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Three years after the attacks of September 11th, I was pretty disturbed to read this story in today's NYT:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the verge of scrapping a $170 million computer overhaul that is considered critical to the campaign against terrorism but has been riddled with technical and planning problems, F.B.I. officials said on Thursday.

...

The development is a major setback for the F.B.I. in a decade-long struggle to escape a paper-driven culture and replace antiquated computer systems that have hobbled counterterrorism and criminal investigations. Robert S. Mueller III, the bureau's director, along with members of the Sept. 11 commission and other national security experts, have said the success of that effort is critical to domestic security. (Emphasis added.)

Are they KIDDING me? Why can't they get this right, especially since these are long-standing problems, problems which the FBI was made aware of well before 9/11 - hell, a really, really long time before 9/11:

One of the major problems with the system is that the agency that submits an entry is responsible for keeping it up to date. Once an entry has been made, there is little motivation for the originating agency to "waste" its time keeping it up to date, so many entries become incorrect with the passage of time.

The quote above is from 1986. Plus ça change, ay? More recent problems include refusing to hire chubby security expert geeks because they can't pass the Bureau's fitness requirements (as if these guys are going to be out in the field); ancient desktop computers and networks so slow that faxes were preferred to e-mails; and, generally, a culture that was hostile to IT:

Former FBI director Louis Freeh "was not interested in technology" during his eight years at the helm, said Ronald Kessler, author of two books on the bureau. "The first thing he did when he became director was order his computer on his desk be taken out. He did not use e-mail."

Before you say, "This is a difficult job," please bear this in mind:

[O]ther intelligence agencies like the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency developed sophisticated and secure computer systems long ago....

If the CIA and NSA can do it, surely so can the FBI. Look, I expect nothing but incompetence from the Bush Administration, but this isn't exactly some Dick Cheney task force or John Ashcroft-led investigation. This is a major government agency which should have its own vested interest in improving the state of its IT. There are no excuses - none - for not getting this right, not when there are so many lives at stake.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:46 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Kudos to any mention of 'Tron' in a political blog (4.00)
    Can we talk about early 80's video games now?
  •  main framing (none)
    Its IT, maybe it can be outsourced
  •  One comment (none)
     As far as computing goes, government is ALWAYS behind. It's the way government is run - agencies don't get the newest equipment, or the flashiest. This is why NASA was running with computers that didn't do graphics until the late 1980's or so.

     For my money, they could run the system on Tandys and be fine, as long as they put decent techs to work in the system and put decent workers in the offices to keep material streamlined. Precious little in budgets lately to hire people, though - too much is being thrown on the fire to placate the Gods What Brought Us The Iraqi War.

    It's been a time, therefore, of illusion and false hopes, and the longer it continues, the more dangerous it becomes.- John Anderson

    by Anderson Republican on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:37:47 AM PST

    •  Agreed (none)
      As one who worked in the aerospace industry until the last 5 years, I can vouch for this.

      My boyfriend still works in that industry ... and a mission planning tool that he is working on for the Air Force, that runs on a Sun Computer, is still using VERSION 2.0 of the Solaris operating system -- probably from the 80s or early 90s.  So old that Sun does not even support it any more!

      Plus they did not upgrade their office PCs from Windows 95 until a couple of years ago!

      One problem with defense contracts is that they specify the operating system to use -- it can only be one that has been "certified" as being secure, etc.  So the mission planning tool he is working on has been around for years and years and they are contractually bound to use the same OS that is specified in the original contract.

      God help them if it develops problems for which they need technical support .. they are screwed.

      •  Try the insurance industry (none)
        I toiled in it for 10 years. Their stuff was state of the art...in the 80s.  Then I moved into legal publishing, these boys take IT really seriously.  My friends in the insurance world are just happy they moved from Windows 95 to 98!  
      •  The government has problems with IT (none)
        When you look at Civil Service pay scales, you will see that they can't afford to hire technically qualified personnel. The result is that they have no in-house technical capability. [This is a generalization.] Then the problems they are dealing with are more complex than those of private enterprise, particularly the trade-offs between a distributed system and security of the data that has to be quickly updated.

        But without experienced in-house experts, they can easily be snowed by the extravagent promises of IT sales people, then they try to cut the price by nickle and diming the installation. My bet would be that they tried to install the full sytem without adequate operational testing because testing could be cut without apparent damage to overall efficiency while lowering the cost of the contract. The obvious need to install something new quickly would also lead to this kind of error. In the techno-phobic culture of the FBI this would be obvious.

        Then they would be unwilling to turn control over to an outside contractor because (obviously) they are the FBI and know their own needs better than any outsider. The FBI has a certain reputation for the arrogance of many of its managers and personnel. Think about that arrogance combined with technophobia and technical ignorance.

        The NSA didn't get it right the first try, either, and from what I hear they are no longer at the leading edge of the technologies in many areas.

        The IRS installed its first major computer system in 1965 and finally got it running reasonably well a decade later. They then tried to replace the antique mainframe COBOL-based system starting in the 80's, but the first two attempts failed. I don't know if they have yet been successful, but this FBI case sounds very similar.

        Update: There are Lies, Damned Liars and FOX News.' Politics Plus Stuff

        by Rick B on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:30:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  who is building their system? (none)
    Is the FBI doing it themselves or is it being contracted out?
    •  Contracted out to SAIC (none)
      Which is part of the critical problem here. Unlike some of the other things SAIC has fucked up recently (such as running our propaganda department in Iraq), SAIC has some exptertise here. But there is evidence they were basically taking advantage of the fact that the FBI didn't know what they hell they were doing--they didn't know what the specs behind the system meant, so they couldn't manage the prohect (or even source it intelligently).

      Further, SAIC is one of the government contractors with the littlest oversight. It is owned by its employees, so there is not the transparency you'd find in a publicly held company. And it's so full of insiders you can't really manage them, because they've always got a friend or ex-colleague that outranks you.

      A big part of this story, I suspect, is our increasing vulnerability to the whims and incompetence of the very few huge defense contractors who own the contracting process.

      •  I wonder what ties they have to politicians? (none)
        Do you think open secrets would have that kind of info?
        •  Beltway bandits give heavily to GOP (4.00)
          OpenSecrets has this.  It is very enlightening.

          We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

          by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:53:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  ah ha! (none)
            That's what I was searching for. There's gotta be a story in there about donations and receiving contracts that are never followed through on.

