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|