The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Can the NSA prevent another 9/11? Well, it failed to prevent the first one

CNN national-security analyst Peter Bergen argues that the NSA, CIA, and FBI had all the information they needed to prevent 9/11, but the Bush Administration failed to follow through. Providing more tools to the NSA would do nothing except give them more power:

The government missed multiple opportunities to catch al Qaeda hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar when he was living in San Diego for a year and a half in the run up to 9/11, not because it lacked access to all Americans phone records but because it didn't share the information it already possessed about the soon-to-be hijacker within other branches of the government.

The CIA also did not alert the FBI about the identities of the suspected terrorists so that the bureau could look for them once they were inside the United States.

These multiple missed opportunities challenge the administration's claims that the NSA's bulk phone data surveillance program could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. The key problem was one of information sharing, not the lack of information.

Since we can't run history backward, all we can say with certainty is that it is an indisputable fact that the proper sharing of intelligence by the CIA with other agencies about al-Mihdhar may well have derailed the 9/11 plot. And it is merely an untestable hypothesis that if the NSA bulk phone collection program had been in place at the time that it might have helped to find the soon-to-be-hijackers in San Diego.

Indeed, the overall problem for U.S. counterterrorism officials is not that they don't gather enough information from the bulk surveillance of American phone data but that they don't sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that is derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques.

The blanket Hoovering up of data by the NSA threatens everyone's liberties. But that cost isn't worth the results by any measure, since the NSA isn't actually making us safer. Their arguments to fear don't change the existing evidence.

How the NSA is making us less safe

Bruce Schneier makes the case:

We have no evidence that any of this surveillance makes us safer. NSA Director General Keith Alexander responded to these stories in June by claiming that he disrupted 54 terrorist plots. In October, he revised that number downward to 13, and then to "one or two." At this point, the only "plot" prevented was that of a San Diego man sending $8,500 to support a Somali militant group. We have been repeatedly told that these surveillance programs would have been able to stop 9/11, yet the NSA didn't detect the Boston bombings -- even though one of the two terrorists was on the watch list and the other had a sloppy social media trail. Bulk collection of data and metadata is an ineffective counterterrorism tool.

Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. I don't mean just the budgets, which will continue to skyrocket. Or the diplomatic costs, as country after country learns of our surveillance programs against their citizens. I'm also talking about the cost to our society. It breaks so much of what our society has built. It breaks our political systems, as Congress is unable to provide any meaningful oversight and citizens are kept in the dark about what government does. It breaks our legal systems, as laws are ignored or reinterpreted, and people are unable to challenge government actions in court. It breaks our commercial systems, as US computer products and services are no longer trusted worldwide. It breaks our technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. And it breaks our social systems; the loss of privacy, freedom, and liberty is much more damaging to our society than the occasional act of random violence.

It's all stuff he's said before, but it needs saying again.

Social experimentation in North Carolina

Krugman outlines how the state of North Carolina cutting unemployment benefits has completely failed to encourage people back into the workforce:

The idea behind cutting benefits is that we are “paying people to be unemployed”, and that tough love will force them to go out and create jobs. It’s never explained exactly how greater desperation on the part of the unemployed will, in fact, lead to higher overall employment. Still, you could imagine that an individual state might gain some competitive advantage against other states by cutting wages. What you actually see in North Carolina, however, is nothing....

The unemployment rate did fall — but this was due to a large drop in the labor force, as the number of people looking for work fell. Why? Well, a likely explanation is that some of the unemployed continued to search for work, and were therefore counted in the labor force, despite low prospects of finding a job in a depressed economy, because such search is a requirement for those collecting benefits. Take away the benefits, and they drop out.

[I]f there were anything to the theory that cutting unemployment benefits encourages job search and somehow translates into higher employment even in a slump, harsh policies should work better at the state than at the national level. But there is no sign at all that North Carolina’s harshness has done anything except make the lives of the unemployed even more miserable.

