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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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