            When I saw this reported on the news last night, the first thing I thought of was how Halliburton continues to f-up but still gets contracts. I wonder who the President of SAIC is and who he donated to. Could this feed into the "Bush Rewards Failure" meme?

            •  Ken Dahlberg (none)
              Gave $2K to GWB and $5K to SAIC's PAC.  Info found here

              We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

              by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:16:36 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  A new contract (none)
              was just awarded to SAIC through my agency (not defense). I can honestly say that they won because the proposal that they submitted was head and shoulders above rival proposals. I know because I was one of the reviewers.
              •  so they talk a good game (none)
                I,m curious about the follow through, though. I would question their track record based on this and some of their Iraq contracts...there's a link in one of my comments near here...
          •  execs with government ties (none)
            Today from The Center for Public Integrity

            Windfalls of War

            David Kay, the former U.N. weapons inspector who was hired by the CIA to track down weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is a former vice president of SAIC. Kay left SAIC, where he oversaw homeland security and counterterrorism work, in October 2002.

            Christopher "Ryan" Henry left a senior position at SAIC in February 2003 to become principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy. In that role, Henry provides advice and assistance to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials on national security policy, military strategy and defense policy. At SAIC, he was vice president for strategic assessment and development.

            Executive vice president for Federal Business and director Duane P. Andrews served as assistant secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993, when he joined SAIC.

            From October 2001 to July 2002, board member W.A. Downing served as deputy assistant director for international counter-terrorism initiatives on the National Security Council, where he advised President Bush on terrorism and homeland security issues. Downing retired from the United States Army with the rank of general in 1996 and joined SAIC as a part-time employee in March of that year as an adviser on a wide variety of matters, including the company's long-term strategy for domestic and international business development.

            Bobby Ray Inman resigned from SAIC's board in October 2003 after reaching the company's mandatory retirement age of 72. He had served on the board since 1982, when he retired as an admiral in the U.S. Navy. While on active duty, Inman served as director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of Central Intelligence. President Clinton nominated Inman to be defense secretary in December 1993, but Inman later withdrew his name from consideration for the post.

            After retiring from the Navy, Inman was chairman and chief executive officer of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation in Austin, Texas, for four years and chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Westmark Systems Inc., a privately owned electronics industry holding company, for three years. Inman also served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas from 1987 through 1990. His primary activity since 1990 has been investing in start-up technology companies, where he is a managing partner with Gefinor Ventures. He is also a member of the board of directors of Fluor (which has contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan), Massey Energy Company, SBC Communications and Temple Inland.

            From 1993 to 1997, board member Anita K. Jones was director of Defense Research and Engineering for the Pentagon.

            •  It's all very circular (none)
              I used to work for a company that was founded by former govt. workers.  They in turn get contracts from their old buddies still with the feds.  Then they go back into the public sector (my former CEO became head of the IRS), then leave office and end up in some K street firm lobbying or back in the consulting business, getting jobs from people they just left.

              We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

              by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:24:22 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  If Freeh was an anti-tech (none)
            can't this particular screw-up be laid at his feet and thereby at Clinton Adm. Surprising since Al Gore was so tech savy.

            George W. Bush - Often wrong, but never in doubt!

            by auapplemac on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:25:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not sure who to blame (none)
              I don't know enough to know who to blame, but some of it can be laid at the institutional fear of change at FBI and other govt. agencies.  Change at FBI (from what I've heard) is glacial at best and many people resist it, even if it will make their lives/jobs easier.

              We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

              by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 11:06:04 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  The FBI is its' own world (none)
              Remember the battles that Janet Reno had with the FBI? No one has ever controlled that agency since J. Edgar Hoover took it over.

              The only effective controls on the actions of the FBI have been those that hit them in the image. Then they go into defensive mode.

              Update: There are Lies, Damned Liars and FOX News.' Politics Plus Stuff

              by Rick B on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:41:02 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Quotes re FBI (4.00)
        But the system's capabilities were only about 10 percent of what was sought, a senior FBI official told reporters yesterday in Washington, D.C.
        A spokesman for SAIC, also known as Science Applications International Corp., said the company had met its contract requirements with the FBI.
        SAIC developed the customized software under a 2001 contract intended to replace a hodgepodge of antiquated computers and paper files with a sophisticated computer network.
        You know... I'm sure I've heard this song before.

        The FBI didn't know what the hell they wanted out of the system. "Different. Better. Not obsolete." You can't develop a system with specs like that. Typically, such users only figure out what they really need after they see a demonstration... one that, surprise! doesn't do all the stuff they imagined in their secret hearts, but didn't know they had to tell the developer about.

        SAIC probably wrote the contract quite tightly -- I mean, this is a classic systems development hazard, and there are well-known defensive measures.

        Now the FBI is saying, "It's just what we asked for, but not what we want."

        Well, they won't be admitting the first part... but SAIC is experienced. They'll have every requirement documented in exhaustive detail, and FBI sign-off on the requirements document. If this goes to court (as it may well do), I'll bet SAIC will be able to point to chapter and verse: this is what you said you wanted, we have your signature, and here, we gave you exactly that.

        SAIC may be an evil privately-owned Bush-contributing government contractor, but they do understand the systems development business, which means they also understand why and how development projects fail.

        When developers realize a project is doomed, effort shifts to making sure that whatever happens, you can prove it's not your fault. This is true even of in-house development projects; if the developer is a contractor, of course, you can multiply that by five.

        Massacre is not a family value.

        by Canadian Reader on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:32:35 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yup (4.00)
          I've done federal acquisitions work, working on the government side of the house. As Mr. Canuck Reader says, SAIC is an old hand at this and knows what they're doing as far as contract management goes. All the testing and development will be traceable back to numbered requirements. I haven't read anything particularly deep into this mess, but it looks like the FBI screwed up the requirements and SAIC just shrugged and delivered them what they asked for.

          You wouldn't believe the kind of screwed-up requirements you can get out of a customer if they're not experienced with requirements development, and if they botch this part of the process it's almost impossible to fix later. Every requirements course instructor has their sack of hilarious requirements they've accumulated through their years on the job for various customers, and some of them are real howlers.

          Most of the blame for this probably sits on the FBI for not knowing what they're doing in acquisitions management. At worst, SAIC is guilty of giving them enough rope to hang themselves, and if they warned the customer about the problem, they were just doing their jobs. I'm pretty sure SAIC tried to warn them, since being in a failing acquisition is an extremely painful place to be.

