FBI Unable To Properly Manage Terrorist Watch List

from the check-on-that-new-computer dept

For the better part of this decade, we’ve covered the massive screw-ups the FBI had in updating its computer system. This was the system that was many years late, way way way over budget and useless at tracking down terrorists. It’s the same system that, when a computer scientist was asked to review the it, he claimed (no joke) that it would be a good time to go on a crime spree the day the FBI switched over.

While the FBI has since moved forward with another system, it’s reasonable to question the quality of its computer systems. So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the FBI appears to be unable to manage its terror watch list. According to a report by the Inspector General:

We found that the FBI failed to nominate many subjects in the terrorism investigations that we sampled, did not nominate many others in a timely fashion, and did not update or remove watchlist records as required…. We believe that the FBI’s failure to consistently nominate subjects of international and domestic terrorism investigations to the terrorist watchlist could pose a risk to national security.

Now don’t you feel safer?

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Companies: fbi

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Comments on “FBI Unable To Properly Manage Terrorist Watch List”

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crystalattice (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No links but personal observations and thoughts I do have.

Being in the military for more than a decade, and nearly half of that in the IT field, I can say that most of the government employees responsible for technology are out of their league. Something as simple as running a defrag on a computer are beyond them.

Military-wise, most IT work is geared towards radio communications; computer-oriented work is mostly on network connectivity. Very few people are competent in regards to “big picture” IS work. Supervisors are promoted based on collateral duties and the good ol’ boy network, not on actual competency.

Leadership is ham-stringed in effective policy making because they have to spend so much time doing “military” stuff that they don’t have to time to think of how to do something better. It’s simply easier to continue with the status quo. Even if someone does come up with a better idea, it’s a pain in the butt to implement it.

Another big problem is that people are usually more interested in advancement than doing their jobs. They will look for non-work related things to do so it looks good on their evals; you are expected to do your job so it’s not impressive, unless you do something completely stellar. Often, the least competent people are promoted because they are the ones who are out and about in the command, doing all sorts of non-work related jobs, that everyone else things they are amazing. But their actual technical abilities are almost nil.

Finally, most of the “heavy lifting” in regards to IT comes from contractors; if it’s not in the contract, it doesn’t get done. Normally, they aren’t paid to think about the best way to do something but to create what the government employees have designed. Unfortunately, the gov employees are the least likely to know how to effectively create the desired systems. And don’t get me started on all the political shenanigans that go on behind the scenes.

In a nutshell, these reasons (and more) are why the government can’t design, build, and implement effective IT systems.

Zaphod (profile) says:

I have never worried about terrorists. Neither have my friends. We keep our sidearms handy. I prefer my accurized aftermarket M1911 .45 ACP.

We are, however, afraid of flying, courthouses, or going to other places that don’t allow our guns. When we lose the right to defend ourselves, we are defenseless, no matter the supposed security blanket wrapped around us by uncaring bureaucrats far far away.

A good armed American will always act in defense of his fellow Americans, even if he doesn’t agree with them, against all threats, foreign or domestic.

Griff (profile) says:

Re: A good armed American

So you are saying a good armed American will always act in defense of gays, abortion clinics, stem cell researchers and people who non violently protest against wars they don’t believe in, if a Republican government the “good American” agrees with seeks to overstep its constitutional authority and curtail their rights ? (I would call that a domestic threat)

I had no idea that arming a social conservative could instantly transform them into such a tolerant person. Those guns must really be magical things.

But back to the original topic. Has anyone ever heard a story where a large government software project is publically lauded as a huge success ?

Rob R. says:

Re: Re: A good armed American

So you are saying a good armed American will always act in defense of gays, abortion clinics, stem cell researchers and people who non violently protest against wars they don’t believe in

Hell yes I will. I think all you crackpots with ideas that are not the same as mine have the absolute right to have those (incorrect) ideas and to express them to try to recruit more crackpots to think the wrong way you do.

