Can ISIS Take Down D.C.? by Jeff Stein.
From the post:
If the federal government is good at anything, however, it’s throwing money at threats. Since 2003, taxpayers have contributed $1.3 billion to the feds’ BioWatch program, a network of pathogen detectors deployed in D.C. and 33 other cities (plus at so-called national security events like the Super Bowl), despite persistent questions about its need and reliability. In 2013, Republican Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, called it a “boondoggle.” Jeh Johnson, who took over the reins of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in late 2013, evidently agreed. One of his first acts was to cancel a planned third generation of the program, but the rest of it is still running.
“The BioWatch program was a mistake from the start,” a former top federal emergency medicine official tells Newsweek on condition of anonymity, saying he fears retaliation from the government for speaking out. The well-known problems with the detectors, he says, are both highly technical and practical. “Any sort of thing can blow into its filter papers, and then you are wrapping yourself around an axle,” trying to figure out if it’s real. Of the 149 suspected pathogen samples collected by BioWatch detectors nationwide, he reports, “none were a threat to public health.” A 2003 tularemia alarm in Texas was traced to a dead rabbit.
Michael Sheehan, a former top Pentagon, State Department and New York Police Department counterterrorism official, echoes such assessments. “The technology didn’t work, and I had no confidence that it ever would,” he tells Newsweek. The immense amounts of time and money devoted to it, he adds, could’ve been better spent “protecting dangerous pathogens stored in city hospitals from falling into the wrong hands.” When he sought to explore that angle at the NYPD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “initially would not tell us where they were until I sent two detectives to Atlanta to find out,” he says. “And they did, and we helped the hospitals with their security—and they were happy for the assistance.”
Even if BioWatch performed as touted, Sheehan and others say, a virus would be virtually out of control and sending scores of people to emergency rooms by the time air samples were gathered, analyzed and the horrific results distributed to first responders. BioWatch, Sheehan suggests, is a billion-dollar hammer looking for a nail, since “weaponizing biological agents is incredibly hard to do,” and even ISIS, which theoretically has the scientific assets to pursue such weapons, has shown little sustained interest in them. Plus, extremists of all denominations have demonstrated over the decades that they like things that go boom (or tat-tat-tat, the sound of an assault rifle). So the $1.1 billion spent on BioWatch is way out of proportion to the risk, critics argue. What’s really driving programs like BioWatch, Sheehan says—beside fears of leaving any potential threat uncovered, no matter how small—is the opportunity it gives members of Congress to lard out pork to research universities and contractors back home.
Considering that two people, one rifle, terrorized the D.C. area for 23 days, The Beltway Snipers, Part 1, The Beltway Snipers, Part 2, I would have to say yes, ISIS can take down D.C.
Even if they limit themselves to “…things that go boom (or tat-tat-tat, the sound of an assault rifle).” (You have to wonder about the quality of their “terrorist” training.)
But in order to get funding, you have to discover a scenario that isn’t fully occupied by contractors.
Quite recently I read of an effort to detect the possible onset of terror attacks based on social media traffic. Except there is no evidence that random social media group traffic picks up before a terrorist attack. Yeah, well, there is that but that won’t come up for years.
Here’s a new terror vector. Using Washington, D.C. as an example, how would you weaponize open data found at: District of Columbia Open Data?
Data.gov reports there are forty states (US), forty-eight counties and cities (US), fifty-two international countries (what else would they be?), and one-hundred and sixty-four international regions with open data portals.
That’s a considerable amount of open data. Data that could be combined together to further ends not intended to improve public health and well-being.
Don’t allow the techno-jingoism of posts like: How big data can terrorize global terrorism lull you in to a false sense of security.
Anyone who can think beyond being a not-so-smart bomb or tat-tat-tat can access and use open data with free tools. Are you aware of the danger that poses?