Good overview in the New York Sun of the story about the Department of Defense being aware of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers. I haven’t read anything on this case until now because I could care less about ways we could have prevented Sept. 11. Seems like a pointless exercise.
But, the story definitely has present-day repercutions. As reporter Josh Gerstein points out, the DOD found Mohammed Atta by using a supercomputer to mine an enormous amount of public and private data. That effort was cancelled in 2003 after it was labeled a “big brother” invasion of privacy:
… [A] broader Pentagon data-mining effort, known originally by the Orwellian name, “Total Information Awareness,” was shuttered in 2003 after an outcry from privacy advocates. Some who were critics of that program say the recent developments suggest that the data-intensive technologies now deserve a second look.
“We did dismiss it too quickly,” said Sonia Arrison, the director of technology studies at a San Francisco think tank, the Pacific Research Institute. “I was really against TIA when it first came out,” she said.
Ms. Arrison said it makes little sense to demand that the government abandon a technology that is being used more and more widely by retailers and others in the private sector. She said the government should move forward with the program but eschew the secrecy that usually surrounds such efforts. “Let’s embrace a TIA-type system, but let’s have everyone understand how it works,” the analyst said. “The technology is really just a tool. It can be used for good or evil. … You can’t put it back in the bottle.”
Seems odd to possess the technology to identify future terrorists, but not use it. Perhaps, it’s time to turn the supercomputers back on.