Broken Sparkplug Wire

Common sense tells a person that when their car is running rough they need to figure out the cause of the problem. Is it dirty fuel, poor ignition, bad sparkplugs, a partially plugged fuel line filter, water in your gas or any one of a dozen other causes?

You can’t fix it until you know the source of the problem. That is pretty basic thinking and problem solving as this old country boy sees it.

Now let us extend this commonsense rationale into the world of politics and federal law enforcement. (You may have to use your imagination on this, as commonsense and Congress are not two words you often find used in the same sentence.)

With the current terrorist activity in the world, you would think the U.S. Government would be burning the midnight oil to solve the problem.

For example, careful reading of THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT explains in detail the information that slipped through the cracks and prevented law enforcement from taking preventative actions. In fact, Chapter 8 is entitled THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED. The truth is that the government had the information to prevent the 9/11 attack. However, that critical information was not shared with the appropriate authorities.

In the recent attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight, according to numerous press reports as well as confirmation from U.S. Government sources, Abdul Arouk Abdulmutallab’s name was on a watch list for the last two years as a person who was either involved in terrorism or had suspected ties to terrorist organizations, yet he was permitted to board a flight with a one-way ticket to Detroit.

And to add insult to injury he was not on any “no fly” list, his own father had reported to authorities that he was extremely concerned about his son’s activities and his visa contained information that should have set off alarms.

Once again, we hear the CIA and other U.S. Government information-gathering agencies knew about this bad actor in November, some sources even claim the feds knew in August. But did they tell anyone? Was the information shared or correlated against info held by other agencies?


Do you see a distinct pattern emerging here?

* Government has incriminating information.
* Government keeps information pigeon-holed. (Or in industrial terms, stove-piped)
* Government searches for weapons and not terrorists. In this case, they miss both.
* Civilian, private citizen thwarts attack.
* President says he is “watching” from the golf course in Hawaii.
* Once again government reacts rather than being pro-active and looks like a deer standing in the headlights of an on-coming semi-truck.

It is a very simple, easy to understand three-step process wherein the government collects information, then sits on it and does not share with appropriate agencies and a disaster occurs.

Since we are just discussing recent terrorist events here I will not go into the many, many cases in which Federal Law Enforcement has botched, failed to prosecute and left cases open for years due to inter-agency and intra-agency jealousy over sharing information.

The solution is so obvious and simple, yet it escapes the great minds of the lawmakers in Washington, DC.

Back to my opening analogy: after having a mechanic friend look under the hood we have found the reason the car is running rough, a broken sparkplug wire.

How do we repair it? Build a new car with many more cylinders so if one of the spark plugs develops a broken wire, we just won’t notice the decrease in performance because all the other wires are taking up the slack?

No. That is a dumb, stupid, wasteful and extremely expensive course of action. Instead, any reasonable person with a modicum of commonsense would purchase a new plug wire for five bucks at the auto parts store, replace the broken one and the car runs like new. Simple, efficient and it solves the problem.

But how did the government react to 9/11? Did they use their many and vast resources to define a policy and method for information sharing so terrorists planning attacks on our civilian population would no longer fall through the cracks?

Not a chance! They decided not to change the broken plug wire but design, from the ground up, a brand new vehicle! And it employs thousands of people and will cost billions of dollars as far into the future as we can see.

Congress created a massive, and in my humble opinion, huge waste of time, people and money – Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – by shifting the deckchairs within Federal Law Enforcement.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was cut in two, the revenue producing piece (collection of alcohol and tobacco fees) stayed with the Department of the Treasury while the remaining agents were shipped over to the Department of Justice (DOJ). U.S. Customs was combined with the U.S. Border Patrol and became a new division of DHS named Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The U.S. Coast Guard was moved from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) taken from Treasury and when the dust settled, DHS now has an organizational chart of 29 (twenty-nine), count them, 29 divisions with a 2010 budget request of $55.1 Billion dollars.

And for those of you who are wondering, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), two of the Nation’s most loved agencies, eat up a combined total of 31% of the DHS budget.

DHS is akin to malpractice in the medical profession – just keeping treating the symptoms but ignore the root cause of the disease. Reaction, rather than being pro-active, seems to be the order of the day. DHS is a sham, created as a political expediency by the Bush folks (The President did resist the idea but eventually was forced to give in.) because they had to do "something.”

The terrorist problem is still here. The car still has a rough running engine.

Information sharing. Please say it with me slowly: INFORMATION SHARING.

The information was there, no one wanted to share it.

I am not blaming the people that work in the field for the above-mentioned agencies. In fact, if it weren’t for the sincere and dedicated field people most of the agencies would collapse from their own weight and lack of leadership and accountability. Leadership and accountability are missing from huge sectors of the U.S. Government.

If someone would have been thinking only of the country, rather than personal political agendas, they would have gone to the auto parts store and purchased a new sparkplug wire rather than the bloated albatross we ended up with.

Instead of shifting the deckchairs to create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would the country have not been better served by a small, manageable group of people (no more than twenty, including secretarial help) representing the various intelligence gathering services, being put together as a clearing house and correlation point for ALL the intelligence data gathered?

I realize this is a big request, particularly for the FBI and some of the other agencies, to put their universe-sized egos aside and become cooperative players in protecting the country and not just their turf. But protecting the country is what we are paying them to do.

We can never hire enough TSA people or buy enough metal detectors and x-ray machines to make our airports totally safe. Much like the flawed theory behind gun control, it’s not the hardware that is the problem. It is the crazy people that misuse guns. That way of thinking is a lost cause in controlling gun crime and/or terrorists.

Stop terrorists and we will stop their tools of destruction.

Policy or the lack thereof, is a contributing factor to the information break down. Policy as set by the various departments and policy as set by the President will and does undermine all the best systems.

For example, for the most part, President Obama does not believe we are in a war with terrorists. He feels so strongly about it that we are not even supposed to refer to these people hell bent on destroying our country as terrorists. His Secretary of Homeland Security declares they are “man-made disasters,” not terrorist activities.

The President has moved some of the most dangerous of the “war criminals” out of Guantanamo to New York for trial. He has allowed them to lawyer up like common murder defendants and extended to them the same protections given American citizens.

How many millions will this cost the U.S. taxpayer?

I seriously doubt if justice will be served. At least not the kind of justice that helped build this country.

In a perfect world even if we do collect all the intelligence, correlate all the materiel and make all the matches needed to identify a terrorist as a terrorist, the President’s belief we are not at war with these extremists renders that entire work invalid.

Policy set by Department Heads and Directors has absolute control over the destiny of any and all intelligence. If the FBI Director does not share, or has been instructed by the White House not to share, certain information with the CIA, that information will not be shared. Period.

The same applies at all the agencies. People that are not elected to their positions and too often are not accountable to anyone make those decisions.

It is critical that our elected “leadership” in Washington quit the business-as-usual political blame game, take off their collective rose-colored glasses and start living in the “real world” with the rest of us.

As a nation we have the resources, the tools and patriotic Americans to build an excellent intelligence system that works.

As a country we would have been far better served if a portion of the millions spent on DHS had gone to purchase new and innovative data mining software and the hardware to run it that can correlate thousands of sources of information in seconds. (The private sector has been doing this for years in research and development projects.)

Far better results would have been achieved if the money spent to hire hundreds of additional TSA inspectors had been used to rebuild and improve our network of human intelligence gathering. Our once strong intelligence network has been neutered, weakened and is being taken apart piece-by-piece starting with the Clinton Administration.

Technology has its limits. After all, a satellite can show us a terrorist’s cave but it takes a real live human to tell us what is going on inside that cave. Granted, gathering human intelligence is tough, dirty, dangerous, sometimes messy work and things have to be done that don’t make good conversation at the local social club, but it is necessary work to help protect the safety of the country.


Shared information could have prevented 9/11, stopped the terrorist fire on the Northwest Airline flight and can prevent the future loss of innocent human lives.

Shared information/intelligence will continue to be the Achilles heel of our security efforts until someone is willing to step up and force the agencies and Congress to be accountable and do the jobs they are being paid to accomplish.

My fear is getting re-elected will remain the primary objective on Capitol Hill so I don't look for any backbone to be displayed.

Congress will continue to design vastly expensive, inefficient and unneeded monstrosities rather than buy a sparkplug wire, which would solve the problem. It will remain business as usual.... stay politically correct and throw money. And, oh yes, smile pretty for the TV cameras.

However, if the mood (especially amongst people who work for a living and pay taxes) that appears to be brewing in this country continues to grow, following the 2010 Congressional elections, we could see a swing back toward responsible leadership.
That hope for the future is what makes many of us get up everyday and rejoin the fight. Our ancestors carved out a new nation in response to leadership that would not listen to anyone but himself or herself. Perhaps the time has come to see that happen again.






References used in this article: Budget-in-Brief FY 2010 Official publication of DHS Organizational Charts, Official Organizational Chart of DHS Budget Justification FY 2010Congressional Budget Justification FY2010