DorobekInsider: Welcome 2010 – what you may have missed while we were away

Monday - 1/4/2010, 2:47pm EST

We’re all back to it today after a few weeks focusing on thing… well, other then work, right? Well, hard core work just hasn’t been the top priority. But we’re all back to it today — well, other then lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but…

While the past few weeks were quiet, there was news, so… here are the stories you may have missed while you had other priorities:

* The underwear bomber

Yes, on Christmas Eve, we learned a new word that I’m guessing will be part of our lexicon for some time: the underwear bomber. (I was flying over the holidays and didn’t notice any real difference, but… I was flying domestically. There were some nervous people in the security line who half jokingly said, ‘If we had to take our shoes off after the shoe bomber, what happens NOW?’

There has been a whole lot of criticism of the Homeland Security Department and the intelligence community — much of it very unfair. For example, I generally have great respect for CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, but I thought this was unfair:

The Truth on Government Spin
Bob Schieffer Says Press Conferences and Statements Aimed at Deflecting Criticism Do Nothing to Inspire Trust

NYT columnist David Brooks had my favorite column on this subject:

The God That Fails [NYT, 12.31.2009]

… History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates…

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.

After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country’s information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress…

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare.

Read the full column here.

There clearly are issues, but the crazed, almost insane calls for “accountability” turns everything into a witch hunt. The fact is this is complex — and there are no easy answers. And it is a typical problem for government — it is what makes government so different then the private sector. In fact, we could present every bomber from flying — just shut down air flight. That isn’t happening, of course. And we’re not going to let everybody on planes. So it isn’t a choice between black or white. The question is what shade of gray is correct — and that can change minute by minute.

I’m still heartened that, in the end, it was the passengers and crew of the flight that shut him down. Remarkable work.

President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, interviewed on CNN’s State of the Union with John King on Sunday, noted that there were pieces of intelligence, but there was no smoking gun.

For our part on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief, we are going to try to find ways to actually help people connect dots — and it is, frankly, why I am so fascinated by these government 2.0 initiatives.

Today on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we talk to David Stephenson, the president of Stephenson Strategies and a consultant who specializes in data. Recently, Stephenson and Eric Bonabeau wrote a paper for Homeland Security Affairs, the peer-reviewed online journal of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, titled Expecting the Unexpected: The Need for a Networked Terrorism and Disaster Response Strategy. (Read the full paper in HTML here… or download the PDF here. Hear our conversation with Stephenson here.)