          •  isn't that part of the job? (none)
            my friend does systems development (not of the IT kind). Part of her job is to ask the right questions so that the system developed actually works.

            Recently I hired a plumber. I can sweat copper or lay pvc myself. But I hired the plumber because of his expertise which included his asking questions in anticipation of my future needs.

            Maybe there should have been better oversite. But surely SAIC is also responsible for delivering an inferior product of their own design.

            •  Requirements gathering (none)
              Is the toughest part of any project (in my opinion).  Depending on the project manager and the requirements team, they may have just gone into the FBI and said "tell us what you want and we will build it" rather than actually figuring out if what the FBI wanted was actually what they needed.  It takes much more time and effort to do the latter, but usually the product comes out better and is what the client wants.  Sounds like SAIC didn't bother to do much in terms of requirements gathering.

              We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

              by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 11:37:56 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well-l-l... hm. Don't know about that, (none)
                Unless you were there, it's hard to know how that actually played out.

                It could have been just as you say. Or, there could have been some FBI managers who said, "We'll tell you what we want, you just build it."

                There's nothing harder to deal with than a user representative who thinks he understands the business process -- but doesn't. Even if the requirements team manages to figure out that he's wrong (which is hard enough, since the mistaken pronouncements can sound like they were handed down from Mount Sinai)... there's still the hurdle of convincing him.

                (Why yes, I do have a few scars. What makes you ask?)

                All I'm saying is, don't assume for sure that it was the SAIC requirements people who screwed up. They might have, but it's not a given.

                Massacre is not a family value.

                by Canadian Reader on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:03:43 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Point taken (none)
                  It could be as you suggest. We probably won't know for sure unless there is a lawsuit of some sort.

                  We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

                  by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:06:57 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  My bet (none)
                The FBI managers have a certain reputation for arrogance. THEY are the experts. They also in this case probably have no one on staff with ehough rank to talk back to the top managers who they trust and who has a clue regarding the technical details of the kind of system they needed.

                Then they were reacting in defensive mode because of the failure of 9/11, knowing that when another similar incident occurs they will be blamed for not doing enough to prevent it. They won't be able to pull the "Our computer system is inadequate!" excuse twice.

                So they were under a lot of pressure to cut corners and install something fast. Remember, the managers are arrogant and have no one on staff at a high rank who has a clue about what installing a massive system of the type they need means.

                Whoever signed off on the requirements probably could pass for the boss in Dilbert, but not as capable. But he will be sufficiently politically capable not to be blamed for the failure of the system.

                Update: There are Lies, Damned Liars and FOX News.' Politics Plus Stuff

                by Rick B on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:55:53 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  Ever done government work? (4.00)
          Because while what you say is absolutely true (including that SAIC knows what they're doing here), it is also true that SAIC probably very much controlled the specking process (as many of these big defense contractors do). Therefore, it probably had a choice:

          "Design a system that will enable communication among FBI offices."

          OR

          "Design a system that will ensure people can update files from anywhere in the FBI network, with perfect document management and cutting edge technology."

          If I were the guy doing the specs--hell, if I were anyone who had the choice--I'd choose the specs that allowed me to do a minimum of work for a maximum of billable hours.

          The problem here is that 1) the client had no clue what it wanted, 2) SAIC knew that and also knew that it could write the specs such that it really had to deliver very little for a significantly large contract, and 3) SAIC knew that even if it did so--essentially bilking the Federal government out of millions of dollars, it would not lose any future business out of it (although, in this case, they will presumably not get the contract to do the next phase of this, to deliver what the FBI actually needs, rather than what SAIC said the FBI needed).

          Have you noticed Halliburton losing business of late, even though there is clear evidence that it was defrauding the government of hundreds of millions? Nope. Because some people in critical spots in the Federal contracting infrastructure can say with a straight face, "well, there are no other contractors we can call on." Meaning, no matter what it doesn, it will never be held to account.

          SAIC is in a similar boat. Which leads me to suspect they weren't all that interested in specs that required them to do a lot of work.

          •  No kidding... (none)
            ".....they weren't all that interested in specs that required getting them to do a lot of work.

            Federal Computer Weekly:  FBI's Trilogy Hits Snag [11-10-3003]

            CSC was supposed to have completed the conversion of the FBI's e-mail and file and print systems from Novell Inc. software to Microsoft Corp. Exchange and Windows 2000 servers for all FBI personnel, according to the General Services Administration.

            unfreakingbelievable.  it never is the tech.  unless that tech is from Redmond WA.   SAIC is a lazy company indeed.

            •  CSC != SAIC. (none)
              Not the same company. Competitors, in fact, although they often have to work together.

              Massacre is not a family value.

              by Canadian Reader on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 11:24:57 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Sorry 'bout that (none)
                more info, same source, different story:

                "CSC officials finished Trilogy's first phase, the transportation network, in March 2003. That included a wide-area network architecture for secure communications between FBI offices.

                The final phase, the user application component developed by Science Applications International Corp. is slated to finish in a couple of months, FBI officials have said, and will include the Virtual Case File application for compiling and sharing case information."

                Three prongs to the "Trilogy Project" = fork u.....

          •  Oh, I believe that. (4.00)
            Absolutely. But with this proviso: I don't think the systems engineers at SAIC who wrote the specs deliberately set out to design a system that would not meet the FBI's needs. They probably did the best they could with fuzzy input.

            It's more a function of the way companies like SAIC are structured. There are requirements review meetings, where managers charged with paring costs, who didn't even talk to the client, say things like, "Is this feature absolutely necessary, or is it just a nice to have?"

            Inevitably some necessary items are cut out because the people who wrote the initial draft of the requirements weren't nimble enough to defend them.

            Massacre is not a family value.

            by Canadian Reader on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 11:16:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Can't they do both? (4.00)
            You present an either/or proposition. I'm not a conputer whiz, but can't they have both? My God, we are talking to a computer on one of Jupiter's moons today. The FBI can't talk to someone in Cleveland? Call in some Indian/Chinese programmers and let's get this thing going.

            This just seems like more of the Armour for the troops thing. We give 'em the money, and go our merry way, thinking things are being taken care of, meanwhile, nothing is being done.

            We just have this illusion that someone is watching out for us. Then one day, boom, gotcha!

            All the finger pointing starts all over again.

          •  On major specification (none)
            Whether written or not was almost certainly speed of installation.

            Whenever there was a choice to do something fast or make sure it was done right, the urgency of the situation almost certainly required speed over getting it right.

