Wake-up call to Homeland Security and TSA, FBI, and all your colleagues in D.C. land —

Pew Research Number of the Day for November 18, 2010:

“43% – Why Has the U.S. Not Been Attacked?
A 43%-plurality says that the reason there has not been another terrorist attack in America since 2001 is mostly the result of luck.”

There is no doubt that the scanners and gropes (thought by some to be intimidating, not security related)  at the airport have become a focal point with many of the public as they give everyone who flies, even rarely, the expectation of this invasion of personal privacy.  Before this, airport security was annoying but didn’t intrude on “personal space.”  Now, no matter which option one chooses, it will.  Possibility has become certainty and the issue is no longer “I don’t care what they do to ‘those’ people because I’m not one of them,” but has become “I am ‘one of them.'”

The issue is partisan and the government gets much credit (http://bit.ly/cW33j3) But underlying that is that a plurality of 43% of those surveyed by Pew believe “there has not been another terrorist attack in America since 2001 is mostly the result of luck.”  Your equipment, staff and activities are not thought of as being key to our safety.  Bombers get on planes with materials neither your new scanners nor your gropers can detect; “terrorists” are acquitted or given light sentences because you appear to be entrapping poor people; getting on or off one of your databases is an opaque process leading to the suspicion that it is subjective and possibly a matter of someone else’s disliking one personally; fusion centers can’t seem to distinguish political dissent from potential for terrorist activity.  If instruction on the Bill of Rights and their interpretation since adoption is a part of the training of your people who deal with the public, that is not plain to anyone with an undergraduate degree in political science and probably less so to people whose interests lie primarily in other subject areas.

So luck, not design and certainly not the activities of any of the agencies charged with security that once held, if not public confidence, at least public hopes, for their effectiveness.

Lest anyone misunderstand, luck often, if not always, plays a part in important outcomes.  But, where the government takes on a task, secures huge resources for it, and finds that nine years later a respectable survey indicates a large plurality attribute a favorable outcome to luck, it ought to be an alarm signal to those agencies and to their boss–and that doesn’t mean more vigorous “entrapment” either.

White House Seeks Easier FBI Access To Internet Records, Blocks Oversight Attempt… Just As FBI Caught Cheating On Exam To Stop Abuse

From TechDirt‘s “feel safer” department.  Link follows comment.

We’re still at a loss to explain why there’s been so little outrage over the fact that the FBI got a total free pass for its massive abuse in getting phone records. As you may recall, reports came out about how the FBI regularly abused the official process for obtaining phone records, avoiding any of the required oversight, but right before that info came out the White House issued a ruling saying that it was okay for the FBI to break the law. That’s not how things are supposed to work.

And, it appears that since there was no outrage over all of this, the White House keeps pushing further. Three new articles highlight what a travesty this has become. First, the White House wants to quietly make it easier for the FBI to demand internet log file information without a judge’s approval.” Just as I finished reading that, I saw Julian Sanchez’s new writeup about how the White House blocked and killed a proposal to give the GAO power to review US intelligence agencies. The GAO is the one government operation that seems to actually focus on doing what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient. Sanchez notes that, beyond the sterling reputation of the GAO, it’s also ready, willing and able to handle this kind of oversight:

The GAO has the capacity Congress lacks: as of last year, the office had 199 staffers cleared at the top-secret level, with 96 holding still more rarefied “sensitive compartmented information” clearances. And those cleared staff have a proven record of working to oversee highly classified Defense Department programs without generating leaks. Gen. Clapper, the prospective DNI, has testified that the GAO “held our feet to the fire” at the Pentagon with thorough analysis and constructive criticism.

Unlike the inspectors general at the various agencies–which also do vital oversight work–the GAO is directly answerable to Congress, not to the executive branch. And while it’s in a position to take a broad, pangovernmental view, the GAO also hosts analysts with highly specialized economic and management expertise the IG offices lack. Unleashing GAO would be the first step in discovering what the Post couldn’t: whether the billions we’re pouring into building a surveillance and national security state are really making us safer.

Oh, and just to make this all more comically depressing, just as I finished reading both of these stories, I saw a story about a new investigation into reports that FBI agents were caught cheating on an exam, which was designed to get them to stop abusing surveillance tools. Yes, you read that right. After all the reports of abuse of surveillance tools, the FBI set up a series of tests to train FBI agents how to properly go about surveillance without breaking the law… and a bunch of FBI agents allegedly cheated on the test that’s supposed to stop them from “cheating” on the law. And, not just a few. From the quotes, it sounds like this cheating was “widespread.” But, of course, it might not matter, since the requirements for surveillance are being lowered, oversight is being blocked, and apparently the White House is willing to retroactively “legalize” any illegal surveillance anyway.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100729/11415410413.shtml