Chilling Flaws In U.S. Terrorist Database

    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.