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On Target

On Target

I knew there was a reason I shopped at Target so much more than I do a certain other large retail chain.

In the past few years, [Target] has taken a lead role in teaching government agencies how to fight crime by applying state-of-the-art technology used in its 1,400 stores. Target’s effort has touched local, state, federal and international agencies.

Besides running its forensics lab in Minneapolis, Target has helped coordinate national undercover investigations and worked with customs agencies on ways to make sure imported cargo is coming from reputable sources or hasn’t been tampered with. It has contributed money for prosecutor positions to combat repeat criminals, provided local police with remote-controlled video surveillance systems, and linked police and business radio systems to beef up neighborhood foot patrols in parts of several major cities. It has given management training to FBI and police leaders, and linked city, county and state databases to keep track of repeat offenders.

“linked city, county and state databases . . .”

Target can do it, but for some reason the IC can’t. In fact, the effort required seems to be too much for even the most seasoned IC pros:

The sudden replacement of the Bush administration official charged with creating the government-wide information sharing infrastructure needed to connect the dots and help stop future terror attacks has highlighted the lack of progress on the issue.

John Russack, who had been at work for less than a year, leaves amid concerns that the creation of the so-called Information Sharing Environment, or ISE, for which he is responsible has been stalled by turf struggles and bureaucratic inertia.

The ISE is one of the reforms proposed following the failure of any of the 15 U.S intelligence agencies, or the nation’s hundreds of police forces, to interdict the Sept. 11 terror plot — despite the fact that some of the perpetrators were known to be members of al-Qaida and all of them lived openly in the United States.

The federal government’s inability to “connect the dots” — to get information about suspected international terrorists and the people connected with them into the hands of local policemen and DMV clerks — is one of the most complex policy problems thrown up by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Target doesn’t do it for the money; they do it because – in part – it is the right thing to do. Helping fight crime certainly pays off over the long run for the firm, but note the spark that started this whole effort:

Chief executive Robert J. Ulrich made cooperating with law enforcement a priority in the mid-1990s, when crime rates skyrocketed and his hometown of Minneapolis was nicknamed “Murderopolis.”

“The turning point occurred for me when I read about a repeat offender walking out of the courtroom because the judge didn’t know he had a criminal record in a different part of the state,” Ulrich said in an interview. “He raped a woman the next day.” Ulrich slapped the table. He said he wanted to know how the man got out of jail so fast.

The IC is a community in name only. While at the working level people are happy to do the right thing, that doesn’t fly very well with those at the upper echelons who seem to have ulterior – not evil, but ulterior – motives. What I wouldn’t give for 15 appointees to recognize that they are stewards of their agencies for a few short years, get a case of conscience, and do the right thing.

Target can do it.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.