19 July 2010

Shaking head.

"I'm not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities. The complexity of this system defies description."

The result, he added, is that it's impossible to tell whether the country is safer because of all this spending and all these activities. "Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste," Vines said. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."

Wasn't that what "Homeland Security" was supposedly for as an agency? To coordinate responses and the flow of information? Naturally the fact that there are dozens of agencies doing exactly the same kind of work is wasteful. It's certainly useful to have multiple opinions and multiple agents doing different vectors on the same sort of issues. Not so much with entire agencies essentially diligently copying each others' work. But one would think that if we created an entire cabinet department to prevent such things, that sort of thing wouldn't happen. Obviously that intuitive thought process when it comes to public policies is horribly flawed.

So instead of it's actual mission, Homeland Security (through it's control of the TSA) appears to be really good at putting hundreds of thousands of people on no-fly lists and keeping them off airplanes on the assumption that they are dangerous there only, while allowing them to do all sorts of potentially dangerous things anywhere else they please. That is to say, we charge or accuse people with a potential crime, with almost no means of challenging that determination, if any, without actually detaining their person for actual criminal behaviors. And this of course, is all to keep the rest of us "safely" in the orange colour coded part of the chart. Meanwhile, the ridiculousness of the idea that somehow there are really hundreds of thousands of dangerous people in the country that we need to prevent getting onto airplanes is never considered, much less considered as one of the main impediments to doing actual investigative work gathering intelligence on actual threatening people (ie, precise and actionable intelligence). Too many data points equals noise.

Keep this in mind: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications". Now imagine trying to filter through 1.7 messages a day, what sort of resources it would take to do so in order to make any sense of the resultant spaghetti that is produced by such a monstrous system. What kind of system believes that there are, at any given time, 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, etc worth listening to, sorting through, and digging into EVERY DAY, day after day, to look for terrorists, much less the more expansive and intrusive uses such a system could be, and has historically been, used for instead of the simpler counter-terrorism mandate upon which the entire architecture has been sold upon. That architecture, clearly, seems either to have been a very complicated joke and a lie, or a measure of the utter powerlessness and deliberate inability to comprehend the nature of enemies in this thing (global terrorism) that we would instead build a massive infrastructure and an incoherent logistical chain of information and command and control in order to combat it.

The idea that people have "nothing to hide" and therefore "nothing to worry about" is ever more troublesome when combated by the features of such a beast that must be fed, and starves us, the people it is spying upon, of its nature and abilities. Almost everyone has something they wish to hide. It is not generally a dark secret plot to kill others. But it might be something they won't want to be made public, or disclosed to authorities who might decide, often entirely on their own agenda, to penalize them for actions that may be, or more worrying to me, may once have been, entirely legal or, at worst, otherwise harmless. But even more troubling at present is the idea that this is a system designed in the first place to improve our safety. The information needed to prevent major terrorist plots or to detect unstable individuals who may be plotting such events, is, according to the government itself, already available. The trouble is that they are not acting upon that information or connecting it toward the idea that it must be acted upon, and that right soon. That is not a problem of having insufficient resources for surveillance and information gathering. It is a problem of not being able to use and identify useful bits of intelligence that is already gathered from either inadequate analytical tools or, more likely, too much data and noise to be able to start to make sense of the gemstones contained in it. A few plots may be averted in this way, but enough others will not be that it nets us no gains.

Trading a little liberty still does not improve safety and security any more in the 21st century than it did in the 18th.
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