Mission impossible: Zeroing in on every bit of credible defense data

Posted: Monday, May 20, 2002

Each day, hundreds of satellites zipping around the globe collect millions of pieces of data that are relayed to Langley, Va.

Central Intelligence Agency experts there try to parse the information, along with hundreds of reports from CIA operatives, and determine what might pose a threat to national security. Other agencies do the same.

The fact that one bit of information received last August might have been a warning of the Sept. 11 attacks does not necessarily reflect a failure of the system.

America's intelligence gathering capability had been diminished over the past 25 years by politicians who did not think the work they do is important.

Not only is it important, but it is extremely difficult.

Within a cave in the Kashmund Range there may be, right now, a handful of people trying to figure out how to set off a nuclear device in Manhattan's Times Square.

Collecting a scrap of information about that plot might be possible and it might wind up in the mountain of data U.S. officials try to process every day.

But which one of those scraps is credible, feasible and doable?

Without being a homicidal maniac, it is difficult to think like a terrorist. But it seems within the realm of possibility that they could deliberately leak a dozen such plots, wait to see how the United States reacts, and act only on the one that attracts the least response.

Currently, there are news reports that an attack on a nuclear plant, or plants, will occur on the Fourth of July holiday. Is that real? Planted? Already thwarted? A test of our reaction?

Americans must remain on guard, as always, against enemies of freedom and forces of evil.

-- Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

May 17

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