This paper outlines the information technology requirements of an effective Homeland Defense strategy against further al-Qaeda terror strikes within the United States. It highlights the wide gap between these defensive information technology (IT) requirements and the current fragmented, “stove-piped”, IT capabilities of the Federal agencies involved. The failure of these agencies to share information with each other or to tap into widely available civilian databases leaves the U.S. public dangerously exposed to the next wave of terror incidents.
The Homeland Security IT failure and the dangers it poses to Americans at large can be patched quickly and at very little cost. The paper describes how commercially available techniques from the private sector, including database merge-and-search methods now used in many Internet applications, can be deployed quickly and cheaply to plug the counterterror IT gap, using a fast-turn “Red Team” approach. This is not rocket-science programming: these database sharing and data-mining technologies have been widely deployed by credit agencies and retailers, among others.
Many federal agencies including the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are engaged in frantic efforts to accelerate their large IT systems upgrades in order to cope with the imperatives of national security. The upgrades will take years to specify and then implement, given the scale of these upgrades, the overhang of legacy computer systems, and the straightjacket of federal purchasing procedures. Al-Qaeda is unlikely to stand by until these large scale upgrades are deployed in 5 to 10 years.
It is remarkable that the federal government is spending enormous effort and billions of dollars in the shooting war against terror abroad and in incident-reaction or critical infrastructure protection at home, while expending little effort to put in place a stop-gap shield. The Red Team proposal could start in months, begin providing partial protection against terror strikes within 6 months, use some of the nation’s most sophisticated programming talent, and cost no more than a few million dollars. It is a question of political will and urgency, not a question of technical complexity.
(Co-authored with Jan Lodal)