I've asked some friends in Raleigh and Charlotte for comment.

Paging Andy Borowitz

The Washington Post is reporting that the Obama Administration has dumped CGI Federal and hired...oh sweet baby dills, Accenture:

Federal health officials are preparing to sign a 12-month contract worth roughly $90 million, probably early next week, with a different company, Accenture, after concluding that CGI has not been effective enough in fixing the intricate computer system underpinning the federal Web site,, the individual said.

Accenture, which is one of the world’s largest consulting firms, has extensive experience with computer systems on the state level, and it built California’s new health insurance exchange. But it has not done substantial work on any federal health-care program.

This contract is worth billions to Accenture, who deserves it about as much as Bashar Assad deserves a Nobel peace prize.

Let me tell you a story about Accenture. A few years ago I worked for one of its subsidiaries. I was on a project I really enjoyed, traveling 100% outside of Chicago. Then I got a new job and gave 30 days' notice so that we would have sufficient time to staff someone else in my role and transfer what I knew to him.

That was Friday. On Monday, when I showed up at the job site, I couldn't log into my accounts on the client's systems. So I went to the client and said, "Hey, I'm having trouble logging in."

He said, "What the f@&! are you doing here?"

It turned out, the Accenture partner on the project had told this guy that I just up and quit, walked off the project, and didn't give any notice. Unfortunately, the Accenture partner did not communicate this fable to me, or to my boss at the subsidiary, so I flew to the project location Sunday night as planned.

I neither know nor care what the client said to the Accenture partner who lied to him and tried to destroy my reputation, but the client assured me it would not be a happy or polite conversation. I never met the Accenture partner personally, which is good, because I might have said something rude as well.

This wasn't the first or last time that Accenture did something Machiavellian at my expense, but it was one of the few that had so many impartial witnesses that I can relay it without fear of contradiction.

So: these are the folks that my President's government has decided to hire.

I'm also chuckling that the contract will begin on March First. Google that phrase and you'll see why it's funny to us in the industry.

Five days of one hella winter

Just 120 hours ago, a polar vortex wandered into the center of North America and froze us solid. Less than an hour ago, at 8:39am CST, the official temperature at O'Hare hit 0°C27°C warmer than 9am Monday morning. It's also the first time the temperature has gotten up to freezing since December 29th.

I've lived in Chicago for a long time, so I can say this graph is extraordinary (data from my demo at Weather Now:

Of course, with 250 mm of heavy, wet snow on the ground, rain in the forecast, and temperatures rising to 4°C today, we have new problems:

Patchy drizzle is to fall from the saturated atmosphere into a sub-freezing air mass Friday morning and early afternoon. This could produce slippery spots. But, the main event—a round of rain, likely to be heavy at times—arrives later Friday and continues into Friday night.

With the ground snow-covered and the soil below it frozen, the prospect of rain falling on a 250 mm snowpack at the same time temps surge above freezing is ominous. Moisture has nowhere to go in such a situation but to sit in pools or exit the area as run-off, a development which could produce some flooding.

But we're still glad to be shot of those incredibly cold temperatures. We've had 12 days below -18°C this year, a feat achieved in only three other winters since we started keeping score in 1871. Which brings up an interesting graph from Minnesota:

So even this year's bitter cold temperatures in the Midwest fit into a trend showing gradual moderating of Minneapolis weather. I would wager we could produce a similar chart for Chicago. Our -27°C reading Tuesday morning, after all, was still warmer than the record -33°C temperature I experienced (briefly) on 20 January 1985.

Wow did it seem warm this morning. I hope this week was the last of our super-frigid temperatures. Now we've just got to get through a few more months of snow.

Chicago sunrises, 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at .)

Sunrises are just starting to get earlier, but today's (7:18 CST) is only a few seconds earlier than the latest sunrise of the year on January 3rd. Even though the sunrise times creep earlier by seconds every day, sunsets start to get noticeably later: 16:39 today, 7 minutes later in a week, 25 minutes later in three weeks. January is cold and dark, but (on average) a few degrees warmer and 48 minutes longer when it ends than when it begins.

