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Diminishing Returns

I am reminded of some old Army training . . . or was it Computer Science . . . Hmmm. Anyway, the thrust of the lesson was a little math that helped determine how many cooks one needed to make broth (figuratively speaking), but not spoil it. The vigilant Ms. Gorman drives the point home in this scoop:


Two technology programs at the heart of the National Security Agency’s drive to combat 21st-century threats are stumbling badly, hampering the agency’s ability to fight terrorism and other emerging threats, current and former government officials say.

One is Cryptologic Mission Management, a computer software program with an estimated cost of $300 million that was designed to help the NSA track the implementation of new projects but is so flawed that the agency is trying to pull the plug. The other, code-named Groundbreaker, is a multibillion-dollar computer systems upgrade that frequently gets its wires crossed.

Intelligence experts told The Sun that as a result of these failures, agency computers have trouble talking to each other and frequently crash, key bits of data are sometimes lost, and vital intelligence can be overlooked – all as the agency aggressively argues for broader surveillance power under the president’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Moreover, there are no agency-wide controls to make sure effective fixes are put in place, and, with the demise of the mission management program, none will be in place anytime soon.

There is no doubt that the work going on there is complex, but there is also no denying that such complexity, and the massive number of cooks, is producing some truly inedible dishes. Things were a show 15 years ago and by all public accounts they’ve gotten worse. Given the value of SIGINT it is clear that something must be done.

Downsizing isn’t necessarily the answer because that just means more contracts and more recycled (blue-to-green badge) contractors. Being ground-broken once is plenty.

Then again, maybe breaking things up is the answer. Wholly-owned subsidiaries divided along functional and regional lines would allow for more focus on core missions and make overhead a lot more manageable.

Any other bright ideas?

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.