2003 February 18 Tuesday
Heather Mac Donald on US Senate TIA Ban

Heather Mac Donald takes the US Senate to task for voting to shut down the DARPA Total Information Awareness computer project to detect signs of terrorist activity in electronic data. Mac Donald says the ban is so far-reaching that it will leave the FBI and Department of Homeland Security frozen in time using woefully inadequate computer tools to identify and track terrorists in the United States.

The breadth of the Senate's overreaction is stunning. Until now, the government has been allowed to search its own databases and even--heaven forbid!--try to improve the efficiency of those searches. No more. The Senate bill, sponsored by Oregon's Ron Wyden, freezes government intelligence analysis in its current abysmal state. Under Wyden's ban, only anti-terror investigations conducted wholly overseas or wholly against foreigners may use TIA's ground-breaking technologies to search government intelligence more productively. This means that while the CIA or National Security Agency may adopt cutting-edge software to wade through the intelligence glut more effectively, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security will be stuck with the same grossly inadequate tools that led to 9/11. But remember that terror attacks on American soil are almost by definition rehearsed and executed, if not also planned, domestically. It is domestic law enforcement that will be the front line of defense against the next attack.

The hypocrisy of the Senate's leading Democrats is no less stunning. Many--including Hillary Clinton and presidential hopefuls John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and John Edwards--have lambasted the Bush administration for not doing enough to protect the country against future al Qaeda assaults. Yet when it comes to applying America's greatest military advantage--the information technology expertise that could preempt terrorists' evil plans--the administration's critics would keep the country's defenses in a primitive state.

See also Mac Donald's previous article on the subject "Total Misrepresentation".

Every element of TIA is now legal and already in effect. The government already has access to private databases for investigatory purposes, but searching them is extremely cumbersome for lack of decent software. Likewise, the government can legally search its own computers, but that capacity, too, is constrained by primitive technology. TIA's enemies have not called for ending intelligence access to private or public databases, so their gripe ultimately boils down to the possibility that the government might do what it is already doing more efficiently. The rule appears to be of Luddite origin: The terrorists can expertly exploit our technology against us, but we must fight back with outdated, inadequate tools.

Terrorism is essentially asymmetric warfare conducted within civil society. Terrorists do not wear uniforms. They do not fight in clearly circumscribed battle zones. They hide by living among and acting like civilians. They do so in an attempt to destroy civil society.

Some terrorists will be detected using conventional police work combined with intelligence work that utilizes information that is collected abroad. But it would be naive to suppose that all or even most will be caught that way. Most Al Qaeda terrorists have not been captured. The identity of most of them is not even known in spite of the intense efforts of a large number of national intelligence agencies around the world to identify them. Figuring out which people are terrorists is an extremely hard thing to do.

We can't find terrorists using a simple straightforward approach such as peering over a battlefield at night with infrared goggles to look for soldiers that are not our own. Terrorists look very much and act very much like people who are not terrorists. It is difficult to notice patterns of behavior that differentiate between terrorists and non-terrorists. Many terrorists can be identified only by looking for patterns in data about the activities of a large number of people.

The US Senate is saying in effect that they do not want to make the United States a battleground in the battle against terrorism. The problem with this decision is that it is not theirs to make.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 February 18 07:30 PM  Terrorists WMD

Tom Roberts said at February 19, 2003 7:43 PM:

DoD is just going to classify it and reprogram the budget line with five syllable technospeak verbiage which nobody will understand, and do it anyway. We just won't hear about it for another twenty years when they dispose of the mainframes.

Paul Knittle said at April 29, 2003 9:44 AM:

To Heather Mac Donald

Heather's comments on protesting and rights remindes me of a person that has never lived under oppression or as a minority. The initial reason for the US to get involved in Iraq was because of weapons of mass destruction of which none exist. The use of this scare tactic, and the continual bombardment of the US citezens on the WTC made them fear Iraq. Boy Bush did manage to scare the people, but no weapons being found, the tune of the battle had to change to "liberate Iraq" to keep people believing what they are doing is right and just. (I'm sure the president would have had a difficult time getting troops committed if it was for "liberating" Iraq from the start because there are much more oppressive regimes in the world.)

What is justice? Being a court worker, Heather, you should know. Justice is when a person is able to see a judge and have his day in court is it not? Then how can you justify this war when the US violated world court by not using the UN..... How can you not bring the CIA up on charges for killing five people in a car from a drone, only one of those people was a suspect. What can you say to those in Guatanamo bay...who have tried to have a day in court but the supreme court rules that since you are not on US soil, you do not fall under our court, even though you are being oppressed by the US.

This war is unjust. Many people are scared to stand up for what is right, because they will be ostracized. Many careers have been lost because of people stating they are against this war. Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite, Sean Penn are examples.

In your world Heather, do you believe that noone should protest? Interesting. Think of the consequences of this? Every law passed comes without protest. Think of the police state that could be formed then. Obviously we must have protests...and when exactly should a person protest, when the goverment says it is ok... and what if a person wishes to not protest, should that person then be arrested for NOT PROTESTING because the government told them to. (sound like "1984")

I understand that people want to be safe. But I am realistic in that I know that some of these weapons we are soo much against were made over fifty years ago...and with current technology, should be quite easy to manufacture today. That is, I could make them in my kitchen. Now, if I could make them, someone else could too.

Therefore two options occure to me...limit peoples knowledge so that they are not smart enough to make the weapons....but then there will be more physical violence because uneducated people tend to fight more....or we could make it so that people don't want to hurt others. (We could issure everyone prozac, and be like "A Brave New World.")

This is where hate comes into play, this war makes other countries hate the US, thereby making more people want to hurt us, thereby increasing terrorism. A vicious circle.

Heather, why don't you give me an answer on what the proper type of governing should be? Or, you could be like a bad mother, and just say "because I told you so" even though you are wrong.

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