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GAO Slams DHS Over BioWatch Biological Defense System 88

Mansing writes "Citizens need to evaluate if they are indeed safer for all the 'security precautions' put into place. 'The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rushed to acquire a new, multibillion-dollar version of the BioWatch system for detecting biological attacks without establishing whether it was needed or would work, according to a new report by a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. ... The existing system's repeated false alarms have triggered tense, high-stakes deliberations over whether to order mass evacuations, distribute emergency medicines or shut down major venues.' Is this just more money funneled to U.S. companies, or is this really keeping the U.S. safer? Are the same types of 'security precautions' being instituted in Spain and the UK? Or is this preying on fear a uniquely U.S. phenomenon?"
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GAO Slams DHS Over BioWatch Biological Defense System

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  • by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @08:58AM (#41311485) Homepage
    I'm really looking forward to the day when America stops treating terrorists like terrorists and just treats them as common criminals. Then maybe this whole terrorist boogie man boondoggle can go away finally. It'd sure kill the romance of a terrorist as being something more then a common thug or crook.
    • Don't hold your breath.

    • Unfortunately, that will never happen. The reason for this is that our anti-terrorist watchdog gets more money and more power whenever it can convince the public at large that there is a terrorist around every corner willing to hurt or kill us. The DHS doesn't even have to ask for it - the public throws money at them and willingly sacrifices freedoms, all while screaming out "please keep us safe!"
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:35AM (#41311791)

      You poor deluded chump.

      The whole "terrorist" bit is being used by the US government to control the US population.

      Read this quote several times until the truth finally sinks into your tiny little brain :

      "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." - Hermann Goering


    • I'm really looking forward to the day when America stops treating terrorists like terrorists...

      You are joking, right? Don't tell me you are one of those Americans who still believes FoxFiction to be an authentic news station (after they won their two legal cases, allowing them to forever fictionalize their "news")? Or that Americans aren't all hopeless, given that hardly a one of them understands who owns JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, ExxonMobil, BP, GE, AT&T, et al.?

      Please tell me you aren't one

  • by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @08:59AM (#41311499) Journal
    I want to provide DHS with multibillion dollar systems too.
    • Pork, it's what's for dinner.

      I think it works like this. You develop some technology and then you find a way to market it to the government and then you hire a lobbyist and send him to Washington with a checkbook. Once it becomes clear that a percentage of the profits will find their way back into certain pockets your victory is assured. Once you do this once, it's probably a lot easier to do it again.

      If you have some technology useful to the military or paramilitary lying around...

  • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:02AM (#41311523)
    Typical of the DHS. A bureau of people who don't know what they are doing, and doing it loudly and expensively. DHs is constantly fighting with DoD and NSA for control of the cybersecurity initiatives, from the only people in gov't who know anything about or have experience in that area. And when they didn't get what they wanted, they decided to make redundant and less efficient/useful groups than the DoD.

    DHS is analogous to a two year old. "I don't wanna share! Mommy but I want a new toy! My daddy can beat up your daddy!" And the rest of gov't has to put up with it.
  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:03AM (#41311527)

    DHS exists because It's a great way to dump US tax dollars into privatized money machines. It's hear to stay, voting or not.

    • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:32AM (#41311765)

      DHS exists because It's a great way to dump US tax dollars into privatized money machines. It's hear to stay, voting or not.

      That doesn't sound like the thinking of a good citizen. We may have to look into your background, finances, social network activity, phone records, etc. Wrong thinking is punishable, you know. Besides, it's unpatriotic to question the Department of Fatherland..., erm, Homeland Security.

  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:15AM (#41311617)
    I'm the first one to say the gov is wasting money, especially the military or the DHS but if your system is constantly going off and causing that much of a nightmare and it's that far beyond totally not working, they have to do something and immediately. If there was a better alternative immediately available, they would have chosen it. If you want some heads to roll, find out who bought and tested the first system.
  • Damage is already done, now decision makers will have bias toward expecting false positives and would not trust any system like this.

    As to keeping people safe, I don't see how you could contain release of weaponized virulent infection even if you detect it early on. Fortunately, at least for now, such weapon is extremely rare and not something you could cook up in a third-world Jihadist lab.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      As to keeping people safe, I don't see how you could contain release of weaponized virulent infection even if you detect it early on.

