There’s an article in today’s evil librul rag the Washington Post about the trials and tribulations of the infamous and much maligned FBI computer systems upgrade which never was; vaporware for the agency protecting our homeland. The failed upgrades, which have cost taxpayers some $600M in the last five years, have lead to nothing. It’s scary to know what the FBI was working with and currently is working with to fight crime here in America. From the article…
The FBI wanted its agents to work in a largely paperless environment, able to search files, pull up photos and scan for information at their own PCs. The old system was based on fusty mainframe technology, with a text-only “green screen” that had to be searched by keywords and could not store or display graphics, photos or scanned copies of reports.
What’s more, most employees had no PCs. They relied instead on shared computers for access to the Internet and e-mail. A type of memo called an electronic communication had to be printed out on paper and signed by a supervisor before it was sent. Uploading a single document took 12 steps.
Most employees had no PCs, now that is just insane. And shared terminals just to access the internet and e-mail?! Uploading documents to the system taking 12 steps?! Was it drunk? At a time when high-end processing behemoths can be purchased for a few hundred bucks, coupled with the purchasing power of an agency the size and power of the FBI, you’d think that they could spring for a CPU for each employee who needed one. And has the FBI never heard of drag-and-drop? I think it took two hours for me to teach my in their 60s parents how to do certain functions having to do with email, certainly the best and brightest this country has to offer can figure a way to upload a .pdf quicker than a 12 step program.
I was familiar with some of the things brought up in this article as I’ve read several articles dealing with this bungled non-upgrade through the last few years, I’m a wannabe techie at heart, but seeing it all in one pretty well put together article at once, ugh.
The problems continued to hamper the bureau after the attacks as well: To transmit photographs of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers and other suspects to field offices, headquarters had to fax copies or send compact discs by mail, because the system would not allow them to e-mail a photo securely.
Can you imagine this? What could the actual conversations between the White House, the FBI and FBI field offices all over the country and the world have been during all this:
White House: We have the names and photographs of all 19 9/11 hijackers.
FBI: Whoa! Awesome! Email them to me. Oh wait. Never mind. Errrr… Errr…. FedEx them to me!
[the next day]
FBI agent1: I got them! Can I use your computer to open up these very important documents?
FBI agent2: Sorry, I’m in the middle of something here, try the other side of the floor.
FBI agen1: Hey can I use your computer to open up these very important documents?
FBI agent3: Sure thing. Oh wait, is that one of them fan-cay CD-ROMs? Never seen one of those before. All I got is a 5.25″ floppy drive. Each disk holds 1.2MB!
FBI agent1: [punches self in the face]
Now, of course that isn’t what actually happened, but can you imagine the calamity it would cause if you couldn’t securely email things as simple as digital photos and have to find a terminal to open said terminals once they made it, via hand delivery, to you? So, the FBI went about trying to upgrade their system. The same system where they couldn’t do a two-word search, like, say “Osama+bin+Laden” oh wait, that’s three words, forget that too. That same search via Google turns up 28M hits. Yes, most are probably useless, but jeez, it took 0.09 seconds to come up with that result.
So the FBI hired Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to do the $170M job. And after many months, in 2003, it was finally ready to be looked at by Zalmai Azmi, then an advisor to Director Robert Mueller and currently the technology chief of the FBI. And it was bad. Azmi had Aerospace Corp. have a look at it and see if it could be saved.
After the disappointing preview of VCF in late 2003 by Azmi, who was then an adviser to Mueller tasked with reviewing the system, the FBI scrambled to rescue the project. The Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research-and-development firm in El Segundo, Calif., was hired for $2 million in June 2004 to review the program and come up with a “corrective action plan.”
The conclusion: SAIC had so badly bungled the project that it should be abandoned.
In a 318-page report, completed in January 2005 and obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act, Aerospace said the SAIC software was incomplete, inadequate and so poorly designed that it would be essentially unusable under real-world conditions. Even in rudimentary tests, the system did not comply with basic requirements, the report said. It did not include network-management or archiving systems — a failing that would put crucial law enforcement and national security data at risk, according to the report.
“From the documents that define the system at the highest level, down through the software design and into the source code itself, Aerospace discovered evidence of incompleteness, lack of follow-through, failure to optimize and missing documentation,” the report said.
I can still hear the echo of the jaws hitting the plush red-leather topped tables within executive offices inside the Hoover Building in downtown D.C. If you listen closely, you can hear them too.
So where in the hell does that leave the FBI now? Well, with new computers [yay!] but no new system. With the death of Trilogy [the name of the SAIC system], the FBI commissioned Lockheed Martin Corp. to create a new system by 2009. The new system, Sentinel, will cost $425M.
2009. That’s two full election cycles of false terror alerts.