            Update: There are Lies, Damned Liars and FOX News.' Politics Plus Stuff

            by Rick B on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 02:02:36 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  From my first college programming class (4.00)

          I really hate this damn machine;
          I wish that they would sell it.
          It never does just what I say
          But only what I tell it.  

          If the contract was written in 2001 as a response to the 9/11 crisis, it would have to have been written in a mere sixteen weeks during a period when the FBI had other legitimate priorities.  The "hodgepodge of antiquated computers and paper files" would make for a logistical nightmare in itself, and the New, Improved Data Warehouse would need to import all of it.  It would also be very difficult for the stakeholders to specify what they want, see the demo, and then tell SAIC what they really wanted within that 16 weeks.  

    •  SAIC (none)
      Science Applications International Corp, Beltway bandit.

      Faced with a problem that cries out for a modern internetworked solution the FBI chooses an old school dinosaur.

    •  Most likely contracted out (none)
      Bush admin has been really expedient about outsourcing most of its IT needs to "consulting firms" aka "big donors".  I should know.  I used to work for one such company. And I live in DC and the amount of $$ spent on consulting firms advertising for federal contracts is amazing.  A federal IT contract is a gift that keeps on giving...

      We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

      by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:45:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Isn't the justification for the Torture Memo (none)
    that the "war on terrorism is based on information"?

    So...we can bend the rules on torture to get the information...but we can't have an infrastructure that disseminate the information.

    DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE? HELP ME!!!!

    "It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence." Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by grannyhelen on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:39:25 AM PST

  •  You assume this is unintentional neglect (4.00)
    But think about it.  Without an easy to reference information network, people are free to assume, create, and misinterpret information as they please, without immediate backlash.  FAITH-BASED LAW ENFORCEMENT, BABY!  Only God guides their guns!

    Yes, I'm scared too.

    "The connection between vice and meanness is a fit subject for satire, but when the satire is a fact, it cuts with the irresistible power of a diamond." - Paine

    by Kryptik on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:39:33 AM PST

    •  And God guides all those little electrons (none)
      around through the wires (oh?  no wires anymore?  gee-willikers) and so they will go where God wants them to go.  And Jesus will be back anyday and I don't think he's going to waste his time asking for Bug Fix reports.

      Faith-based computing, indeed!

      I was in on a couple early icons of vaporware.  The only con that comes close to the Elmer Gantry religionists is the "all-your-solutions-in-one-box" computerists.

      The easiest marks to con are ones who are already hooked on a previous con, and need to "keep their faith alive."  Believe me, on the budget we provide these yokels, there's plenty of new offers of things for them to buy.

      What really impresses me is the level of detachment it must take for the really cynical guys at the top of these pyramids of "faith" to keep ahead of their believing minions.

      Break the hypnotic spell by one little glint in the mirror, and they're on you like the pack of hyenas you've turned them into...

      What Would Gandhi Do?

      by HenryDavid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:49:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Vaporware, forever! (none)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaporware

        "Vaporware (or vapourware) is software or hardware which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge, either with or without a protracted development cycle. The term implies deception, or at least a negligent degree of optimism; that is, it implies that the announcer knows that product development is in too early a stage to support responsible statements about its completion date, feature set, or even feasibility...

        "The word vaporware itself was popularized in the trade press circa 1984, perhaps in response to Ovation Technologies' Ovation, an integrated software package for DOS. Ovation was announced in 1983. Company management was widely lauded for their skill in securing venture financing, generating "buzz", and giving superb demonstrations showing a product that, had it existed, would have been greatly superior to Lotus 1-2-3. Unfortunately, they neglected to arrange for development of an actual product."

        What Would Gandhi Do?

        by HenryDavid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:57:21 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Shudder (4.00)
    I shudder to think how consultant bidding went for this, assuming they used consultants.

    The only group of people more full of shit than politicians are silicon valley venture capitalists. I can only imagine how a conversation between politicians and those guys sounded:

    Politician: I need a computer system.
    Capitalist: Here you go.
    Politician: This looks like a NAMCO football game.
    Capitalist: It will help you leverage paradigms, G.
    Politician: Here is 9.7 billion dollars.

    •  SAIC (3.50)
      SAIC is the contractor on this--not silicon valley. But worse, in many ways, because it is one of those contractors with near impunity because of its connections. I wonder who got some of the kickbacks on this $170 million contract?

      One article I read said that they're considering off -the-shelf product--that it will be better than this custom, $170 million program.

      Wonderful.

      •  Off the Shelf?!??! (none)
        Off the shelf?

        Is that a joke?

        What, are they going to use Quicken?

        Proprietary software has its own share of downfalls, but I would prefer not to give would be hackers the ability to create a software sandbox in their own homes to practice attacks.

        •  Probably they mean SAP. (none)
          Or Peoplesoft. One of those ERP thingies, anyway. That's the kind of software people at that level mean by off-the-shelf.

          Which means there will be another big expensive implementation project in the FBI's future, because ERP is not just a load and go application. Especially for an organization as sure that it is unique as the FBI. There will be a lot of tailoring needed.

          But maybe this time, at least, they'll have a clue what they really want the system to do.

          Massacre is not a family value.

          by Canadian Reader on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:43:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Man (none)
            Man, this stuff is so frustrating.

            With all the hemming and hawing about cutting costs here or increasing funding there or whatever, it sure would be nice if someone would be pro-competency.

            I hate the phrase "good enough for government work," because hell if it doesn't seem true, and hell if that isn't frustrating.

        •  slipped on the soap (none)
          Whoooooops!

          "Off the shelf" brings me back to those halcyon days of ol' Ollie North...standing alone, off the shelf, losing Casey...you know the rest.

          It was better than "I did not have sexual relations with that woman..." or whatever he said.

          So: with this mindset we will "rebuild" social security.

          THANK GOD FOR THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD!!

          Sorry. I just like their writing. Go read, now, how the Bush administration is on the defensive. (Whether or not it is, if we want it to be, we shall make it so.)

      •  DC metro Contracting firms (none)
        Are a dime a dozen.  CACI (Arlington, VA) gets to torture Iraqi prisoners and SAIC gets to build a crappy IT infrastructure for the FBI and they make millions per year with multi-year contracts.  Federal contracting is a gift that keeps on giving to any consulting firm.

        We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

        by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:48:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Don't knock NAMCO (4.00)
      ...though they weren't as good as Tecmo Bowl.

      Bo Jackson ruled!