      Its VERY widely believed among the conspiracy theorist types that the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee a couple years (decades?) ago that contaminated drinking water and killed quite a few people by dehydration was a terrorist act, but the attack was suppressed because of military intelligence reasons, showing how incredibly vulnerable the US is in general to a bioattack. If it happened again, with a decent monitoring tool, we could save a lot of lives by issuing a water boil order quickly without hav

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:24AM (#41311709) Journal

    That's all the TSA is. Since the implementation of gate rape, more people have been driving instead of flying. Since driving is more dangerous than flying, this has lead to an increase in deaths on the road. Specifially, 1,200 deaths per year [] can be attributed to the TSA, and that was the estimate in 2005. I can only imagine it's gotten worse since then.

    What this means, if you add up the numbers is that Janet Napolitano is responsible for more American deaths than Osama Bin Laden ever was. We are literally ruled by terrorists.

    • "Security Theater", good way to put it. And I love how the people in charge of this fiasco continue regardless of the citizen outcry as though they really know what they are doing and we're all just clueless idiots.
    • No, according to the cited article, 1,200 deaths per year (initially, then declining year to year) occurred because of more people driving rather than flying "attributable to the effect of 9/11."

      "Two primary reasons explain the 9/11 effect on road fatalities. First, the 9/11 effect may capture the fear of flying. ... Second, the 9/11 effect may be attributable to the inconvenience of flying post-9/11" [page 9 of the paper]. The authors were unable to measure these two factors independently. I think it w

      • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:13AM (#41312735)

        I think it would be reasonable to say that for most people, the choice to drive rather than fly was due primarily to a fear of terrorism (for which security theater might arguably be a solution).

        I disagree. There's nothing reasonable about having an opinion without any evidence to support that opinion. We need to keep in mind, for example, that people who are scared of flying due to terrorists, would probably have found some other reason to be scared of flying, if terrorists weren't available.

        And we also need to keep in mind that there really is a significant penalty to security theater. Not just the discomfort and uncertainty of the actual search, but also the fact that one has to show up an hour earlier in order to take a flight. Adding an hour to travel time changes the economics of air flight significantly. A lot of flights are rather short.

    • by strength_of_10_men ( 967050 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:18AM (#41312791)

      Specifially, 1,200 deaths per year can be attributed to the TSA

      Sorry, but that's just sensationalism and spin, and it misstates what the paper concludes.

      The paper you cite says that the 1,200 lives that were lost between 9/11/01 and 2003 "can be attributed solely to the reaction to 9/11," of which the TSA is only a part of, such as fear of flying, fear of terrorism, unemployment, airline ticket prices, and such.

      I loathe the TSA as much as the next /.er but misrepresenting facts just weakens your arguments.

  • Sneaky... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:28AM (#41311737)

    Is this just more money funneled to U.S. companies

    This is a trick question, right? :)

  • by camg188 ( 932324 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:31AM (#41311759)

    Or is this preying on fear a uniquely U.S. phenomenon?"

    I think this is a case of a government department trying to grow.
    A business leader will try to grow their business by increasing profits through more sales or greater efficiency. That's the nature of business.
    A government department will try to grow by increasing their budget or sphere of influence, which usually means regulations. That's just the nature of government.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:39AM (#41311823)

    Biowatch is a fascinating scientific tool that should be funded, should be deployed, should be scientifically incredibly valuable, and could do enormous good for all mankind.

    The disaster is using it as a FUD weapon to scare people into paying more taxes, giving up civil rights, creating a culture of fear, terrorizing our own people for fun and profit.

    The disaster is much like what would happen is the Hubble were launched and instead of being used for cool science research, was used to keep the population terrified of an invasion from Mars. "We must watch mars intently, awaiting the day of invasion and the resulting destruction, (btw please send us money)"

    Another analogy... like using a calculus textbook as a club to beat people to death... is that really the "best" use you have for it?

    Its really quite sickening to see what could have been a cool scientific instrument being used as a brutal weapon of terror against our own innocent civilian population.

  • by fotoguzzi ( 230256 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @09:52AM (#41311915)
    This reminds me of the early days when nuclear strike warnings were really caused by signals bouncing off the moon. I think there were other false positives in those days, too.

    Now, perhaps 1) things have improved and life is safer, or 2) there are just as many false positives as in the 1950s, or 3) they have just turned the system off and will wait for positive reports before deciding what to do. In fifty years, the above may be applicable to bio-terror monitoring.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How can bioterrorism threats be taken seriously when we are our own worst enemy? Munincipal waste systems are prime targets - this is the soft underbelly of america.