I may think you’re a screaming idiot, but in America you have the right to be a screaming idiot and I’ll defend that right with my life while you call me names and spit on me for doing it, you cowardly bastards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Correction YOU are whats wrong w/ America.

you would rather let the government tell you everything is OK. “We’ll protect you from evil , hell we’ll even protect you from yourself.We’ll decide for you what is right for you and everybody else.Your constitutional rights don’t mean squat to us. But please remember to pay your taxes because we need you money, so we can continue to violate your rights in the manner we’ve become accustom to!

Pete says:

A good armed American

I can’t speak for Zaphod, but I certainly would use my gun “in defense of gays, abortion clinics, stem cell researchers and people who non violently protest against wars they don’t believe in”. I’m one of those crazy Libertarians who believe the constitution means something and that both Republicans and Democrats a trampling on it daily.

On topic;
I hope the FBI computer system is a total and complete failure. There are already too many people on the list that shouldn’t be and there doesn’t seem to be any way of clearing them. A complete failure would solve that problem. Am I on the list? Are you? How would you know if you didn’t try to fly?

Bruce Ediger (user link) says:

Not surprised in the slightest

I can’t say I feel any surprise. Back in the early 90s, a NASA computer hosted the FBI’s first website. The bulk of the FBI has always acted a bit backwards, with respect to computers, at least – they’ve traditionally been an IBM shop, no?

What does surprise me is that the FBI falls on its face with the “Virtual Case File” and all the supporting software, while at least one office/deparment is able to pull off the “DarkMarket” carder website sting: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/10/56-arrested-in/ That sting, provided it really happened, would seem to demonstrate some computer underground savvy, which you’d think would extend back to the real world.

Irgun Stern (user link) says:

FBI Computer

If the FBI is so impeded with a lack of tect skills how come we haven’t been hit by terrorist again since 9-11? It’s usually easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but to play in the game is another story. Yes I feel safe with the FBI standing watch on the wall, more important I feel my family is safe in their hands.
If you really want to throw dirt look into that thing that heads up the Department of Homeland Security, she is about as useful as a screen door in a submarine. By her account it appears that anyone not in her family is a terrorist, I guess next she will call the President and his cabinet terrorists. The President may be somewhat in a hurry to get things done and this will cause mistakes but I don’t find fault with his ideas.
What makes this a great country is that you and I can disagree but more important we can disagree with the government and not get our doors kicked in. Think about it.

hegemon13 says:

Re: FBI Computer

“If the FBI is so impeded with a lack of tect skills how come we haven’t been hit by terrorist again since 9-11?”

I suppose for the same reason that we had not been hit for many, many years before that. It’s because the “threat” of terrorism has been way overblown by the previous administration, whose incompetence meant that they had to rule by fear, rather than intelligence.

NullOp says:


The watchlist snafu is fairly straightforward. Developing a watchlist system is high profile and news worthy. Maintaining a watchlist system is boring, troublesome and does nothing for anyone’s career/resume.

Remember, most of the govt employees, like in the private sector, do not want to actually DO the job they want to move up and tell others what to do. Its difficult to find someone that actually just wants to do what they were trained to do.

Noc says:


funny thing is i know im on that list, every time i fly i get taken aside(not just your normal baton test), questioned, full background everything), its depressing because most i have is parking tickets and shit….also im a LICENSED concealed weapons carrier in 4 states(heh i have property in those states)…so its rather ironic a “public defender”(who would protect all groups..no matter my affiliation), is labeled as a terrorist…

Tgeigs says:

Re: heh

It’s not ironic, it’s emblymatic of our government’s fear of the armed common person. The second amendment might seem open to interpretation, but it was put into the constitution to ensure that the citizens of America could overthrow the government if it descended into tyranny.

That’s why I laugh when you hear politicians say things like, “the second amendment was never meant to legalize cop-killer bullets”. Actually, yeah, that’s exactly what it was put in for. What it WASN’T put in to do was legalize killing harmless animals, which I happen to be against but definitely wouldn’t outlaw, since I’m one of those crazy people that thinks the more choice/freedom, the better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sad state

In order to get their IT stuff together the Gov. needs to remove the red tape and the theory that if they have money they must spend all of it no matter what is accomplished. The Gov. needs to hire younger people and move the old SOB out of their offices. I work for the Gov. and the old collecting a pay check out number the young by nearly 10 to 1. It is a shame and as a tax payer I am saddened.

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