Obama: Software Flaws Let Christmas Bomber Get Through | Danger Room | Wired.com: Crappy government software — and failure to use that software right — almost got 289 people killed in the botched Christmas day bombing.
“Information sharing does not appear to have contributed to this intelligence failure; relevant all-sources analysts as well as watchlisting personnel who needed this information were not preventing from accessing it,” the White House noted in its review of the incident. The problem was in the databases, and in the data-mining software. “Information technology within the CT [counterterrorism] community did not sufficiently enable the correlation of data that would have enable analysts to highlight the relevant threat information.”
You bet it didn’t. Government search tools weren’t even flexible enough to handle simple misspellings. As the White House review notes:
A misspelling of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name initially resulted in the State Department believing he did not have a valid U.S. visa. A determination to revoke his visa however would have only occurred if there had been a successful integration of intelligence by the CT [counterterrorism] community, resulting in his being watchlisted.
This is a problem that commercial software firms largely solved years ago. (Try typing “Noa Schactmann” into Google, and see what comes up.) How it could persist in the CT community, I just don’t understand.
In a memo to his agency chiefs, President Obama ordered the Director of National Intelligence to “accelerate information technology enhancement, to include knowledge discovery, database integration, cross-database search, and the ability to correlate biographic information with terrorism-related intelligence.”
All of which will be helpful. But analysts have to actually use the tools. That didn’t happen in the Christmas attack. “NCTC and CIA personnel who are responsible for watchlisting did not search all available databases,” the White House noted.
The Department of Homeland Security did run Northwest Airlines flight 253’s passenger manifest against terrorism databases. But only after the flight took off. Ugh.