    Imagine the scenario -
    1) Flush biologically active agent that thrives in sewage treatment plant (i believe this can be engineered)
    2) dewater, concentrate and truck to farm field - fling in rural area (area of few hospitals and less than average intelligence community)
    3) innoculate residents
    4) residents travel to urban areas, spreading disease


  • by ravenlord_hun ( 2715033 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:02AM (#41311995)
    When I was travelling to a conference in the States, I couldn't help but notice how... pervasive paranoia was. I was travelling with a Metra train to Chicago downtown, and there were stickers everywhere how you should report strange behaviour, announecements over speakers to "say if you see", help the dogs who are sniffing for explosives, and so on.

    There is basically nothing like that in Europe. I wonder if it's just a different in mindset, or are the companies/government pushing that hard to make people feel afraid?
    • by n0tWorthy ( 796556 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:50AM (#41312445)

      Yeah, I lived in England during the IRA bombings and they never reacted as scared as this. 9/11 is when America went from "Home of the Brave" to "Home of the afraid". It was used as a government power grab of our individual rights and freedoms in the name of security. It was the beginning of the "Forever War".

      • I was in an office just along from the Lloyd's building when it was attacked. I was more annoyed at the inconvenience this caused (street closed so I had to take a different route to the Tube) than afraid.

      • by manaway ( 53637 )

        It was the beginning of the "Forever War".

        Just to add to your excellent post, the "Forever War" is more a continuation than the beginning. Before the "War on Terrorism" there was the "Cold War." Before that, the "Red Scare." And so on. Each an excuse to build up the military and grab political power by frightening the public with exaggerations. Quite effective, really. What would it be like, to make up an enemy that is whatever you say it is?

        • Heh, the odd feeling when even the government subscribes to the motto "don't fix what ain't broken". Quite the comfortable position for them because it allows more control, and if they made more sensible policies, the inevitable mishap would be blamed on those lax(er) rules.
          • by manaway ( 53637 )

            Odd indeed. Or maybe not so odd... It's pretty easy to believe your own lie, especially if you tell it frequently. To believe your policies are the reason the world is mostly safe. Then like you say, "mishaps" occur because dissenters stopped you from implementing your full policies. Never suspecting that your policies are more the cause of than fix for mishaps. Well, almost never. Alan Greenspan finally saw one of his wrong presumptions, and some hawkish general (that I can't recall the name of, maybe Shou

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          Not sure how you can claim it to be a continuation when the the years between the cold war and 9/11 (approximately twelve years) showed steady decline in per capita defense spending.


          • by manaway ( 53637 )

            Not a straight line continuation, as you noticed, but there are a lot of forces at work here.

            We're talking about people and mass influence. It takes a while to shift from being afraid of the "Red Scare" to fearing a "Cold War," to worrying about the "War on Terror." You have to allow time for memories to fade, if you try to shift enemies too quickly the people might see through the lies. Also, slip in there a "War on Drugs" whose funds don't all show in military spending. There isn't a one to one correlatio

    • As an American -- I think it's partly a mindset thing, but mostly a government imposed fear thing. Conformity through fear. Makes the catt--err, people a lot easier to manage.

      Of course, I also had to chuckle a bit while reading your post...because that's basically what I thought when I traveled to London a couple years back. Maybe not _paranoia_, but the surveillance was extremely unnerving for me. Always a couple cops in sight, coupled with clusters of security cameras on every street corner, and blanketin

      • That's quite interesting, thanks! I haven't been to London in 16 years. Didn't used to be so monitored back then. That said, when I went to Tianjin (China) this year, there were also policemen everywhere. I didn't quite mind - I mind my own business, they mind theirs - but the constant CCTV surveillance would make me uneasy. Kind of hoping that one remains another odd UK-only thing.
        • Have you not seen the pictures? I think part of it may have been psychological -- I was aware of this long before going, so of course I noticed the cameras...and I admit that at times I was actively looking for them. But yea, if you're curious, just Google 'London CCTV'

          The police were usually pretty friendly, moreso than US cops, but in my mind they were just one more piece of the surveillance..I also believe there were a number of 'report suspicious activity' signs around there as well, though I could be m

          • I've heard they got EVERYTHING surveillance'd with the Olympics being there and whatnot, but I was never really sure how much of it is media hype and how much is really true. Never really believed they could truly monitor everything, maybe I'm being naive.
            • Hah, I didn't even think about that -- my trip there was long before the Olympics. Of course, being a tourist and being there with my rather wealthy (now ex-)girlfriend we _were_ in areas you would probably expect to have a heavier police presence. Lots of very obnoxious people selling very expensive trash to people with far too much money to burn. Gotta protect the wealth!

