Breaking down the White House Report (so you don’t have to)

Just read the Summary of the White House Review of the December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack.

It goes on for way too long. Here’s Mike’s Summary of the Summary of the White House Review of the December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack:

Cogent Points:

1) Because no single individual had personal responsibility for following up on this specific case, analysts failed to consult all available databases for information about Mr. Abdulmutallab. Because the intelligence community is set up with redundant systems and overlapping responsibility, this means more than one person failed to consult all available databases.

2) Because of a typo by a State Department employee, the fact that Mr. Abdulmutallab already had a U. S. visa went unnoticed. This is okay, however, because the State Department never would have revoked his visa because employees in the Counter-Terrorism community (see point 1) had not yet pulled together the relevant facts to show the man was a threat to the United States—his having a visa for a visit to the United States probably ranking high in that whole threat assessment.

3) Sifting data is hard work because little nuggets come buried in big piles of data. (Most of it in Arabic or other languages we don’t understand.)

Executive Action Plan:

1) Detail employees to actually take responsibility for following up and using all available resources in doing that follow-up. Also, learn to spell.

2) Detail bosses to set up committees to make sure employees are accountable for their work. When heads have to roll, we want lots of paper to show which heads it should be.

Mike’s suggestions:

1) Hire more analysts, preferably those who can understand the languages the terrorists use. (Deucedly unsporting of them not to speak English.) If there is too much data, put more people on the problem.

2) State Department: hire clerks who can spell.

3) Make sure one of the available databases is the list of everyone who has a visa to enter the United States; and/or those who are already here.

4) Do not worry about folks who complain about screening devices that look under clothes. They have a choice. Get screened or stay home. Travel is not compulsory. (Besides, folks already have given up complaining about TSA employees pawing their underwear in suitcases, so the hubbub over scanner picks hitting Facebook will die pretty quickly.)

5) Implement the rest of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, including screening cargo containers coming into the US.

Yes, I know. Next time I hit an airport it’ll be a full body cavity search for me. I hope they at least have warm hands.

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10 Responses to “Breaking down the White House Report (so you don’t have to)”

  1. Maybe if my [expletive deleted] recruiter hadn’t have harassed me back in ’00, our government would have more competent analysts. My 95% ASVAB score pretty much guaranteed me a spot in linguistics and intel like I wanted (Intelligence Analyst to be exact). Oh well. It just annoys me whenever I read something in regards to poor intelligence analysis.

  2. This plan is emphatically endorsed by the Arcadian Jedi Academy and has recieved the JediBear seal of approval. That and a buck-fifty will get you a coffee in some places.

  3. “4) Do not worry about folks who complain about screening devices that look under clothes. They have a choice. Get screened or stay home. Travel is not compulsory. (Besides, folks already have given up complaining about TSA employees pawing their underwear in suitcases, so the hubbub over scanner picks hitting Facebook will die pretty quickly.)”

    You’re absolutely right, travel is not compulsory. Work travel in these globalised times might be a problem, but then again, keeping your job is not compulsory either, so the whiners should just shut up and deal with it.

    Since we’ve established that travel is not compulsory and therefore anything goes, I have another surefire suggestion to prevent terrorism: It is well known that terrorists want to spread terror and you can only do so by looking fierce and intimidating. The mad look, the beards, the puffy bags under their eyes – surely a menacing look is a key trait for any self respecting terrorist. Therefore, everyone who is not a terrorist should be forced to wear a jester’s cap and a T-Shirt saying “I’m not a terrorist, I wear the cap!” when they’re at the airport.

    Real terrorists won’t be ridiculed like that, so in the interest of safety we MUST instate that measure immediately. It’s as effective as the scanners, but with no health risk whatsoever. Cleary a win-win situation.

    All the best,


  4. 6. Conduct more thorough searches of every passenger who can be reasonably inferred to be a Muslim man.

  5. Kai, you have a point vis a vis the need of folks to travel to keep jobs; but I’m not certain it’s frequent travelers who are the ones protesting full body scans. I travel a lot and talk to a lot of travelers who do as well. We all know how safe we are not. I’ve already had to change how I dress and prepare to travel, so going through a scanner is not going to be that much of a change for me. Will it keep us 100% safe. Absolutely not. Will it keep us safe from some attacks? Yes and, in my opinion, worth the inconvenience.

    The Jester costume idea I like. Lots of folks on planes, especially those coming back from Mexican vacations, seem to have adopted your plan already.