  •  Conspiracy theories, anyone? (none)
    I don't usually put any stock in conspiracy theories, but such a persistent failure may well be the result of something other than bureaucratic lethargy or misguided leadership.

    Maybe the reason the FBI does not want state-of-the-art information technology is that it does not want to be held fully accountable for its behavior by leaving an indelible electroic trail for all its activities?

    Probably not, but...[warily glancing behind me], you never know.

    •  See my post below (4.00)
      It's cultural inertia, not the Forces Of Evil(tm).

      -AG

      "A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country
      is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards."
      Theodore Roosevelt, 4 July 1903

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:58:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Isn't this supposed to be part of the (none)
    National Intelligence Infrastructure?

    Can you say "Oxymoron"?

    What Would Gandhi Do?

    by HenryDavid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:40:45 AM PST

  •  Big brother needs upgrade... (none)
    ... lots of pork to plunk with this. Bill Gates donated to AWOL big for a reason after all...
  •  Hey now.. (4.00)
    Don't underestimate the power of a cluster of Commodore 64s, churning away, searching federal databases!
    •  Yeah (4.00)
      I'll bet you those C64s and Tandys have all the info you'll ever need about the Bader-Meinhof gang or Patty Hearst

      When facism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped in the American flag- Huey Long

      by Darth Cheney on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:47:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  When i worked for a short time (none)
        in state government a few years ago i was a little shocked to find they were using dumb terminals connected to a Vax mainframe and a smattering of 1200 baud modems. For reference when i was in college at the beginning of the 80's they replaced the very same mainframe at the college.

        The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed) My other Drunken ravings

        by cdreid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:52:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am a computer moron (none)
          but I think I can relate.

          When I worked at Hanford in the mid-90s, they were using Fortran programs for their beta counters, and VAXs for the gamma counters - does that make sense?

          My computer nerd friends said it was all very primitive.

          Yay, nukular waste and primitive computer systems!  AWESOME!

          </sarcasm>

          A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. -- Edward Abbey

          by Page van der Linden on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:00:18 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  VAXen are teh awes0m3!!1 (none)
            VAXen are hardware (it actually means Virtual Address eXtension, the design for their state-of.the-art CPU at the time), so I suspect that both beta and gamma radiation counters were implemented in FORTRAN and ran on VAX computers.

            They are actually very fine machines (I still own a MicroVAX II w/extension bay) and the operating system (OpenVMS) is quite sophisticated and allows for very finegrained control of access permissions and allocation of resources.

            When something goes wrong, it's usually not fault of the hardware or software but the braindead dickheads that operate them (see also: "I can't print" and "I didn't do anything").

            •  Although (none)
              Then you run into the problem that very few people can run the system anymore.

              I had the opportunity (really, it was fun in a terribly depressing way) to bid on re-writing Alyeska Pipeline's procedures a long time ago. When we went in, they were frank, "Oh yeah, our abysmal documentation is one of the reason we have such problems, as in oil spills and stuff." I heard a story about a pipeline fire--they had to let the pumping station burn to the ground because no one knew how to get to the SGML text that told them how to address it.

              I'm hoping they don't have the same problems at Hanford, but I suspect they do.

            •  Oops, I meant my comment to land one comment down (none)
          •  With all due respect.... (none)
            You don't want complex, cutting edge, bell-and-whistles computer systems managing life-or-death automation, like, say a nuke plant. FORTRAN is a well-established language. It is a known quantity, and while not extremely flexible, it is suitable for the relatively simple control systems in a nuke plant, as is a late '70s era VAX. Windows is a complex system. You want to run Hanford on Windows? Yes, FORTRAN and VAX are primitive compared to Java and a G5, but that simplicity pays off when a problem or change crops up.
            •  Theres absolutely no reason (none)
              you cant run *nix operating systems on PC boxes. In fact.. most of the net is run on them despite the windows hype.

              The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed) My other Drunken ravings

              by cdreid on Sat Jan 15, 2005 at 02:43:26 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Well (none)
              I wouldnt consider java "advanced". Its pretty crappy imho.

              But "newer systems" are many times faster and much much more reliable than older systems. And no, the language something is coded in shouldnt matter on systems where the programs are compiled and permanent. But you probably want the language on a system you expect to constantly revise to be "modern" in the sense that it is widely known, very well understood and very well supported. Theres simply no excuse to write something like that in Anything but ansii C/C++.

              Not dissing your appreciation for fortran. Im a Forth fan ..

              The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed) My other Drunken ravings

              by cdreid on Sat Jan 15, 2005 at 02:49:13 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Old programs often more reliable than new. (none)

            I've dealt with similar inertia in the steel industry.  In 1989-1995 I worked on a computer that used a variation of FORTRAN IV and learned how to write sophisticated programs without ELSE statements.  The bottleneck was the host of signals that came in from the mill as DC voltages that needed to be converted to computer-usable digital signals that would come in and be placed directly into RAM.  PCs of the time could not handle the 100+ readings that continuously came in.  So Vaxs it was until the late 1990s.
      •  Tandy (none)
        I'll bet you those C64s and Tandys have all the info you'll ever need about the Bader-Meinhof gang or Patty Hearst

        Serious LOL here. Tandy!

        •  I recently found a tube of... (none)
          ...6510 processor chips in a box in my basement, and I couldn't force myself to pitch 'em. How pathetic is that?

          BTW, I'm not one to tell anyone what to write about but lately I haven't been able to look at some of the stuff here at Kos. I can't tell you how good it feels to read a story like this one. Great job of documentation also. That May 2001 article was published one month before they voted to "give back" the "surplus" because they "didn't need it".

          Thanks.

          "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." George W. Bush, May 1, 2003

          by Jim Riggs on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 02:26:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks (none)
            Thanks for the props.

            That May 2001 article was published one month before they voted to "give back" the "surplus" because they "didn't need it".

            And thank you, Alan "Better that we not run surpluses in case the government is tempted to invest it in the stock market, thus subjecting itself to political pressure to prop up weak companies" Greenspan.

          •  6510s? (none)
            What, did you build Commodore 64s in your basement?  The 6502 was an insanely common chip, featured in dozens of different computers and video game machines (Atari 2600 video game machine, all Atari 8-bit computers, Commodore PET, Commodore Vic-20, Apple II/II+/IIE/IIc, and literally dozens of others, not to mention it was used in various non-computer devices), but AFAIK, the 6510 was a custom chip (a variant of the 6502) that was in the Commodore 64 only (Commodore owned CMOS, the company that made the chip).
            •  I've worked in pcb manufacturing for... (none)
              ...30 years, mostly DoD. I now own my company. Before I did it for a living it was a hobby. I also found a couple of old oscilloscopes. A Tektronix 465 and, believe it or not, a Heath-kit one I built around 1970.

