Saturday, June 05, 2004

Incompetence at the FBI, CIA and ?

The New York Times > National > Spain and U.S. at Odds on Mistaken Terror Arrest
In pursuing what proved to be a flawed case against Mr. Mayfield, the F.B.I. was also beset by internal dissension between officials in Portland and Washington, a language barrier with the Spanish, and a fingerprint examination that the bureau now concedes was flawed from the start...

...t after conducting their own tests, Spanish law enforcement officials said they reported back to the F.B.I. in an April 13 memo that the match was "conclusively negative." Yet for for five weeks, F.B.I. officials insisted their analysis was correct.

In Portland, meanwhile, investigators were quickly building their case against Mr. Mayfield, 37, a Muslim convert, and arrested him on May 6 on a material witness warrant, a technique that civil liberties advocates charge that the Bush administration has abused in an effort to fight terrorism. Despite never being charged with an actual crime, court transcripts and interviews with Mr. Mayfield show he was told that he was being investigated in connection with crimes punishable by death and jailed for 14 days. On May 24, after the Spaniards had linked that same print from the plastic bag to the Algerian national, Mr. Mayfield's case was thrown out. The F.B.I. issued him a highly unusual official apology, and his ordeal became a stunning embarrassment to the United States government.

The FBI has a lot of problems. The CIA has a lot of problems.

So, what's going on? What's wrong with the way we build our security networks and we incent people and run them?

Maybe we do need an entirely new infrastructure, run by very different people. I'd recommend a balance of nerds, geeks and intellectuals with military and business sorts. I suspect the problems in the CIA and FBI have to do with the temperaments of the people who run them and, in turn, they people they like to hire. The fingerprint problems appear to be due to a lack understanding of basic science. Like all other tests, fingerprint matches have varying methodologies and intrinsic false positive and false negative rates. Matches are probabilistic. The FBI appears to be in denial about this. They need smarter people.

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