  6. I’d not agree with this suggestion. First, not all suicide bombers are male. Second, you can’t tell a Muslim by looking at him. Third, not all Muslims are terrorists, not by a long shot. If you’d read the article I wrote, and read all the other information we’ve been allowed to see in this case, you’d know that if not for human failings, the panty bomber would have been spotted and barred from the flight. All using your suggestion would do is have terrorists work on sleeper agents. Radicalize a guy, having him visit a Christian missionary, having him undergo a “conversion experience,” and he’s free to go where he will and blow up whatever he wants, simply because he wasn’t Muslim.

  7. Dear Mike,

    it’s not just the frequent travelers, it’s probably the vast majority of people who don’t object the use of those scanners. Quite a worrying thought to me, as the likelihood of governments misusing the data they collect is – in my humble opinion – higher than being the unlikely victim of a terrorist attack.

    I probably should just bite the bullet, taking solace in the knowledge that my inconvenience and annoyance guarantees that everyone else on board can “feel” safe. Who am I to object, when I’m putting dozens of others at ease?

    As a frequent flyer, aren’t you worried about health repercussions, though? The thought of being bombarded with EM waves that are powerful enough to penetrate clothes makes me a bit queasy. Now, if every politician in favour would agree to step through one of these devices once a day to prove their safety, I’d feel much better. The bottom line is that I’d rather get frisked than find out in 25 years that flying 6-8 times a year has given me cancer (I know, it might still do that, irrespective of screening).

    Also, the way governments tackle the terrorism threat makes me wonder whether these scanners will have a negative overall impact on security. Consider this: For fire hazards, we know how fire is going to behave and can put appropriate counter measures into place – fire doors, smoke detectors, extinguishers and what not.

    Now, with terrorism they employ the same strategy: Oh someone smuggled explosives in his shoes, let’s ask passangers to take off their shoes from now on, so that we can check them. This measure is not making us safer, as the terrorists will know that shoes are being checked and will come up with a new plan. Also, the extra effort of checking the shoes is increasing the haystack as we are searching for the needle in it (I actually stole that haystack-needle line from a guy on TV. Forgot the name, so I can’t properly reference it).

    The scanners are supposed to be automated – due to the privacy concerns they don’t want to use them in the same way as the luggage scanners, where people have to intelligently assess the pictures and possible threats. With these body scanners, the security people might get complacent and think “Well, everyone went through the scanners, it’s SAFE.”
    So if the terrorists find a way to somehow trick the scanners, a simple software update might already do the trick and if they are connected to the internet that’s definitely a possibility, then it’ll be less safe. The work of real people, who apply intelligence and common sense, can’t be replaced by an automated process. Terrorism can’t be fought with the same approach as a simple fire hazard.

    I wish that the scanners will not only make us feel safer, but actually increase safety. I also wish that they have no impact on our health.

    However, I remain skeptical on both accounts.

    All the best,


  8. Corrections of my post due to lack of an edit function:

    “The thought of being bombarded with EM waves that are powerful enough to penetrate clothes makes me a bit queasy.”

    I really should have known better than to fire off something so poorly and erroneously phrased. Of course it’s not the penetration that’s problematic or even surprising. At the moment the claim is that terrahertz radiation is harmless, but I’d prefer some more studies being conducted on that, especially under the same conditions you’d need for getting good images.

    “let’s ask passangers to”

    I guess we should rather ask passengers…

  9. A german physicist proved that those scanners can be tricked (German video):

    For those who do not understand german, essentially he smuggled a lot of stuff including thermite through such a scanner. Not very reassuring.

    CCC (Chaos Computer Club, a german “hacker” organisation) took a look at an airport security system frequently used in germany.
    They tested their findings in Hamburg and walked with their faked security cards to the landing field without any problems and passing any controls. Their cards opened every door.

    Waves in the terahertz range have far less energy than x-ray so it is assumed they do less damage. Also, they are not ionising (< 200nm).

    For comparison:

    As far as I know the radiation level of a roentgen based airport scanner is 0.2 microsivert.
    (Sorry, from memory, I don't have a source here)

    8 hour transatlantic flight: 40 microsivert
    x-ray of the lung: 1000 microsivert
    computertomographie of the brain: 45000 microsivert
    Source: Health Center Hamburg,
    (Note: e.g. in Wikipedia you can find different values, since it always is an average over various scanners or for a specific brand)

    For me in person those scanners are the least of my worrys. I believe they are medically as safe as it gets. If the improve security? Sure. Put the there. But(!) also ensure that the data are not stored.

  10. Hope you are happy now:

    Of course if the airport security people operate “by the book” and really only specifically scan people on US flights, terrorists will simply buy two tickets.