              I have no idea why I had the 6510s. Now that you mention it I do recall the 6502. They're both 40 pin thru-hole chips (Rockwell I believe?). I also had some Motorola 8080s, Zylog Z80's, and tons of discreet TTl chips, caps, diodes, and resistors.

              What can I say, I'm a pack rat.

              "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." George W. Bush, May 1, 2003

              by Jim Riggs on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 04:36:28 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Like this? (none)

      A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. -- Edward Abbey

      by Page van der Linden on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:50:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The government (none)
    and its agencies dont live in the same technological world we do and never has. People tend to believe they are "hi tech", mostly because of television "uberagent" shows. But the truth has always been just the opposite.

    One easy example is university support of the COBOL language long long past its usefulness. Cobol has always considered by computer scientists to be pretty much a joke as a language. But universities kept teaching it, and even requiring it as a basic language in a CSCI degree because the govenrment was still using it. When business was using Paradox, dbase iv, custom coding databases in c/c++ the feds were using - cobol. Another would be that as recently as five years ago when accessing federal and state criminal databases beauracrats using dumb terminals over 1200 baud modems. When 56k was  the standard even for home users.

    The problem is not and never has been technological. It has been beauracratic. Entrenched life term government employees had no motivation to change the system and many incentives not to. Companies that sold the government software were guaranteed huge profits from antiquated software. Agency beauracrats anticipated only headaches, employee discontent and potential problems with no payoff. And in government, cost is never a factor. It might cost $1000 at a local store for a new top of the line computer... but they would spend $1500 for a system from an embedded contractor with 10% of the capability.. or pay $3000 for that same system to that contractor. Purely for political and comfort reasons.

    This is an age old problem with government. One you cannot get rid of so long as we allow entrenched beauracracies and tenured positions in the federal apparatus. Its not going to go away. The best we can hope for is to occasionally find the worst problems and put enough pressure on politicians that some slight competence is demanded at least in the short term.

    The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed) My other Drunken ravings

    by cdreid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:49:25 AM PST

    •  And Democrats have allowed Republicans (none)
      to appropriate the entire field of critiquing government bureaucracies.  (While they, the Repubs, take over government after government and turn it into their own profit center by the exact same means of fat-margin contracting as discussed here.)

      To the public, we often sound as if we want to go back to some previous level of government incompetence that the Reps "exposed" long ago...

      What Would Gandhi Do?

      by HenryDavid on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:04:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  no need to knock COBOL (none)
      Yeah, it was written by a committee and it looks and acts like it but it was designed to be fairly idiot proof. And remember it's the COmmon Business Oriented Language. It wasn't intended for computer scientists. It was for people working for banks and insurance companies who needed to do heavy duty of record processing and reporting.

      Of course, people can build fucked up systems with COBOL. But people can build fucked up systems with any language if they don't know what they are doing. You should see the Oracle Forms system I do maintenance on at work.

  •  Are they really blaming the (none)
    lack of computer guys on the geeks not being able to pass a fitness test?  Please.  Maybe they can steal Marshall Flinkman from the CIA.  He's REALLY smart.

    (Alias joke.  Sorry)

    "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." Mencken "This is one of those times." Me

    by jsmdlawyer on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:51:28 AM PST

    •  *Love* Alias (none)
      Marshall rules!!!  Glad they brought him to black-ops this season.

      We fight on. We fight for ourselves and the people who do not have a voice.

      by mlk on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:55:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I had never ever (none)
        watched the show until about two months ago, when I started watching season 1 on DVD.  My wife and 10 year old son have become OBSESSED with the show -- we are now up to episode 11 of season 3 (last year) and usually watch 2 or more episodes at a sitting.  At this rate, we will be caught up in about a month.  So spare me any more current plot details until I get caught up.

        "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." Mencken "This is one of those times." Me

        by jsmdlawyer on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:00:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  its true (none)
      My daughters boyfriend (IT expert) has had everything set to "go" for his FBI job but the fitness test. He failed it last week, but at least he gets two more tries. He has to do something like 30 pushups in a set period of time, running, etc. This is a pretty fit looking 23 year old but it's not that easy. Even after he gets hired he will need to retake this fitness test two more times.
  •  They should get... (none)
    ...the set designers for "24" to come up with a new system for them.

    Because CTU is frickin' cool!

  •  Working for NSA (3.66)
    We always had access to decent stuff.  Once outside of that and into the military intel world, particularly when I was in the training command, things got progressively worse.  NSA - being the haven of researchers and compsci geeks - went UNIX early on and invested heavily in Sun workstations.  The rest of the military went Windows and while NSA continued to creak along and paid oodles for a workstation, they were almost always functional and (this part is key) they encouraged workers to get UNIX smart and write their own scripts to take care of automating as many tasks as possible.

    Once you were in the field and under military IT and budget, it was Windows and security was a nightmare.  Innovation was discouraged and networks were pretty crappy.

  •  As I mentioned in another thread... (4.00)
    One of my parents retired from a 20+ year career with the FBI not too long ago.  Perhaps I can offer some perspective on this.

    The FBI culture has always been oriented towards traditional (proven) law-enforcement practices -- in particular, they are set up to handle investigation of alleged and suspected Federal crimes.

    Because of this, they've historically been the antithesis of the CIA in that they focus on human assets rather than technology.  In the Bureau, they'd rather hire an extra agent in each office than invest in IT to make the existing agents more effective.

    This short-sightedness is rooted in their traditional belief that their primary tool against crime is a well-educated and well-trained Special Agent.  "Computers don't solve crimes, agents solve crimes."  Actual quote.  The old-school guys (and they're usually guys) started their careers and did their field work before computers were pervasive.

    At this point, the problem isn't that there aren't a lot of smart Special Agents, Supervisory SAs, and Assistant Directors who understand the value of IT and wireless communications -- because there are.

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that the collective culture of the Bureau has not been forced into a revolutionary adoption of IT as a primary crime-fighting tool.  As far as I can tell, this isn't likely to happen, either.

    I think it's probable that over the next 5-10 years, as tech-savvy agents work their way up into positions of responsibility, the Bureau will internalize the value of IT and begin to use it more effectively.

