Chilling Flaws In U.S. Terrorist Database

By: Mike Sachoff - August 22, 2008

The U.S. federal government’s terrorist database is severely hampered by technology issues and the estimated half a billion dollars in taxpayer funding to upgrade the system is on the brink of collapse, according to a congressional committee.

The "Railhead" program was created to improve the terrorist watch list and enhance the integration of U.S. terrorist intelligence from the nations 16 separate intelligence agencies. The majority of more than 800 private contractors from dozens of companies working on Railhead have been laid off.

Brad Miller

"This is a critical national security program that has been plagued by technical design and development errors, basic management blunders and poor government oversight," said Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC). "The program not only can’t connect the dots, it can’t find the dots."

Railhead was supposed to update the National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) terrorist intelligence database called TIDE Or Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment that was the backbone of the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watch list.

The Railhead program had been undergoing an internal technical implosion for more than one year. Public statements and sworn public testimony to Congress from senior officials within the NCTC and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence never revealed the growing technical problems, poor contractor management or lax government oversight that has led the program to be a colossal failure.

Last February, the Director of National Intelligence, J. M. McConnell and his Chief Information Officer, Dale Meyerrose, issued a report outlining the U.S. Intelligence Community’s "Information Sharing Strategy."

The report boasted,"NCTC has developed innovative solutions, including NCTC Online and Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, to increase information sharing and collaboration in support of the counterterrorism mission."

Internal Railhead documents reveal a very different image of the programs. An analysis has shown that the planned upgrades to the programs would diminish the ability to share terrorist intelligence data among federal agencies and profoundly limit the ability of counterterrorism analysts to conduct searches of databases.

Perhaps the most chilling information to come to light is that tens of thousands of potentially vital CIA messages going in the NCTC have not been properly reviewed or included in the existing TIDE database. Because of this it is impossible to tell if critical terrorist intelligence sits in a U.S. government file somewhere that has not been properly investigated.

Similar government failures occurred before the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks.

"The collapse of the Railhead program appears to be the result of poor technical planning and design, potential contractor mismanagement and inadequate government oversight," said Miller.

"These same problems have emerged again and again on government programs as millions of dollars in taxpayer funding is squandered. At some point the government needs to learn how to manage its technology programs so that they actually perform as advertised. This episode is particularly disturbing since we are talking about the safety and security of 300 million American citizens," Miller added.

Mike Sachoff

About the Author

Mike SachoffMike is a staff writer for WebProNews.

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  • Jason

    The Solution to the whole problem is to drop the whole idea, return the money they are stealing from the people and quit their jobs as they are all a bunch of incompetent moroons!

    In actuality, there are only a few dozen REAL terrorists on the list anyway…

    The rest are AMERICAN CITIZENS with absolutely NO CONNECTION to any terorist organization WHATSOEVER!

    The real issue here should be why the ONE SINGLE NAME we all know SHOULD be on the list is NOT!

    ‘What Name is that?’… you might ask???

            George W. Bush!

    This response is sent under the freedom of speech afforded by the first ammendment of the U.S Constitution!


    Don’t elect OBAMA!  He’s not even a LAWFUL CITIZEN!  He was born in AFRICA and has a counterfeit Birth Certificate from Hawaii!

    Don’t elect McCain!  He’s just more of the same!

             ELECT Ron Paul! 

                      He’s a

        TRUE American Patriot!

    Use your right to enter a ‘Write in Candidate’ to vote even though he’s no longer on the ballot!

    • Guest

      i think it’s going a little too far claiming obama isn’t a lawful citizen. let’s get on track here and look into the ridiculous state of our bureaucracy under the bush administration and ALL REPUBLICANS, thank you!

  • Guest

    The ability to trace and track cyberterrorists is the next global conflict that involves intrusions into financial, and government websites. This is a major advancement of the technology available to terrorists to steal identities, credit card information, and compromise websites. The recent DNS redirection to bogus websites is a major example. A detective, or government agent would state the method to find these terrorists is to follow the money. For example New Millennium Software detection, and identification of intrusions that through Internet Protocol (IP) addresses suspects are tracked with network analysis of IP addresses, domain lookup, and Google Mashups these terrorists/criminals may be geographically located. Rather than a passive accumulation of information that overloads databases, with inadequate reporting of vital data the active approach is to detect, identify, and locate the terrorist.

  • personal injury lawyers

    That can’t be good. How sophisticated is this system that some of the top minds cant keep it up and running?

  • Guest

    I am sure we all have political thoughts, but I am going to move from that to a thought on a solution to the tracking of terrorists.  If they have nothing to hide, why not keep watch?  Personally, I’d rather be watched than have a system that may save my life later thrown out.  I like privacy, but my safety and the safety of the rest of my country is more important to me.  I say we give them a bit more room to try to make the system better, not just throw it away, and thereby allowing the few on the watchlist who ARE a threat go unwatched, puting us all in danger.

    The system is flawed because it is run by folks like us: humans.  As long as there are humans running things we will be subject to adgenda, error, and all the other stuff that goes along with it.  Meanwhile, I propose we crack down on the domain, Domain name server, and IP system, making it harder for people to abuse the system and lie.  Perhaps more proof of identity and residence location should be part of the system.  If finger pointing were a solution, we would have to point the finger at all of us, because we have put up with a lack of regulation on the internet.  This is something that should be pushed and pushed and pushed on an international level. 

    Will that mean more work for me?  Absolutely!  I, like everyone else, should be required to prove who I am and where I live, before simply purchasing a block of IP addresses and claiming a name server and domain!  The problem lies in us.  We like things easy.  We do not as citizens, want to put forth the effort to regulate.  No one wants to make more work for themselves.  Yet, it seems to be a legitimate start to a solution.  The current system doesn’t work because of lack of regulation on who and how to get ahold of domains, DNS, and IP addresses. 

    The folks who worked on the current failing system were likely limited by this very issue!  They could have built the best system in the world, but without fixing the domain, domain name server, and IP address credentialling system, it is impossible to use the information in the database effectively.  That is the problem.

    My company sells websites, along with all the trimmings for eCommerce: dedicated IP addresses, SSL certs, shopping carts, databases, hosting, enterprize solutions, etc.  If adding a few steps to my work day can save an American citizen’s life, I am all for that.  Let me leave you with a challenge: Are you willing to speak to your state representative, congressman, or other government leaders about this flawed system?  I am, and have.  Will you join me?  If you want a real solution, lets put our talk in the hands of someone who can make changes.

    • Junaid

      For someone who sells websites for a living, you don’t seem to have a good grasp of how the internet works.  Regulating the net?  That’s not really possible in any meaningful way… and requiring proof of identity to get an ip address, that only makes life more difficult for normal everyday internet users without any benefit. If people want to engage in criminal activities they just need a phone line and can establish secure private connections between users, and they will utilize hacked computers and proxies to do their dirty work just as it is now.  Even if we prevented the boogeyman terrorists from getting on the internet at all – guess what, they will just use the communication methods they used before the internet was around.

      The concept of the internet was devised from a military background, it is resilient.  Knowing the identities of who gets online is no more safer than knowing who is licensed to buy guns – once they’ve shot someone, the damage is already done.