CFR Finds Dangerous Technology Gap at Federal Agencies

May 15, 2002

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Technology Gap at Federal Agencies Leaves U.S. Public Exposed to Next Wave of Terror Incidents – New Council Paper Outlines Immediate Steps to Reduce the Risk

May 14, 2002 – Defense against al-Qaeda cells and other terrorists requires the rapid deployment of an effective computer system for data sharing and analysis among key agencies responsible for homeland security. Using commercially available techniques, such a system could be up and running within six months, say Adjunct Council Fellows James Shinn and Jan Lodal in Red-Teaming the Data Gap, published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

There is a dangerous gap between the information technology (IT) needed to combat the global terrorist threat and the IT capabilities of federal agencies. The IT systems at many Washington agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Customs Service, are creaky, slow, and incapable of sharing data. These IT system shortfalls have been highlighted by several recent embarrassments, including INS’s mailing of visas to a number of the 9/11 hijackers – well after the fact.

The Council paper outlines a “Red Team” approach to building a counter-terrorism information technology system immediately, at modest cost, using off-the-shelf equipment and techniques currently used by civilian high technology firms at modest cost. This “fast turn” system can help reduce some of the risk of terrorist strikes while the U.S. government redesigns its IT architecture to deal with terrorism – an effort that will take many years and billions of dollars.

The Council’s Red Team proposal outlines an architecture for pooling data from U.S. government agencies and the private sector while “data-mining” for patterns of suspicious activity, much in way that online retailers such as Amazon and WebMD track purchases and pages viewed.

The authors argue that the real challenge to the Red Team approach is not technical complexity, but rather the political will to make turf-conscious federal agencies share information in the name of homeland security.

James Shinn and Jan Lodal are Adjunct Senior Fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations. Shinn co-founded Dialogic, now a division of Intel, and helped start several software companies. He served in the East Asian Bureau of the U.S. State Department. Lodal co-founded American Management Systems and helped start several technology companies. He served as Deputy Under Secretary for Policy at the Defense Department.

Red-Teaming the Data Gap was itself a fast turn collaborative effort by a team of IT and national security experts, including:

Greg Battas, Hewlett Packard
Zipora Brown, American Management Systems
Guillermo Christensen, Council on Foreign Relations
Stephen Flynn, Council on Foreign Relations
Robert Hausman, Rockbridge Information Systems
William Heil, Kestrel Partners
Linda Morse, govONE Solutions
Paul Byron Pattak, Byron Group
Calvin Sims, Council on Foreign Relations
Steve Smaha, TexasEDGE
Charles Walden, Longitude
Michael Zak, Charles River Ventures
Ed Zschau, Princeton University

The contributors do not necessarily agree with all the opinions and recommendations expressed in the paper, and they participated in their personal, not institutional capacities.


Contact: Lisa Shields, Director of Communications, 212-434-9888

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