scrapped after it turned out it was useless in fighting terrorism, apparently had some other problems as well. The news has come out today that a contractor hired to work on the computer system was so frustrated by the bureaucracy he needed to go through to do something as simple as adding a printer to the network, that he used some free internet tools to breach the network and get access to the usernames and passwords of 38,000 FBI employees, including director Robert Mueller. The contractor pleaded guilty to various charges, though even the FBI admits that he only appears to have done what he did to actually get work done. It’s not clear which part is more disturbing: That the FBI’s computer system was so easily hacked, or that the best way to get work done at the FBI is to breach its computer security.”

So, are you mad yet?

Please read the following because the media, scared to death about the level of incompetence in the United States, did not report any of this in ways that  or I would have seen it.

“Sixteen months ago, [Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C.,] sent a letter to Inspector General Office of the Director of National Intelligence requesting an investigation of the technical failure and mismanagement of Railhead, a half-billion dollar program that was intended to update and enhance the National Counterterrorism Center’s [Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment] database. TIDE is the core of the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watch list.

“The end result is a current IT [information technology] system used to identify terrorist threats that has been crippled by technical flaws and a new system that if actually deployed will leave our country more vulnerable than the existing yet flawed system in operation today,” Miller wrote Aug. 21.

“We heard from whistleblowers, contractors and NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] personnel,” Miller told CBS News on Friday.

“They said the computer program was a mess, in a state where the program not only couldn’t connect the dots, it couldn’t find the dots. There was also poor management and a lack over government oversight and turf battles among contractors. It seemed the system was unable to do things that Google does routinely, such as identify similar name, and based on the Christmas day event [2010], it apparently still can’t do that.”

So as you go to sleep tonight remember that our national security agencies have failed us and really don’t have the capability to ID and stop Nigerian underwear bombers.

They could however stop Sen. Ted Kennedy. From a 2004 MSNC article: “U.S. Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy said yesterday that he was stopped and questioned at airports on the East Coast five times in March because his name appeared on the government’s secret ‘no-fly’ list.”

From what we can tell the no fly list has not been improved much since 2004.

Steffen Schmidt is a professor of political science and chief political correspondent for