Saturday, October 02, 2004

Failure in the FBI and Homeland Security -- and another counter-terrorism head quits

The New York Times > Washington > Disarray Thwarts Terrorist List, Inquiry Finds
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 - Efforts to create a master terrorist "watch list," a priority for the Bush administration, are lagging badly because of a lack of leadership at the Department of Homeland Security and other bureaucratic problems, the department's inspector general said in a report released Friday.

The highly critical report found that the effort, which seeks to combine 10 watch lists now in use by agencies across the federal government, suffers from poor coordination, staffing problems and technical hurdles. The problems reflect a "pattern of ad hoc approaches to counterterrorism" throughout the government, it said.

In a separate report issued on Monday, the Justice Department's inspector general faulted the Federal Bureau of Investigation for continuing problems in its ability to translate terrorism-related material, with a backlog of more than 120,000 hours of audio material. Computer storage problems may have also led the F.B.I. to systematically erase some recordings in investigating Al Qaeda, the department said.

... Mr. Ervin found in his report that the Homeland Security Department "has not fulfilled its leadership responsibility" for consolidating the watch lists, deferring instead to the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to take the lead in operating what is known as the Terrorist Screening Center, which was set up to consolidate the lists.

... Brian Rohrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said of the inspector general's criticisms, "We disagree with the premise of the report, which states that D.H.S. has the lead responsibility." He said that while homeland security was a "strong partner" in the project, the F.B.I. had the lead.

But an F.B.I. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the dissension over the issue, said ultimate responsibility for developing a master watch list "is a D.H.S. function," adding: "We're doing it now because they didn't have a process to set it up, but it's a D.H.S. function. It's supposed to be D.H.S., and they should take a more active role."

... Domestic security officials told the inspector general that they "lacked the internal resources and infrastructure to carry out the effort" at a time when the department faced the "enormous task" of merging 22 agencies into a new Department of Homeland Security.

While the terrorist screening center was supposed to have 160 employees in place by this June, it had only about half that total because of management problems and difficulties finding people with the expertise and clearance levels, the report said. [jf: Given the practices of the Bush administration, the challenge may be finding Bush loyalists with any domain expertise.]

Nor has there been enough attention paid to ensuring that the watch lists do not impede on privacy rights, the report said. It found that some agencies using watch lists had conducted data mining operations without needed oversight, a practice that it said carried the "potential for greater civil liberties violations and law enforcement errors." [jf: They have no quality assurance on the list contents, no way to identify and correct errors, and no true restrictions on use and misuse. Maybe they should just outsource this list to the KGB.]

... Meanwhile, in another potential blow to the department, the head of the administration's efforts to make cyberspace more secure abruptly resigned on Thursday after a year on the job. The official, Amit Yoran, a former computer security entrepreneur, told department officials on Thursday that he was leaving his post as director of the National Cyber Security Division...

Meanwhile Zawahiri makes the same declaration he made before the Madrid train bombs. No wonder the family members of the 9/11 commission have been campaigning for Kerry.

There are three stories here. None of them are likely to make it to Fox TV or the Wall Street Journal.

1. Homeland security is in disarray. My guess is that our security agencies need more of the "nerds and geeks" that they used to have in World War II, but who have since been expelled as too troublesome, disloyal, and insufficiently politic. The post-911 FBI evaluations also demonstrated a lot of incompetence in middle and upper management; with too many people who excel primarily at political infighting and survival.

Most of all, however, we've had a longstanding failure of leadership in the executive and legislative branches of government. Clinton was unable to tackle these problems because he was constantly under attack and investigation -- not a good position from which to reform the FBI!

Repairing homeland security will take honest, competent, and inspiring leadership from the executive and legislative branches, and the appointment of honest, ethical and empowered leaders in homeland security, the FBI, and the CIA. This in turn requires an informed and intelligent electorate to put that government in place. Hmm. I think I need to move my family to a remote part of British Columbia ...

2. The Watch List is broken. There's actually a good spin here. The Watch List was a really stupid idea; one widely ridiculed by most security experts. So perhaps competent people in both Homeland Security and the FBI decided it would be best to make it go away -- but they couldn't explain that to Bush (who doesn't understand this stuff). So they just ignored it. The best outcome would be for everyone to just forget about it. The worst outcome is that we'll simply use a broken watch list -- a kind of self-inflicted wound.

3. I wonder if Amit Yoran quit because of #1 and #2. Maybe he decided he needed to campaign for Kerry.

BTW. Does anyone else besides me think bin Laden is dead or missing? Zawahiri spoke as though bin Laden was gone.

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