Saturday, December 18, 2004

If he's Director of Intelligence, I'd hate to see the Director of Stupidity

Outgoing CIA director George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, best known for his utter incompetence at his job in recent years, recently told a conference that the free and open nature of the Internet might have to be curtailed to uphold national security.

I would like to suggest to George that he look into what the Internet actually is, before making broad, sweeping statements about it (Besides, George, wouldn't policing the Internet fall under the National Security Agency's jurisdiction?). This essay is one of the best I've read on the nature of the Internet. Also, I haven't read it, but Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet has been recommended to me as an excellent history of the global computer network.

Curious, George, why are you so concerned with threats that are likely to be outside your purview, and which you know so little about? I mean, let's look at an obvious failure of the US intelligence community: 9/11.

Many people stood motionless, looking up -- at American fighter planes streaking overhead. Few things conveyed a changed world as vividly as U.S. Air Force jets engaged in high alert air defense of Manhattan Island. As I spoke to one man he paused, waiting for the aircraft's noise to subside, then looked at me and said: ""Sort of like locking the barn door after the horse is stolen, huh?"" He was angry. He wanted to talk politics. He reminded me that the unchallenged US Air Force had conducted massive air operations over Yugoslavia two years ago without suffering a single casualty. But the same US Air Force had failed utterly to defend American air space a few hours earlier.
And why was this? The answer is here:

The really scary fact is that at any given time, the continental United States is protected by only eight F-15s and F-16s, and these aircraft sit alert at the four corners of the country. That is why when the hijacked airliners deviated from their flight plans and honed in on their final targets, no air defense fighters were in position to intercept and prevent them from making those devastating attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
What about the Global Positioning System (GPS), George? You know, the system the US Military put into place but later allowed the private sector to use and exploit (kind of like the Internet, now that I think about it). The same GPS that US aircraft use for targeting and US soldiers use to navigate is also used by recreational hunters in the woods, and by oil tankers piloted by automation (interesting aside: the word 'cybernetics' comes from the Greek word kubernetes, meaning 'steersman' or 'helmsman'). In the UK, a blind septagenarian and his team built a remote-controlled model plane and used the GPS to fly it over the Atlantic Ocean. But I wouldn't worry, George. It's not like terrorists could use the same idea to deliver biological or chemical weapons, right?