Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stumbling Towards Bush 4.0 Territory

Looking back, president Bush went through three distinct iterations during his two terms in the White House.

Bush 1.0 (1998-September 10th, 2001) During this phase Bush was the "compassionate conservative", successful and popular governor of Texas and a man who knew that there were republican solutions to traditionally Democratic issues such as education.

Bush 2.0 (9/11 2001 - April 2004) This is the version that got up on pile of ruble in the days following 9/11 and promised a group of workers at ground zero that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." It was this notion of Bush as the warrior, the protector, that led directly to his reelection in November in 2004. However, by November of '04 the creation of the third version of Bush had already begun.

Bush 3.0 (April of 2004-1/09) In April of 2004 Rumsfeld offered Bush his resignation because of gross abuses of Iraqi POWs. Bush refused to accept the resignation. This is the president Bush that is most remembered today; the man who let events get the better of him. The high - or low - point of Bush 3.0 was his "heckuva job Brownie" moment in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

And so it came to pass in November of 2008 then senator Barack Obama was elected to bring change. Throughout his campaign, Obama promised repair the damage done by the Bush administration and restore transparency and accountability to government.

But that was Obama .07, the public beta released for testing before all the bugs had been ironed out.

The first official release of Obama 1.0 has thus far proved buggy and has often been corrupted by errant files left over from the previous software (Bush 3.0). And on Christmas day, 2009, the Obama OS suffered its first full-scale kernel panic requiring a complete reboot. So far, the administration has decided to release a patch, which is designed to correct the security flaw in Obama 1.0 and update the system to Obama 1.01. Unfortunately, this may not be enough to really correct the security flaws:

Everyone who read the name "Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab" prior to December 25, 2009 should be reprimanded and fired.

The White House findings state that, "Mr. Abdulmutallab possessed a U.S. visa, but this fact was not correlated with the concerns of Mr. Abdulmutallab's father about Mr. Abdulmutallab's potential radicalization." It's an embarrassing sentence of bureaucratese in its own right, but more so when considered in context. The State Department didn't revoke Abdulmutallab's visa because an office clerk misspelled his name in a database.

Has no one in the intelligence community ever used Google? When "Abdulmutalab" was typed in, did the computer not ask, "Did you mean 'Abdulmutallab'?"

Another admission that crosses the threshold of bewildering into the realm of criminally negligent: the National Counterterrorism Center has a database of all known and suspected international terrorists. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was added to that database.

But that database does not feed directly into the TSA No-Fly List.

Who more than known terrorists belong on the No-Fly List? There should be no human involvement required here. One line of SQL database code could have averted disaster.

According to the White House, when the CIA and NCTC got the name of a radicalized militant from the militant's own father, and a warning that he was planning an attack, they did not search "all available databases to uncover additional derogatory information." How many databases are there? And how many terrorist databases must one appear in before he or she is considered a threat to U.S. national security?

This wasn't a ticking time bomb situation involving a lone wolf under the radar. Such a terrorist will succeed, and there's nothing we can do about it, aside from remaining vigilant. But the United States already knew about Abdulmutallab, and learned of his intentions on November 18th -- a month before he struck.

Most grating in the White House report is the repeated notion that Abdulmutallab's plot failed. It didn't. Nine years after 9/11, and after billions of spent dollars in needless security, confiscated fingernail clippers, and dumped breast milk, he succeeded in smuggling explosives onto an airliner destined for American soil. He succeeded in igniting the explosive. If not for dumb luck involving bad chemistry and a brave Dutch film director, there might today be a smoldering crater in Detroit.

Worse, there are a number of indications that the Bush 3.0 software, which was supposedly deleted, may be coming back:

After the attack, President Obama remained in Hawaii and enjoyed a Christmas vacation on the golf course. After the attack, National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leiter took a six-day skiing holiday. After the attack, CIA director Leon Panetta remained in beautiful Monterey, California. The nation, the administration claims, can be governed from afar, and that's probably true. But when terrorists attempt a major strike on U.S. soil, isn't it a good idea to have someone in the White House situation room above the rank of janitor?
This tells me that Obama 1.0 - now 1.01 - is treading dangerously close to becoming Bush 4.0. And all it takes in one successful attack inside the U.S. and I have no doubt that the house and senate will pursue there own method of deleting the corrupt software, which will be very divisive and dramatic for the whole country. 

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