Monday, April 22, 2013

The FBI and accuate indexing

Lurking in the background since the two Boston Marathon terrorists were identified late last week was the news that a "foreign government" had requested in 2010 that the FBI check out Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Suspect #1, who died early Friday morning). Soon we learned that the foreign government interested in Tsarnaev was Russia and so it was very strange that he actually traveled to Russia in 2012 and sent six month there. How did the FBI and all our country's intelligence services fail to make the connection between the subject of the Russian intelligence query and a subsequent long visit to Russia? It turns out that the missed connection may have been caused by a database indexing error. Here's a report in today's Globe:
Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia early last year because of a clerical error: His name was misspelled. “He went over to Russia, but apparently, when he got on the Aeroflot plane, they misspelled his name,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican said on Fox television this morning. “So it never went into the system that he actually went to Russia.”
That might explain why the computer missed him and it would be a reasonable explanation if you were talking about a typo at a typical government office such as the registry of deeds, but you'd like to think that the computers employed by our national security apparatus would factor in the possibility of a typo - Google certainly can handle it but apparently not Homeland Security. Still, this is an area where information is leaked selectively, so the available information is insufficient to base any judgments upon.


John Braithwaite said...

I am assuming that "accuate" was intentionally misspelled.

Dick said...

It wasn't, but you still understood what it meant which is how the FBI's computers should work.