  • This is from the DHS website: Link []

    I'm all for jumping down the government's throat for wasteful spending, but let's keep things in perspective. I also didn't see a link to the GAO report in the sensational article at the top . Here's a link to a GAO report: GAO Report [] I'm not sure if if is the one being described in the article, but this one came out in January.
    • Sorry, missed this part of the article - "The Times obtained a draft of the report, which has yet to be publicly released."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The problem is, if a positive result can mean closing highways, evacuating people and alerting every emergency service to start whatever plan they have drafted up, even a single false result is unacceptable. The same way you wouldn't want NORAD to randomly order nukes launched at someone just because there was a one-in-a-million glitch...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:50AM (#41312457)

    What you folks aren't realizing is that even though he is dead, bin Laden is still winning this war.

    His stated aim was never to be able to beat down the United States in a military or conventional war. Even he knew there was no force outside the United States that could do that. The only way to destroy the United States was to create a set of conditions where it would destroy itself and the best way to do that would be to create havoc in its economy. What's happened since the 9/11 attacks and a few other minor events? The US has taken part in a ongoing military action in several countries in the middle east that have cost it hundreds of billions. It's instituted internal measures to counter "terrorism" on its home soil that have cost more hundreds of billions. In an attempt to make everything seem all right, it fostered a false economic boom that finally crashed and put the country on shaky ground economically. Citizens are now encouraged to report each other if they seem to be acting in a suspicious or covert manner. (Could be they are planning to blow something up. Could be they are planning a surprise birthday party. It doesn't matter, it's all suspicious.) And, because the government doesn't learn from its mistakes, this process just keeps on growing. The US is facing yet another credit cap crisis that either hits the wall and reduces the government and the services it provides drastically or gets elevated again creating an even more likely worse event sometime in the future.

    bin Laden is winning and you don't even know it. The measures to counter terrorism have already been mentioned earlier in this thread. Quit considering terrorists as some special class of criminal. Their actions are no different than any other kind of criminal and can be prosecuted under normal criminal law, murder of various degrees, illegal weapons use or movement, false accounting practices to fund their operations. All these things are just normal criminal activities if you remove the stigma of the label terrorist.

    The most damning thing about the situation right now is the dichotomy between FEMA and the FBI. FEMA promotes emergency preparedness, stockpiling food, water, other supplies, cash (in case the electronic transaction system fails) while at the same time these actions are labeled by the FBI as indicators that someone is a potential terrorist.

    You all best get ready to see the United States break apart into a smaller set of unions or independent countries. The larger entity is just about at the end of its rope. Of course, if you look back you might find that the founding fathers never really considered the United States as being a single country from sea to sea. There were plans to foster an independent sister (or brother, for the patriarchal minded among us) state on the west coast. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea; having someone about who could cuff your ears every once in a while when you start acting stupid.

    • bin Laden is winning and you don't even know it. .

      Actually a LOT of people know but they don't know how to fix it as the gov just doesn't listen to its citizens. The governments know that if the people are in debt not enough will take days off work a chance to protest as they can't afford to. Now you have a new generation of people who can't think about organizing a movement outside of social media.

  • Auto-imune disease (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:28AM (#41312903)

    I suspect that what we are seeing here is analogous to what happens when children are raised in a "too clean" environment. The body's immune system needs to be kept occupied with low-level threats which happens when kids play outside in a real environment filled with various germs. When over protective parents keep children away from the outside world in a cleaner / protected environment, there is a much increased risk that their immune systems, evolved to attack something, will begin to attack the children's own bodies. Diseases such as asthma, where the immune system over reacts to non-threats are the result.

    Similarly Homeland Security seems to be doing more damage the the American people than the threats it was ( allegedly ) created to defend against.

    • A good analogy, but I think the issue is more complex than just being used to safety (being "too clean"). The crux is that after decades of scientific and medical advances, there are massive sociological changes. I mean, consider: not so long ago, the families used to keep the dead in the house for a few days, holding vigil. Well, at least, where I live. Death wasn't such an exceptional happening, it was a way more common occourence. Nowdays the average lifespan is way longer, so death has become rare. Peop
  • by toriver ( 11308 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @12:54PM (#41313719)

    Buying hugely expensive gear without any reseach into actual need or competition for the contract: $billions
    Costs to businesses and the public purse because of false alarms: $millions
    Constructing post-facto justifications for the purchase and deployment: priceless.

    There are some things tax money can buy. For everything else, there is "the terrorist card".

  • Moving an animal infectious disease lab from a remote coastal island to the campus of a midwestern university in the heart of beef country (and within sight of the sports stadia) is craven pork-barrel politics and its most insane.

    Via Wikipedia []:

    "On September 11, 2005, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced that the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center will be replaced by a new federal facility. The location of the n

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly