Schneier on Security
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January 21, 2005
"Inch of Snow" Paralyzes Air Marshals
From the Washington Times:
Hundreds of federal air marshals were grounded and unable to access critical information to pinpoint potential terrorist activity for eight hours on the eve of President Bush's inauguration after snow paralyzed the Mission Operations Center in Washington, said several air marshals and a supervisor.
Posted on January 21, 2005 at 12:52 PM
• 12 Comments
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In other news...
Snow machines now banned as "terrorist weapons".
"Terrorists could use snow machines to paralyse our infrastructure" said an unnamed government source.
It would have been worse if the air marshals were "accidentally" put on a terrorist watch list... again.
Either way surely stock in the local cofee-donut shops went up for those 8 hours in the cold.
Brings to mind the infamous British Rail incident when they claimed "Train services this morning are being heavily delayed because engines are being affected by the wrong type of snow."
Assuming the report is essentially correct, this is shocking!
Reminds me of the equally ludicrous movie "Icebreaker": terrorists have a massive bomb they are moving in a small plane which is downed in a snow storm near Killington, VT. When the feds get on to the terrorists and they realize they can't get the bomb out, they decide to blow up the Killington Ski Resort :)
Other than the snow, what's the connection?. The latter is a ridiculous and impossible plot from a C movie, the former should be ridiculous and impossible but apparently is only ridiculous!
Yup...stranger than fiction. I went back to review all the 2002 complaints in the news about the Air Marshal program and ran into a bold statement by Representative John Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee:
"We've got some screwed-up programs, and that's not one of them. The air marshals is probably the best program we've got going."
He certainly did not have the same kind words for the TSA, the former parent of the Marshal program, which he described as a "Soviet-style...centralized bureaucracy."
So it appears that the Marshals were moved away from the TSA in 2003, only to be put under ICE (the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and now, of all things, they are grounded by snow. Ironic, no? Especially in the wake of ComAir's recent debacle caused by poor software design and rapid airline scheduling:
Not an auspicious story for "the best program we've got going".
Along similarly stupid lines as "disable GPS in the event of a terrorism attack", maybe the govt should make plans to disable snow-plows in the event of a snow-storm.
After all, what is terrorists were using them to go about their evil business?
what gets me about this is that the real problem wasn't that the air marshals got grounded, it was that the MOC closed down because nobody came in.
Hello, anyone heard of VPN? or VoIP? Heck, not even VoIP, just set up individual phones in the MOC to forward to an employees house and give them VPN access to their data?
It isn't that difficult or expensive to set these up... even the smaller private sector firms in the US are offering at least partial access to corporate resources to employees at home (even if it's just email).
How is it that one of the most powerful nations on the planet can't do this, thereby wasting tax dollars and potentially endangering the taxpayers?
The problem that day was not the snow, it was snow plus 100-square blocks of DC streets which were closed starting Wed for the inauguration. My normal ride home in the evening takes 30 minutes. That day it took 3.5 hours. Some folks were trapped in DC or on the road home from DC for as much as 7 hours.
Even if the command center employees were trying to get to or from work, they couldn't get anywhere.
This totally proves that movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" are so far fetched. I mean c'mon ... all the President's men would have said "The terrorists have landed! Turn off the GPS Sattelites!" and then Dennis Quaid would have never found his kid stuck in the snow!
I don't see how the DC gridlock has any signifigance to this shutdown. We all knew it was going to be miserable ahead of time AND why isn't a function so apparently critical run on a shift basis? Okay, people couldn't get in, that's unfortunate. Why wasn't there a preceeding shift being held over until their replacements arrived?
Snow, gridlock, short-staffing...whatever the cause, we are talking about the people who are supposed to be leading America in contingency planning and continuity. If we were discussing a 40-foot wall of water or some other freak incident, that would be one thing, but we are talking about conditions that you should totally expect for DC around inaguration time.
Weren't the Enron contacts, including those in the Bush Administration, eternally optomistic about how everything was going in spite of loud warning signals or indicators of impending risk? I wonder, are they now advising or do they even sit in charge of the Marshals?
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