Intelligence is our business

By Mark Follman

Published January 13, 2005 8:57PM (EST)

More encouraging news out today on the intelligence front. While the FBI has seen a number of top-level managers in counter-terrorism and information technology come and go since 9/11, now, the L.A. Times reports, the bureau may have to scrap a major project aimed at overhauling its woefully out-of-date computer system. The cost could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the bad guys who might get away while the information-sharing apparatus remains in the dark ages.

"A new FBI computer program designed to help agents share information to ward off terrorist attacks may have to be scrapped, the agency has concluded, forcing a further delay in a four-year, half-billion-dollar overhaul of its antiquated computer system. The bureau is so convinced that the software, known as Virtual Case File, will not work as planned that it has taken steps to begin soliciting proposals from outside contractors for new software, officials said.

"The overhaul of the decrepit computer system was identified as a priority both by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and by members of Congress, who found that the FBI's old system prevented agents from sharing information that could have headed off the attacks. Since the attacks, Congress has given the FBI a blank check, allocating billions of dollars in additional funding. So far the overhaul has cost $581 million, and the software problems are expected to set off a debate over how well the bureau has been spending those dollars.

"The bureau recently commissioned a series of independent studies to determine whether any part of the Virtual Case File software could be salvaged. Any decision to proceed with new software would add tens of millions of dollars to the development costs and render worthless much of a current $170-million contract."

Meanwhile, for the U.S. military, gathering intelligence in Iraq apparently is more about quantity than quality. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Intelligence officials at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had to fill quotas, a former military interrogator has said in evidence at the court martial of a prison guard, Specialist Charles Graner.

"Roger Brokaw, a retired army sergeant, said on Wednesday that the quantity of intelligence reports to higher-ups in the chain of command were as important as quality.

"'There was pressure on us to fill quotas,' he said.

"Asked by Graner's military lawyer, Captain Jay Heath, whether anyone reviewed the intelligence reports about Abu Ghraib, Mr Brokaw said accuracy was of little consequence. 'I was told as long as you produce reports sent along to the higher echelon, it didn't matter.'"

We suppose that's further proof, too, that the despicable treatment meted out at Abu Ghraib in order to gather intelligence on the insurgency was the work of just "a few bad apples."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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