    In closing, I'll note that even the best-written custom IT systems will fail in an environment where the requirements are unclear and the culture is unready to make us of them.

    -AG

    "A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country
    is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards."
    Theodore Roosevelt, 4 July 1903

    by AlphaGeek on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 09:56:37 AM PST

  •  Oh Puhleeze... (none)
    Everybody knows that the best computer geeks are the rail-thin, long-haired types with Tan-By-Tungsten and IV marks from the coffee mainline. /snark, OFF

    It is unbelievable that they can't get this right. Just you wait...watch them outsource it to China.

  •  Make that 'Tron 1 Age' (none)
    At this rate, the remake of Tron will get done before the remake of the software.
  •  If the FBI (none)
    joins the 20th century, look for the price of slighly used abaci to fall. Of course they'll still be one step behind what's happening.

    Louis Freeh was a poor choice for director.

    All the focus on the FBI allows the NSC to escape (continue to escape) responsibility. If the NSA and NSC are not somewhat responsible for national security, let's change the names.

    The greatest blessing bestowed on a people is the absence of ignorance in public office. - Confucius

    by cavanaghjam on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:03:20 AM PST

    •  That '4' is for your last sentence... (none)

        ...that the press, let alone every Democratic AND Republican Member of Congress didn't crucify Condi Rice upside down in the weeks following 9.11 (and, of course, Bush) is still, to me, the WTF winner of the past quarter century.  She was the NATIONAL SECURITY Adviser and whatever, if any, advice she gave obviously effing sucked in the weeks and months prior to 9.11.  Of course, we all know she was (in keeping with the idiot mentality of the White House) all OCD on "missle defense" at the expense of giving not a rat's ass about terrorism issues in the run-up to 9.11.

       It's simply maddening -- all these people who hold themselves out as hard-bitten, no-nonsense, business-types who supported Bush, knowing damn well that he and his jerk-off hangers-on can't pour pee out of a boot, let alone run a country (except into the ground).  Cognitive dissonance, indeed.  Doublethink.

       BenGoshi
      ______________

       

      "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

      by BenGoshi on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:48:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But how do you really feel? (none)
        Makes one wonder how in the world anyone can accuse the MSM of having a liberal bias without convulsing in fits of laughter. She's the National Security Advisor, fer Chrisakes. Ya think she might be concerned with the nation's security?

        The greatest blessing bestowed on a people is the absence of ignorance in public office. - Confucius

        by cavanaghjam on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 05:48:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Someday . . . (none)

           I'll tell you how I really feel.

           Yeh, the convulsing in fits of laughter thing is right:  this idiot (Rice) and her idiot boss fiddle-farted around and let this horrific crime take place without so much as lifting a finger to stop it and, get this, Bush runs for election with National Security as his strongest suit!  W.T.F?!

           BenGoshi
          ________________

          "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

          by BenGoshi on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 06:18:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Database Vendor Mistrusts Own Product (none)
    Just to show how much stupidity there is to go around,

    Some 18 years ago when Ashton-Tate announced its upgrade release from dBase III to dBase III Plus, I ordered a copy for my office but failed to get the expected acknowledgement.

    When I called, the receptionist said she would check her files, which I overheard shuffling.

    I asked her if the order list was kept on paper instead of in dBase software and she said 'yes.'

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:26:09 AM PST

  •  FBI Asking Too Much for Upgrade (none)
    After all the $170 million they wasted on their failed upgrade is nearly one one-thousandth of the amount spend so far on the Iraq War and OccupationTM.

    What's going to make us safer from terrorism? FBI with functional computer network or another month of federal handouts to Halliburton?

    We the undersigned urge you to support Federal funding for research using human pluripotent stem cells. -80 Nobel Laureates to Pres. Bush

    by easong on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:28:19 AM PST

  •  So why wasn't this problem (none)
    Taken care of in the Uber-Efficient Clinton days?
    Wasn't he supposed to be the perfect president?
  •  I actually (none)
    think Tron was really incredible. Tron is rad.
  •  FBI Inertia (none)
    Have any of you guys actually looked at the FBI job recruiting stuff? I was "between jobs" for a while in 2002, and the FBI was hiring locally, so I took at look at what they wanted.  "Fitness" was the least of it; it was clear that they didn't want someone like me, and all else being equal I can hardly object to being told to get/stay fit.

    I don't recall the details, but it made other employers (including those with urine tests and criminal background checks) look downright informal.  These people don't want to hire me.

    The effect of the bureaucracy cannot be underestimated.  I had dinner night before last with someone from one of the national labs, and restrictions imposed by the D.O.Energy for "normal" (x) screwups are crushing morale.  There's talk of getting someone besides UC to run the labs, and talk of big pension cuts for peeople whose resumes begin and end with "classified".

    (x) I use normal in the sense of Normal Accidents, roughly meaning "shit happens".  There will be industrial accidents; there will be minor glitches with improper spending, there will be inventory control problems.  All things you want to happen less, but all things that do happen in a large enough organization.

  •  Tron? If only it were that advanced! (none)
    From Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, pages 216-217:

    "The lack of computer support, however,was a failure of the Bureau's leadership.  Local police departments throughout the country had far more advanced data systems than the FBI.  In New York I saw piles of terrorism files on the floor of the JTTF [Joint Terrorism Task Force].  There was only one low-paid file clerk there, and he could not keep up with the volume of paper that was being generated.  There was no way for one agent to know what information another agent had collected, even in the same office....When the FBI did uncover something interesting and report it to Washington, no written record of it ever left the Bureau.  This was in marked contrast to CIA, NSA, and the State Department, which flooded my secure e-mail with over one hundred detailed reports every day.  The only way that we knew what FBI Headquarters knew was by secure telephone calls or meetings."

    La raison avant la passion: Reason before passion. -- Pierre Elliott Trudeau

    by greenknight on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 10:43:03 AM PST

    •  I read that book too (none)
      Clarke had many other unflattering things to say about Freeh, notably his bumbling micromanagement of the '96 Olympics bombing investigation. You get the feeling the FBI is stuck in time, as if this were still the 50's with a filing clerk and paper filing cabinets. Each field office was like a jealously guarded fiefdom, and the agency in general was still preoccupied with catching mob bosses and Russian spies.
  •  What I find even MORE shocking RE the FBI (none)
    ... is what I just heard on Democracy Now.

    Sibel Edmonds, govt-harrangued whistleblower, claims the FBI KNEW that al Qaeda was planning to attack the US WITH planes.

    The ACLU is pushing for reinstatement of her case by DC Court of Appeals. BushCo is abusing state secrets privilege to silence employees who expose national security blunders. Like Sibel.

    And oh, what a blunder THAT is, yet, where is the attention to this in the NON Democracy Now media, ie, MSM?

    Where is Kristen Breitweiser? She oughta get on the stick over this. She has the visibility/name/gravitas to put this info out there with appropriate outrage.

  •  It Has to be Cultural (none)
    Database technology has been around since the 1960's

    So, for $170m of our money these guys couldn't purchase a database, say Oracle 10i, design a front end, buy some servers and secure the thing? Unbelievable! Business does it every day for less cost.

    Another good question to ask is why the FBI needed to set up its own system. Seeing as how this agency shares information with the Department of Homeland Security, along with CIA, DIA and NSA, doesn't it make more sense that they all use the same system? If each agency is using a custom solution then they've added a level of complexity to sharing information.

    •  same system, why not indeed (none)
      There's obviously still a number of cultural issues about why these organizations don't want to share the same system--even though they ought to.  But if they still don't want to share, couldn't they at least use the same software but with a unique database for the Bureau?
  •  Insecurity Begins at Home (none)
    The FBI systems story is horrifying, but in keeping with the general state of the DHS reorganization.  

    In April 2003, Tom Ridge told a Senate committee that the terrorist watch list database integration was proceeding smoothly, "I think we're fairly close to finalizing the consolidation itself." Almost a year later, the lists are still not merged, and the task has been transferred from DHS to the FBI."

    For more on this fiasco, see:

    "Insecurity Begins at Home"

  •  FBI needs some Macs (none)
    The CIA uses Macs for certain highly secure material, because the OS has a rock solid UNIX core and is virus-free.  It's simply a more secure OS than Windows NT.

    The FBI should just place a massive order with Apple, and they'll get themselves the fastest, most secure, most stable, virus free computers out there. Plus, IT costs on a Macintosh are much lower due to ease of use and reliability.

    We'll see. Macs are good enough for the CIA and NASA, we'll see if the FBI follows their lead.

    •  Fantastic catch (none)
      Can't believe I didn't see this sooner.  I just sent this article to everyone in my company.

      -AG

      "A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country
      is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards."
      Theodore Roosevelt, 4 July 1903

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 11:35:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  they should have come to me (4.00)
    I could have not done this for much less... say 5 million... heck... I'm flexible... for as low as 1 million dollars I would have been willing to come up with nothing.  
    •  That argument carries over to . . . (none)

       say, a college (let alone pro) football coach who gets paid $500,000.00-$1.5mil a year and still manages to have a losing season.  I say, hell, I could have just as good, if not better, a record for half the money they're paying such idiots.  If only they'd give me a shot.

       And, think about it, for HALF of what President Will Continue To Be Miserable Failure was getting paid in the summer of 2001, I could have done just as bad a job and let those 3,000 people die on 9.11 -- of course, I'd like to think that if I got repeatedly WARNED about an impending Al Qaida attack, I'd actually feel some kind of obligation -- as President of These United States -- to actually try and thwart such attack.  But, there you go:  my inexperience is showing, which is why they don't pay me to be President and, rather, leave it to the (cough) professionals like Bush.

       BenGoshi
      _______________

      "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

      by BenGoshi on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 01:28:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wonder if the TV show (none)
    Without a Trace (FBI show) will start having story lines involving people swearing at their ancient, useless computers?  

    I wonder why the FBI folks are still wedded to paper and pencil?  Sounds like they are scarred from too many bad system implementations.

  •  Don't know if this is a repeat post... (none)
    To be fair. The Clinton administration wanted/tried, to little avail, to reform the technological blanks within the FBI. Freeh wasn't interested...and he was a former FBI agent before he became the Director. Seriously, it was an uphill struggle that amounted to a lot of headaches and grief...and not much else.

    The article isn't kidding when it talks about the priviledging of pen and paper over the computer. Look at the letter of resignation that came out of the AG. Was it written on a computer? Nope.

    Over the past couple of years the Bureau has made serious strides towards getting itself a technological facelift. Up until 2001, it wasn't a priority.

    There are 12,000 agents for the whole country.

    How many computer geeks do you think they're gonna higher to do this particular job? How many of those geeks are going to pass the 6-18 month background check to get the clearance needed to do this job? And look at what that small group of techs have done since then.

    But it's a bureacracy. For every step/leap forward, there have to be steps back.

  •  Contractors, Vendors, Platforms? (none)
    Ever notice any of these public articles inre "so-and-so IS project disasters" never, ever, name the contractors, the hdw/software vendors, and the platorms (hdw, O/S, third-party s/w).

    f'instance, the Denver Intl Airport's automated baggage handling systems. (mid 90's) I've found that most everyone who worked on the project was sworn to silence (a few folks might grudgingly allow that system system based on networked PC's).

    SIAC was mentioned as the FBi's contractor upstream; Any know anything about which hw/sw vendors, and platforms SIAC chose for the FBI systems?

  •  So, From Tron to X-Files, What, 12 Years? (none)
    Tron was released in '82, that means that in 12 years the FBI will be welcoming (?) Scully and Mulder. We can hardly wait for such progress.

    But then there's demon dimension time-shift factor, made famouse on "Buffy" and "Angel".  Who knows how many years must actually pass before the FBI gets that advanced????

    Obviously, "the Bureaucracy" (as Bush so quaintly and derisively calls it) can't handle such matters in a timely fashion. Let's turn it all over to Hollywood, before the whole country disappears "Without A Trace."

  •  Think maybe it's the "Pong" age (none)
    that they're stuck in.  "Tron" is just way too new.
  •  As usual, some of the positive isn't reported. (none)
    I have a friend that worked on related FBI contracts.  This is about VCF that was to replace the legacy IDW program.

    There was a separate proof-of-concept system, also by SAIC, that essentially did the same thing as the scrapped VCF.  It cost under $100 million and was delivered ahead of schedule.  It's been used for half a year and "enthusiastically adopted by the FBI analysts it is supporting."  It's currently supporting several thousand analysts even though it, again, was a proof-of-concept system initially tested by just a few hundred people.

    So, no, it's not all as bad as it's made out to be.

    Full disclosure: I work for SAIC.  (Though not associated with any FBI contract.  I work at the USGS.)

    Diagonally parked in a parallel universe.

    by mcoletti on Fri Jan 14, 2005 at 04:31:56 PM PST

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