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
3 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct 29th 07:19 16:33 9:13
27 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:51
4 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:10 10:10
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:10
8 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr 13th
Earliest sunset until Oct 29th
06:15 17:50 11:35
9 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct 24th
Earliest sunset until Sep 21st
07:13 18:51 11:38
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 11:57 CDT 06:54 19:03 12:09
3 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:30 19:19 12:48
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:39 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:06 14:36
14 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:12
20 Jun Solstice 18:09 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12
2 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:10
16 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:54
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 19:59 14:06
16 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:50 13:50
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
14 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:02 12:32
15 Sep 7pm sunset 06:31 19:00 12:22
22 Sep Equinox , 21:29 CDT 06:38 18:48 12:10
25 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:43 12:01
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:29 11:39
12 Oct 7am sunrise 07:00 18:14 11:14
21 Oct 6pm sunset 07:10 18:00 10:50
1 Nov Latest sunrise until 1 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Mar 5th
07:24 17:45 10:21
2 Nov Standard time returns
Earliest sunrise until Mar 2nd
06:25 16:44 10:19
6 Nov 6:30 sunrise 06:30 16:39 10:09
15 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:49
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:13
21 Dec Solstice , 17:03 CST 07:15 16:23 9:07

You can get sunrise information for your location at

Illinois' wet and cool 2013

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel has his annual review of the state's weather for last year. Some highlights:

Based on the latest data, the statewide average temperature for 2013 in Illinois was 10.6°C (0.8°C below the 1981-2010 average). That is much cooler than 2012 when the statewide average temperature was 13.1°C.

The statewide average precipitation for 2013 in Illinois was 1112 mm (91 mm above the 1981-2010 average). The precipitation for the two halves of 2013 were very different. The precipitation for the first 6 months of 2013 totaled 736 mm and was 232 mm above average and the wettest January-June on record. The precipitation in the following 6 months of 2013 totaled 376 mm and was 141 mm below average and the 19th driest July-December on record.

By the way, the 2013 annual statewide average precipitation of 1112 mm was 329 mm wetter than 2012 when we received only 783 mm across the state.

Of course, there's art:

Christie is to Wilson as Nixon is to ___?

Earlier today, "smoking gun" emails between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's staffers showed pretty clearly that Christie's office engineered a three-day traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge just to punish Democratic Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich. The infraction? Not endorsing the governor in last year's election. Josh Marshall explains why this is bad for Christie's presidential hopes:

[A]ll the Watergate villainy was really needless. He was already winning and on track to win big. For Nixon that went to some of the tragic elements of the man. Because for Nixon is was the deep paranoia which drove him.

That last part isn't like Christie. But the essential dynamic is pretty similar. All year last year it was clear that Christie was set for a massive win. So just think how needless this was. Whether he did it or his aides did, this was an effort to get a Democratic mayor to endorse him. A Democratic mayor. No one expects members of the opposite party to endorse you, though many did.

With Christie, I doubt it's paranoia. In fact, I'm almost sure of it. I don't think the man has the sort of insecurities and self-doubt that drove Nixon to greatness and infamy. It seems more like some tough guy ambition and need to get everybody to fall into line - a crazy ambition to run the table.

Becoming the caricature of a Jersey tough guy won't really play outside the Northeast. Hell, I'm not even sure it will play inside the New York metro area. The guy's a thug, and he keeps screwing New York for minor political gains, after all. (Remember the Hudson tunnel?) New Jersey is stuck with him for a few years. The rest of us don't really want him.

Snow crash

The temperature outside has gone up a whopping 0.9°C (to the tropical -23.6°C) since this morning. At O'Hare, it looks like the temperature bottomed out around 8am:

Let's hope it continues to rise. I'm really curious what this graph will look like in three days.