FBI Computer Error: System Not Found

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 14 2005 5:45 AM

FBI Computer Error: System Not Found

Reprising yesterday's Los Angeles Times lead, the New York Times goes high with the FBI's scuttling of its current $170 million computer system overhaul, which—if it hadn't run aground because of bureaucratic ineptitude—would have made information sharing and cross-referencing exceedingly more efficient than the current paper-based system. The Washington Postleads with a CIA think tank's report that because of its relative anarchy, porous borders, and large, unguarded weapons caches, Iraq will be a major new breeding ground for terrorists. For its top non-local story, the LAT off-leads the assassination of an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the latest in a series of attacks against the cleric's representatives meant to destabilize the country in advance of the elections. The Wall Street Journal's worldwide news box also leads the assassination, noting that White House and Iraqi officials have vowed that "[the Jan. 30] elections will be held on time no matter how badly the security situation deteriorates."  

USA Today leads with a summary of its interview with President Bush, choosing to highlight Bush's suggestion that retiree benefits may not have to be "dramatically slash[ed]" as part of the Social Security revamp.

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The 9/11 commission called a modernized FBI information network "critical to domestic security." But according to officials interviewed for the NYT lead, "The bulk of the internal reports and documents produced at the [FBI] must still be printed, signed and scanned by hand into computer format each day." Members of the 9/11 commission, along with several senators and even Director Robert Mueller himself, expressed dissatisfaction with the mishandling of the system upgrade, which the FBI claimed would be ready by the end of 2004. (Only 10 percent of the system is now deployed.) The LAT mentioned one fact the NYT didn't: Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has spent $581 million on the ill-fated project.

The Post's lead provides little evidence to back its claim that Iraq is breeding new terrorists: There are no mentions of any specific training efforts discovered thus far, nor of the organizations, locations, or persons involved. The closest thing we get to a hard-news item is the number of pages in the CIA report: 119. One expert quoted in the article's second paragraph observes that there is "the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed [in Iraq] will … disperse to various other countries." Headline news?

In another piece lacking journalistic rigor, the Post's off-lead asks a few guys in a Baghdad cafe to give their opinions on the upcoming elections. The article's best moment is a nice description of democracy in Iraq-tion: "Candidates' names are not published, for fear of assassination. Rallies are few, posters are often torn down, and hardly anyone can describe a party's platform, much less its nominees." But almost everyone the reporter interviews supports the elections—a pattern the reporter makes no attempt to explain (it's not mentioned, for instance, whether the men are Sunni or Shiite)—so we're left wondering why a half-dozen men in Baghdad should be representative of 23 million Iraqis.

The NYT off-leads (and the LATand Postfront) the decision by the pro baseball players' union to accept beefed-up antisteroid policies, including more frequent testing and stiffer penalties. The agreement was criticized for failing to include amphetamines, which are thought to be at least as prevalent as steroids.

The Post fronts the Bush administration's decision to saw a huge chunk off the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The cuts are aimed specifically at HUD's community branch and will eliminate "dozens of economic development projects" and negatively affect several "high-profile anti-poverty efforts." The administration claims the programs are inefficient and duplicative, but critics think they're just trying to divert the money into higher-priority policies like the new tax cuts and possibly, the article notes, a mission to Mars.

The LAT fronts preparations for the 55th presidential inauguration ceremonies (which begin Tuesday; the swearing-in's at noon Thursday). Planners are facing "an awkward challenge": to avoid excessive pomp and circumstance considering the troubling international backdrop. To avoid ostentation, festivities will be limited to "10 balls, three candlelight dinners, a presidential gala … a fancy brunch for dignitaries, a 1.7-mile-long parade and a youth rock concert hosted by the Bush twins."

Hil-Harry-ous!: Andwhile the royal family prepared to take part in ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberationofAuschwitz, Britain's Prince Harry attended a posh costume party dressed as a Nazi officer. In the photograph, a swastika is clearly visible on the young prince's cigarette-holding hand. (Someone told me that in one of the pictures, he was talking to a girl in a bikini.) Sharing in the world's outrage, Prince Charles pledged that his son would attend an education session at Auschwitz when was done skiing in Andorra.

David Sarno is the founder of Lighthaus Inc, which develops interactive storytelling for news, education, and health care. He was a technology and culture writer at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 to 2013.

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